I know it's Teacher Appreciation Day/Week, but for me, there are two teachers who have been with me since I stepped foot in their classes and I appreciate them each and every day.
This is my 4th & 5th grade teacher, Ms. Wood. I still think of her often and all that she taught us, big things like being strong and believing in ourselves and little things like square dancing, speed reading and letter writing. She encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone...she even convinced me to be Aunt Eller in the school production of Oklahoma...she might have been a little crazy! I remember her as a tough, but compassionate Southern talkin' gal who never let you give up on yourself. I adored her.
A couple of years ago I occurred to me that she might have had an interesting life outside of the classroom. Unfortunately she had passed, but I did find out what a truly extraordinary woman Winifred had been! Turns out in WWII she'd been a WASP-Women Airforce Service Pilots. They flew everything the men flew, just not in combat. After the war, she wrote a book about the experience, which I found and bought. I didn't realize it at the time, but the year I was in her class was the year the WASPs were finally recognized as WWII vets. It also turns out that Janet Reno is her niece and gave the speech at the 50th Anniversary of the WASPs in 1993, in which she talks about "Aunt Winnie".
I only wish I'd gotten to see her again as an adult and let her know how much she'd meant to me.
I was also incredibly lucky to have Mr. Suter as my high school art teacher. He was not only a great artist, teacher and man, but a great advocate for his students, some of whom were going through rough emotional times. High school isn't easy. His classroom was a safe haven, a place for acceptance, understanding and artistic expression. And that smile? It was always on his face, shining out at his students. Mr. Suter had so many interesting stories to tell and every once in awhile, he'd pick up a pencil and do some sketching himself. Again, I didn't realize until much later in life what a wonderful artistic career he had. The picture above was taken around 1948 when he did a painting for Charles Pratt...that's him with Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson! When he retired, he continued his life as an artist until he passed away in 2011.
Mr. Suter was the one who encouraged me to follow my dreams and go to Art Center. And when I graduated, I was honored that he accepted my invitation and came to the ceremony. He was a kind man and I'm sorry that he left us the year before Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs came out. I think he would have been proud of the part he played.
So each day I am grateful for teachers like Ms. Wood and Mr. Suter, who inspired courage and greatness in their students and taught us all what it meant to be kind, decent people of the world. They truly changed my world.