Saturday, October 17, 2015
Aurora Schools Hall of Fame, 2015
Late yesterday morning, I drove over to Aurora for the 2015 Induction Ceremony for the latest members of the halls of fame in the Aurora City Schools: Athletic Hall of Fame, Distinguished Alumni, and Honored Educator/Staff Member. I had connections of various sorts to all the inductees, and it was a thrill to sit in the audience and hear all the wonderful stories about them.
I was thrilled for other reasons, too--among them: I was able to re-connect with colleagues and students from the very earliest days of my career (I was 21 years old when I taught my first year, 1966-1967--7th graders), and I told some of those students from long, long ago that I hoped they had poor memories, for I was making about a mistake-a-minute in those days. Or more. (By the end of my career I was much better--a mistake about every 90 seconds.)
It was especially moving for me to be together with the seven children of the late Donna French, a wizardly librarian who was inducted this year. Her daughter Linda (who was in 8th grade the year I began) helped me and some others write the first play I did in Aurora, spring of 1967, The Founding of Aurora; or, The Grapes of Wrath. It was Shakespearean ... not.
I taught most of the other Frenches (six girls, one boy) in the ensuing years, and many of them were in play productions in the middle and high schools. Oh, they were not just in the productions; they were wonderful in them. They were also instrumental when, in the late 1960s, we started the Aurora Youth Theater, a (mostly) summer program which flourished for a while but eventually died. Too bad.
At the end of the ceremony yesterday, I talked about how kind Donna and her late husband, Park ("Bud" to everyone), had been to me at the dawn of my career--supporting me not just professionally but, well, in even more basic ways. I had so little money those early years (my first year's gross salary: $5100), and the Frenches frequently fed me, sometimes because I knocked on their back door about 5:45 pm on some bogus errand, and they--recognizing signs of starvation--invited me to their table. I felt at home with them. And I still do. I cannot adequately express my profound gratitude to that remarkable family.
There were so many stories from yesterday. Just one other ...
Diana Brehm Leitch (AHS, 1975) gave a fine introductory speech for her classmate Dave Edmonds, the winner of the Distinguished Alumni award this year. I'd taught Diana in seventh grade--Way Back When (1970-71), and I had begun having students make little 8mm/Super 8mm films in my class. And yesterday I reminded Diana (whom I've not seen since the early 1970s) about her film--a stop-action animation film about a little figure caught in a box of trash--a big box I kept in my room for weeks, a big box whose enduring presence annoyed the custodian (can't blame him, not at all). I fiercely (?) defended its right to exist. She finally finished, the box went the Way of All Trash, and, after a few months, the custodian began smiling at me again.
Diana told me she'd kept that little figure for years.
The other teacher inductee this year was a spectacular kindergarten teacher, Shirley Duval, whose son Ray I taught my very first year. I knew she was great for lots of reasons, but one of them? My seventh and eighth graders still talked about her fondly, even in middle school, the time when the cynicism gene begins to declare itself.
Geoff Jewett, who received the athletic award, was the older brother of two young men I'd taught early in my career, Mark and Tom. Both were there yesterday, and both did an amazing job of pretending they didn't remember what a Rookie I'd been.
And I'd also taught members of Dave Edmonds' family long ago. He went on to a spectacular career with FedEx and has become a generous patron of the arts. His remarks yesterday were self-effacing and affecting.
There's no way to thank adequately the Aurora Alumni Association for sponsoring this event--for actually creating this event a few years ago. It has enormous significance for those honored--and for those who gather to join in the celebration.