Showing posts with label reunion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reunion. Show all posts

Friday, December 11, 2020

Retired Raymond teacher shares unique bond with class from 1966

Students gather for annual reunions, relive memories from ‘magical year’

By Ed Pierce 

Attending a past student-teacher reunion are, from 
left, Jacquie Dobson, Bruce Hummel. Roberta
'Bobbie' Kornfeld Gordon, and Robert Collins. 
Dobson, Hummel and Collins were students in
Kornfeld Gordon's second-grade class at 
Ellwanger and Barry School 24 in Rochester,
New York during the 1966-1967 school year. 
Kornfeld Gordon now lives in Raymond and 
hosts annual reunions for the class there.
Many who have chosen to teach have found that as years pass, students may not recall individual lessons, but they fondly remember the difference that a teacher makes in their life. Such is the case with Roberta “Bobbie” Kornfeld Gordon of Raymond, whose second-grade students from a school in New York state have chosen to gather for reunions with her every year for more than a half century to reflect on the direction of their lives and be close to their beloved teacher.

Originally from Elmira, New York, “Bobbie” Kornfeld earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Buffalo State University and landed her first teaching job at Ellwanger and Barry School 24 in Rochester, New York. In her final year there during the 1966-1967 school year, her students asked if they could walk to nearby Highland Park on a spring afternoon where thousands of colorful lilacs were blooming.

The class of 30 students enjoyed it so much, they returned to the park for lessons and lunch every day for the last three weeks of school and on the last day of school, parents of the students asked the teacher if she would come back and visit them the next spring for Lilac Week at Highland Park in Rochester.

She moved that summer to teach in Massachusetts and met her future husband, George Gordon there, but she did return to Rochester the following spring and kept going back every year even after marrying and having a family of her own.

Two of her students from the 1966-1967 class, Jollene Dubner of Lowell, Massachusetts and Jacquie Dobson of Rochester, had an idea to turn the annual gatherings into class reunions and the practice gave their teacher a unique opportunity to remain part of their lives and watch them face life’s challenges as they grew to become adults with children of their own. Some of the class had moved away, served in the military or had died and Dubner and Dobson thought an annual gathering would help keep everyone in touch.

In honor of the students’ 50th birthday in 2009, the Gordons invited them to travel to Maine and join
them at their home in Raymond and for a grand celebration at Sebago Lake. That too has become an annual tradition for members of the class, but both the trips to Highland Park and to Maine were scrapped in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions.

A special class

Kornfeld Gordon said from the very start of school back in the fall of 1966, she realized that this class was special.

“Ours was a totally inclusive class and whoever was with us was part of our family,” she said. “We had students from all backgrounds, economic levels, races and ethnicities in that class. During the school year, we had five or six students hospitalized with very serious illnesses, including one who was diagnosed with leukemia. As a result, they all became very close.”

Feeling deeply connected to her students, Kornfeld Gordon led them through what she calls “a very magical year” of teaching them about reading, writing and even architecture, which was accomplished through hands-on field trips throughout the city.

Former students of Roberta 'Bobbie Kornfeld
Gordon's second-grade class from 1966 gather with 
her and her husband, George Gordon, for a 50th
reunion and celebration in 2017. 
“I taught them that life is what we make it,” she said. “I’ve always turned to that and told my students to take one more step if they can.”

Her students found her to be a wise mentor and highly inspirational.

“It was over 50 years ago that I attended Miss Kornfeld’s class. Reaching back, I remember the quality in which she approached each of us as individuals and not as a group,” said Robert Collins, a member of her 1966-1967 second-grade class. “She was always kind, caring and thoughtful. She was able to see our potential as second-grade students and encourage us in those areas.”

He said attending the class reunions with Kornfeld Gordon is one of the most enjoyable and heartwarming experiences of his life.

“I had learned of the reunions I think around the middle 1980s to early 1990s from a classmate, Thomas Rutherford, however, at the time it was something I was not interested in. I was informed again by him that the 50th reunion was coming soon and decided to attend. It was the most emotional, in a good way, event. To see not only my former fellow students, but the highlight was of course embracing Miss Kornfeld after all those years. Yes, there were tears.”

He said that the most important thing he learned from his teacher wasn’t something she taught him, rather it is what she gave him.

Spiritual connection

“Throughout life you occasionally cross paths with people and a spiritual connection is made,” Collins said. We don’t know why, it just happens. And because of this bond, my memory of her and how she cared for us is something I carry with me to this day.”

Her former student Dobson, who now works in education herself, said that Kornfeld Gordon is an outstanding example of how a teacher can truly connect with children.

“She cares about us and that was as evident then as it is now,” Dobson said. “She’s the nicest person and continues to be a loving an investing person for all of us. She’s like a Mama Bear, she’s genuine and very patient. She’s a compassionate person who affirms you. Her inner spirit matches her outside beauty.”

A bench is shown from a park in Lowell, 
Massachusetts dedicated in honor of a deceased
student, Jollene Dubner, who was a member of
Roberta 'Bobbie' Kornfeld Gordon's second-grade
class in 1966. SUBMITTED PHOTO

While visiting Maine for her 50th birthday, Dobson joined Kornfeld Gordon and about a dozen or so former students from the class in traveling to Lowell, Massachusetts to visit a park where lilac bushes have been planted in the memory of Dubner, another student in the class who had died. While there they dedicated a bench in her memory.

During that annual trip to Raymond, Dobson said she was amazed when Kornfeld Gordon surprised the group of former students with a collection of drawings, stories, schoolwork, report cards and photographs she had saved for them from their classroom.

“We all received monogrammed linen bags with our work from that year inside,” she said.

Donna Lape Collins, another former student, said that Kornfeld Gordon always made sure what the students were learning was fun.

“In making her lessons fun, it was easy to focus,” she said. “Miss Kornfeld was the best teacher I ever had.”

According to Lape Collins, the single most important thing she learned from Kornfeld Gordon was to respect her classmates.

“I learned that everyone’s a different person, but someone is always there for us no matter what we are going through,” she said. “We learned that we could talk to her about anything. She’s like family.”

Not being able to get together for the reunion in 2020 because of the pandemic was disappointing for everyone concerned, Lape Collins said.

“It was so sad. We had made plans but had to cancel them,” she said. “With all of us aging, every minute you can spend with someone is precious.”

Move to Maine

After teaching in Rochester, Massachusetts and Maryland, Kornfeld Gordon moved with her periodontist husband who was establishing a practice in Maine, and their 6-week-old son, here in 1971. They first lived in Cape Elizabeth and the family grew over time to include four sons. Eventually they bought a home on Sebago Lake in Raymond where the couple lives today.

Kornfeld Gordon worked in Maine as an independent breastfeeding coordinator for Maine Medical Center and operated two businesses, School for Writing and Word Power for Children. She also began working with immigrants from Darfur in 2008, teaching them English.

Bruce Hummel, another of her former students from the 1966-1967 class, said that Kornfeld Gordon is a special person and it didn’t take the class very long to recognize that.

“All of us from that second-grade class could see that then and we still see it now,” Hummel said. “I feel fortunate to have been part of what was truly a unique learning experience back in 1966, which grew from all of us having an incredible to all of us gaining a remarkable friend. As a fairly new teacher, she was not afraid to take a different approach to teaching, which involved making learning

Hummel said that rather than sitting in a classroom all day, she would bring the students outside and for field trips to the nearby park.

“I remember one day all of us sitting around a guitar player and singing,” he said. “She knew how to connect with a bunch of 7-year-olds to make learning fun, interesting and how to challenge our minds at the same time. That connection has remained for more than 54 years now, leading to a bond and friendship for all of us that is hard to put into words other than it was special and we have one person to thank for that, the person who taught us then and still teaches us now one of life’s greatest lessons, kindness.”

Kornfeld Gordon said that the reunions will continue after the pandemic ends and she and her husband are optimistic about hosting a student reunion again this coming summer in Raymond.

She said sharing memories of that special year unites her and the students and it is what makes their class such a close-knit group of friends.

“We are all the same, it’s our history that binds us together,” she said. “Every spring when the lilacs bloom brings back great memories. We are one unit and still are. The bonds that we carry for each other are still deep.” <