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.