October is a month for so many memories...... In a previous post this month, I wrote that it didn't seem like six years since my mom's death. And it doesn't seem like five years on October 23, that my very dear friend, Ellen Widmer, died. This was the first time that I had a very good friend die and it was very difficult.
Let me write and tell about my friend, Ellen. I first met her in August of 1980 at Patterson Elementary. I had been teaching there and Ellen was just hired. My daughter, Kerri, was to be in her first grade class. I loved Ellen from the day that I met her and our friendship lasted until the day that she died.
Ellen went through a lot in her life. She was divorced and had three sons to raise. Her son, Troy, fell off of Camelback Mountain in May, 1981 and things were never the same for Ellen and her family. Ellen's loyalty to her family was an inspiration to everyone. She always had a smile on her face and absolutely loved teaching and all children. She was a remarkable human being!
When she found out that her illness was terminal, her greatest fear was that she would have to quit teaching. However, we were so fortunate at our school to have a position where she could teach reading every day. Even though she did not have a classroom of her own children, she was able to teach what she loved most, which was reading. Everyone benefited from this as Ellen was able to continue teaching and many children benefited from her wonderful expertise in the teaching of reading. She continued to always have a smile on her face and a kind word for everyone.
She started out the following year, but had a fall in the classroom at the beginning of the year. Because of her illness, her bones were brittle. She was hospitalized for some time, and was never able to go back to teaching. She still continued her wonderfully positive attitude.
I still remember the day that she called me at school and asked me if I would deliver her eulogy at her funeral. Of course, I was so honored, but I was also so sad. I didn't want to think about my life without my friend, Ellen!!
I remember going to see her on the Monday before she died on Thursday. She was in the hospital and was so weak and so sick. I was able to tell her good-bye and how much our friendship had meant to me. I am so glad that I had that opportunity.
Her memorial service was filled with so many people whose lives she touched. Getting up to deliver her eulogy was probably one of the very hardest things that I have ever had to do in my life. But I was so honored to be able to speak about this wonderful woman, teacher, and friend!!
I am putting the eulogy on this post because I think it tells so much about Ellen.
There is an old Indian proverb that says, "When you are born, you cry and the world rejoices. May you live your life so that when you die, the world cries, and you rejoice. Ellen's life certainly reflects this proverb. That is exemplified by seeing all of you here.
I first met Ellen at Patterson Elementary School when she came to Gilbert in 1980. I was teaching third grade and she was teaching first. She was my daughter, Kerri's, first grade teacher and later became my son, Patrick's, fourth grade teacher. Kerri loved that year with her. It was the same year that Troy fell from Camelback Mountain. I will never forget the love and dedication that she showed to Troy during this crisis. Her sons, Mark, Troy, and Steven, meant the world to her and she would do whatever was necessary to insure their happiness, even if it meant making great personal sacrifices. I know that her sons returned that love. Steven did such a wonderful job of caring for his mother this past year. I will always remember with admiration Ellen's devotion to her children.
This same devotion was apparent in her profession. Ellen loved children and loved to teach. She loved every aspect of her job. After I became principal of Gilbert Elementary, Ellen transferred to Gilbert El. I was so pleased and honored that she chose to work with me at Gilbert El because I knew Ellen would bring so much to our children, our families, and to our staff.
In preparing these words about Ellen, I had an opportunity to look at her Gilbert personnel file. In the file was her original application for a job in the District. It was very touching to read what she wrote about her philosophy of education and I quote, "Each child is unique and my philosophy is to create an environment where learning in not depersonalized, where each individual is reached so he can grow academically, socially, and emotionally. My best quality is my caring. I genuinely care about each child, and it is a joy to see their growth." Those of you who had Mrs. Widmer for a teacher can certainly attest to this. She was exactly the kind of teacher that she said she would be in her application.
Ellen particularly loved to teach reading. She imparted her love of literature and language to all. One of my favorite children's books is 'The Last Dance' by Carmen Agra Deedy. In this book, the grandfather tells his grandchildren that every human being has the right to three things in life:
BUT WHETHER ONE IS WILLING TO DANCE AT ALL.
TO SING, EVEN IF YOU SING OFF-KEY. THE CROW HAS AS MUCH RIGHT TO A
VOICE AS THE NIGHTINGALE.
TO TELL STORIES. THOSE WE LOVE ARE NEVER REALLY GONE AS LONG AS
THEIR STORIES ARE TOLD.
Last year when she was the American Legion Elementary Teacher of the Year, I asked some students to tell me about Mrs. Widmer. Here is what a few had to say:
"Mrs. Widmer made learning fun. She never put anyone down because she was too busy giving them compliments. She is a great teacher and an even better friend."
"Mrs. Widmer didn't just help us with school problems, but with family and social problems too. We could always talk to her about anything. She is kind, caring, and loving to all of her students. She will always hold a special place in our hearts!"
The best part about having Mrs. Widmer for a teacher was that you got to have her for two years. My most memorable moments from Mrs. Widmer's class are the ones I had during Friday Free Time. We had fun during free time, but we also learned many valuable life lessons that I use today like how to build friendships."
In the course of our education, we all have many teachers, but it is those teachers who care about us personally and about our learning and who we are as a person are the ones who become models for how we want to conduct or lives as adults. In the words of Carmen Deedy, those we love are nver really gone as long as their stories are told. Ellen's stories will live on with the children whose lives she has touched. People die, but relationships live on. Memories last a life time and can never be taken away.
Because I am of Irish heritage, I find comfort in Irish Blessings. And so my dear friend, Ellen,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
To this day, I miss our dinners together, our talks and our laughter over so many things. Ellen Widmer was truly a wonderful human being and I am so glad that I had her in my life. I know many other people feel the same way. Our world is a better place because of teachers like Ellen Widmer!!!
The song on this blog is a song that Ellen wanted for her memorial service. It was sung at the service by one of our wonderful teachers, Peggy, who did a beautiful job!
The picture below is of Ellen's first grade class her first year in Gilbert. Kerri is in the front row on the right hand side in the red dress.