People & Perspectives

When life is a gift, it goes a long way

After a Walgreens store manager passed away from COVID-19 last holiday season, his team rallied to vaccinate their Chicago community and care for his family.
Sarah Cason, Walgreens Stories
Teddy bears made out of Mark Wilczek’s store manager vest that were gifted to his family for Christmas in 2020.

What do you do when the “glue” on your team is gone?
It’s a reality that the team at a Melrose Park, Illinois, Walgreens had to face when Mark Wilczek, a beloved store manager and team member for 26 years, passed away from COVID-19 complications in December 2020. A friend and confidante, his absence was sorely felt by his colleagues, wife Wiola and two children.
“It was not always work with Mark,” says Caroline Hoytt, a former fellow store manager in the district. “He always asked about your well-being and checked on your family. Mark gave so much of himself. In his memory, I continually give just a bit more of myself in all aspects of my life.”
This was a sentiment shared widely by his vast network of colleagues. If there was an opportunity to step up and offer assistance, Wilczek would be the person to do so.
Consequently, when COVID-19 vaccines were approved and distributed to Walgreens pharmacies mere days after his passing, his team members pledged to keep Wilczek’s spirit alive by saving his community. At one vaccination clinic hosted at a local high school, 70 area team members volunteered to help, and as a result, more than 3,000 patients received their vaccine in one day. The team wore airplane pins on the floor, an homage to Wilczek’s love of watching planes fly over O’Hare International Airport.

vaccination clinic at proviso west
Area team members at the vaccination clinic held at Proviso West High School in Hillside, Illinois.

As district manager Greg Pachacz put it, “It would have made Mark proud. He would have been the first person to volunteer.” Now one year after his passing, Wiola, Wilczek’s wife, says she is reminded—to this day— that she has and always will be part of the Walgreens family. In September 2021, Pachacz and Erick Alsvig, director of pharmacy and retail operations, hosted a memorial fundraiser picnic for the Wilczeks.
“We were surprised by how many people whose lives Mark touched,” says Wiola. “Sometimes he would go out of town to help open new stores, and people from those stores would call us to send kind words or see if we need help. They only knew him for a day or two. We knew he was a special guy, but we didn’t know how many people he could touch in a short period of time. We really have had the Walgreens family behind us all the time.”
Losing a loved one during the holiday season is devastating, but that didn’t prevent Wilczek’s Walgreens family from honoring his life in the weeks after he passed, as well. Watch to see them reflect on why he will always be held close in their hearts, and how a personal gift will serve as a reminder that they are all one family.

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