Around the world, Jerry Only is best known as the cofounder, bassist and sometime vocalist of seminal horror-punk band Misfits. But in Madison his biggest claim to fame is being the father of Eva, a second grader at Our Lady Queen of Peace School. The musician's "cool dad" status skyrocketed on Friday when he hosted a pizza party for the 8-year-old's class at Luigi's. It was the last day of school for the kids, and Eva's last day at Queen of Peace before moving back to New Jersey.
Only sent Eva to Queen of Peace for the 2013-14 school year because he thought the regimen of a Catholic school might help her succeed academically. Eva's mother lived in Madison, so Queen of Peace seemed like a sensible choice.
"My daughter had convulsions after she got her MMR shot, when she was very little, so learning has been hard for her in a lot of ways," Only says. "She wasn't making enough progress academically, so it was time to try something different."
The year at Queen of Peace went even better than Only had anticipated. The key was Eva's teacher, Kathleen Perepezko, who goes by Mrs. P. in the classroom. She's been teaching elementary schoolers at Queen of Peace for 34 years, and her love for her students is as blatant as Only's neck tattoo and the ghoulish makeup he wears onstage.
"Mrs. P. was so helpful," Only says. "She really brought Eva out of the dark and helped her catch up. We have a lot of work to do this summer still, but Eva's in a much better place academically. We're working on spelling right now."
Plus Eva gained an entire classroom of friends, who lined up to share their addresses with her so they can exchange letters in the future. This was between cupcakes, slices of pizza and a group project that involved coloring a giant dragon to hang on the pizzeria's wall. Only and his daughter had already created several pieces for the display, including a giant portrait of Godzilla.
Letter exchanges were an important part of the school year as Mrs. P.'s class studied places and cultures from other parts of the globe. Only was undoubtedly the group's favorite letter writer. While touring the world with his band, he chronicled his experiences for the class through letters and videos. Before long, Mrs. P. and the students' parents were calling Only by his first name, as if he were an adult friend from a PTA meeting, not a member of the band famous for songs with titles like "Bloodfeast" and "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?"
"Jerry came in and gave presentations to the class, and when he went on tour, he sent these beautiful books he'd made that had pictures and flags and souvenirs from each country," Perepezko says. "He made books about Australia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina... It fit right into what we were studying."
All 27 kids in the class received mementoes from faraway countries, including coins, stamps and varieties of candy popular with children from other cultures. Only wrote letters to the students nearly every day, and he'd use large pieces of spiral-bound paper to construct books for the stories, postcards and currency he gathered. In addition to sharing facts and observations about the places he visited, he asked some of the people he met to write letters to Mrs. P.'s class as well, from a teacher in China to a 150-person team of Australians working to protect the whale population.
"I needed something from Antarctica to show the class, and they had been there," Only says of the whale advocates. "I got all of them [Misfits] T-shirts, and they sent the class a four-page letter and a video about Antarctica."
Touring musicians often lament that they don't get to see much of the cities they visit on tour. Only says the class project encouraged him to explore the places he visited a bit more than usual. One source of inspiration was his own 8th grade teacher, who he remembers fondly for hosting an international dinner and other activities that got kids interested in foreign countries. Another, of course, was Eva.
"I can't always be home with my little girl, so I brought the world to her," he says.