Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Kathy Sapp Gilchrist: A GREAT Teacher ...

I can't remember when Kathy Sapp joined the faculty to teach sixth grade math at the old Aurora Middle School at 102 E.. Garfield Rd. The first yearbook that features her picture is 1972-73. I don't see my own picture there--was I on sabbatical that year? Could have been.  But I was in touch with everyone back at AMS during that year, and I had heard about Miss Sapp. The kids loved her--as did her colleagues--and I figured that Mike Lenzo, the principal, had just hired another great teacher. He was good at that.

Aurora Middle School Faculty
The 1973-74 yearbook is the first one that shows the two of us. That was the year we made our move to the new school over there at 130 Aurora-Hudson Rd.--Harmon School. When the School Board adopted the name "Harmon," I asked at the meeting why not "Harmon Middle School." The answer: They weren't sure what configuration of grades would be there in the future. I thought that sounded kind of ominous--but nearly forty years have ensued, so maybe I can breathe more easily?

Do you notice how I've been avoiding the subject? I don't want to talk about the death of Kathy Sapp. She was a friend. A tremendous colleague. One of the finest human beings I've ever known. I don't want to think about this cold world without her.

What do I remember about Kathy?

There used to be a cartoon in the Plain Dealer called "Miss Peach." It was about an elementary school teacher, and I remember kind of liking it. One of the running gags in the strip involved the kindergarten class. Whenever you saw them, they were in a tight cluster around their teacher--an almost indistinguishable mass of wee humanity, like breathing electrons around the teacher at the nucleus. That was Kathy Sapp. Out at lunch, before and after school out at the buses, on our field trips, kids were always swirling around her. She magnetized them in so many ways. (Re: the picture below--I couldn't find one with the kindergarten--but this will give you an idea about the strip itself.)

Kathy's emotions always lay very near the surface, finding quick exit in her warm, expressive eyes (I saw them filled with tears--many times), her skin that was ever ready to blush, her laughter to erupt.

Her joy. Kathy Sapp loved teaching, loved her students. There was no concealing it--not that she ever wanted to. She was, in many ways, that Ideal Teacher we so infrequently encounter in our lives. The one who knows her stuff, knows how to communicate it, loves her students, loves her job, loves her colleagues. She was one of the first to arrive each day, the last to leave. Oh, if we could only populate the schools of America with her clones!

Her willingness to do just about anything to make Harmon School a better place. She went on the Sixth Grade Camping Trip, the Eighth Grade Washington Trip; I see a photo of her in the 1977-78 yearbook as a coach of the girls' volleyball team; in 1983-84--she's with the Bowling Club (the photo is jammed with kids--maybe as many as 70!).

I see in the 94-95 yearbook that she is now "Mrs. Gilchrist" (our pictures are side by side: I like that). I think she met her husband at the gym where she worked out regularly, and they had a grand life together; he passed away a few years ago, a death which helped precipitate her move from the Cleveland area down to the Columbus area, where she was nearer to her family.

I knew Kathy outside of school too, a bit. Some of us from around the district would sometimes gather on Fridays after school over at the Aurora Inn, where we would laugh and cry about our week, laughs and tears mixed with draft beer (50 cents a glass!). I loved talking with her, often because she reminded us of what was best about the kids. She had something good to say about all of them--a rare, emotional gift.

When the news came that her doctors had diagnosed her with ALS ("Lou Gehrig Disease"), I was horrified. I just couldn't see Kathy imprisoned by her body. A few of us old timers went down to see her a couple of times where she was living in her own place, her sister helping out mightily. The first time was 2 April 2010; among the other visitors that day--Mike Lenzo, Jerry Brodsky, Eileen Kutinsky, and Bob Luckay. We laughed and talked about the "old days," as you might expect. The second time was Sunday, 25 March 2012. I wrote this in my journal:

Kathy is now in a wheelchair and is losing her voice, but she is there—bright, funny, and quick as always; so sad to see … Mike Lenzo, Cindy & Jerry Brodsky were there ...

I'm ashamed I didn't see her more often. I have no excuse, only cowardice, I guess. It's surpassingly hard for us to watch the gradual disappearance of a loved one--though the "Kathy" part of Kathy remained, sturdily remained while her body betrayed her.

Kathy always loved going on the Washington Trip. On the 1985-86 trip we shared responsibility for one of the buses (Bus 3 rules!), and I remember a moment on that trip. We had left Breezewood (where we always stopped at/invaded the McDonald's) and were cruising south and east on I-70 toward the city. As we began heading down out of the mountains, Kathy and I were in some busy conversation about something or other, and then she shushed me (she was good at that). "This is my favorite view on the trip," she said, and she turned toward her window and throughout the entire descent she stared at the valley below, lit in sunlight, the farmlands spread out before us like a dream.

I hope that glorious image was in her mind, right to the end, along with an endless slide-show of memories of students, all gathered tightly around her, swirling, reaching for her, touching her, even as she had touched their hearts, changed their lives.

1993-94 Faculty
Harmon School
(Kathy is in front row, far left)


  1. Thanks, Dan, for this remembrance.

    I had known Kathy, of course, even while I was teaching at the high school. And when I was transferred to Harmon in 1986, it wasn't to teach sixth grade: heck, I had a secondary teaching certificate, and needed a special endorsement from the state to make that legal. Eventually, though, I landed in sixth grade, working on the team with Kathy.

    You mention the sixth-grade camping trip; but for several of those years, she and I led the "home team": the teachers who stayed behind with half the sixth-grade class while the other half had their week at camp. We had a ball during those two "home weeks"! We had an activity where kids worked in teams to build Rube Goldberg-style contraptions; another where they made got-air balloons out of tissue paper; another where we went on a walking tour of downtown Cleveland; and what grew to be my favorite, a tour of the Aurora Cemetery, with multidisciplinary activities and enough time for reflection. Most years it became clear that some kids, who had lost someone close to them, really needed that space, and she was incredibly sensitive to those.

    She was hugely funny: with a little provocation, she would get up on a desk with her multicolored toe socks and wiggle her toes in what we all called her "toe dance." But the humor never detracted from her basic dignity and her deep love of children: she could calm a wiggler or reprove a miscreant as well as anyone I've seen.

    I know that the lives of many children are richer because they knew her. Mine is, too.

    Kathy, now you can do your toe dance again!

    1. Yes, in para 2, that was supposed to be "hot-air balloons." Apologies.--Bill

  2. Kathy was such an encourager to our daughter Dawn Marie Grandee. She visited her when she was in the hospital on numerous occasions and always was a great support to her and for that we are truly thankful. Kathy was a dedicated teacher who loved her students and was always there for them. She will be greatly missed but in a better place!

    Sandra & Terry Grandee