Repeating Fifth Grade by (2 Stories)

Prompted By Favorite Teacher

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Fifth-grade survivors (from left) Bud, Ken Wolf, Anne, Deb, Ken Schmier, and John. Anne holds a copy of her home-town paper, the Petoskey News-Review, which later published a story about the event.

On a summer morning in 2008, I received a call from my son, Kevin, who asked,” Mom, do you remember a Kenneth Schmier?” “Kenny Schmier? Of course! He was in my very first class, in 1960 at Washington Elementary in Royal Oak,” I answered. “He remembers you, too!” said Kevin.

I started teaching on my 21st birthday, and my 36 students were just 10 or 11 years younger than I.

That phone call began the most enlightening, happy, and meaningful journey of visits and conversations I have experienced in a long time. Students from 50-plus years ago remembered me?! Kenny was in my 5th grade class. I started my teaching career that year on my 21st birthday, and my 36 students were just 10 or 11 years younger than I.

Because I was working that morning, I could not delve into all the questions that were spinning in my mind. I got an opportunity to have many of them answered when I received calls from Kevin and Kenny soon after. Ken lived in California and had seen Kevin’s name mentioned in an article in the Wall Street Journal. The surname, Srigley, prompted Kenny to email Kevin as to whether I was a relative. Oh, the joys of the Internet!

Kenny, now called Ken, took the bull by the horns, contacted several classmates from the 1960 group of 5th graders I had the pleasure of teaching, and organized a reunion the following year. Debbie Gordon and her family kindly hosted at their lovely home in Birmingham. That evening Debbie, Buddy Kaufman, John Unger Zussman, Ken Schmier and their spouses, as well as Kenny Wolf and I gathered for an evening of memorable stories of the years since they were 11 years old. Every emotion was expressed that night. I learned a great deal from all of them, and discovered that each and every one was a successful, happy, and bright individual. I actually realized that many years ago.

During the conversation, I asked the group if anyone knew where Jonny Goldman is. Ken Schmier said, “No, but I am going to try to find out.”

And indeed he did. Again I was working when I answered the phone, and a voice said, “Hello, Miss Burdett. This is Jonny Goldman.” I burst into tears, and am crying as I type this. Jonny lost his mother to cancer the summer before he entered 5th grade. In May of Jonny’s fifth grade year, his father confided in me that he was suffering from leukemia. He died that summer. Jonny and two siblings were then raised by their grandparents. I so often wondered how Jonny and his siblings endured that terrible void in their lives.

Later that evening, Jonny called me and filled me in on his very eventful life! We spent over an hour on the phone.

I have since had the distinct pleasure of continuing the conversations with my former students, even enjoying visits with Jonny Goldman, Patti and John Zussman, John’s sister Marcy, as well as Lisa and Ken Schmier.

Thank you, Ken, for initiating this rare and treasured journey. It has meant the world to me. It is a reunion I will always remember.

Profile photo of Anne Burdett Srigley Anne Burdett Srigley

Characterizations: been there, moving, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    Thanks for writing and posting this, Anne. It was truly a special night. Kudos to Ken and Deb for making it possible.

  2. Thank you, John. I️ appreciate your giving me the opportunity to write the memoir.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a special group of people (kudos to Ken for making to the connection). I am 2 years younger than John, but lived around the corner from all these people in Huntington Woods, went to Washington Elementary (just one year, 6th grade – had Bob Smiley as my teacher, we moved there in 1963) and was in school plays with many of those pictured during my years at Dondero. Teachers make all the difference in our lives. This is heart-warming, indeed.

  4. Bravo Anne for bringing this full circle with John Zussman whom I’ve not met but is a Retro legend!

  5. Suzy says:

    I remember reading this story in 2017, and thinking how wonderful this reunion was. I’m surprised I didn’t comment. Thank you, Anne, or more likely John Z., for moving it to this prompt, where it is so appropriate. You clearly were a favorite teacher!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    What a wonderful experience to be united with your former students. I taught high school English right out of college and have had a few less organized encounters. It still shocks me that many of them are grandparents now.

  7. As a former teacher, I was so moved by your connection with your former student. I have often wondered about the many students I taught over my long career, especially the ones who seemed had difficulties.

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    This is so wonderful to hear the joy that has come from students reaching out and connecting with teacher and classmates. Some of the other stories on this prompt mention efforts to reconnect, but this sounds like it was particularly successful. Lovely.

  9. A very sweet reunion. It drew (close to) tears from me too. I imagined you were a special teacher; I imagined what the calling of teaching was all about.

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