Yesterday I went to a celebration of life for Dr. Hasse K. Halley, who was tragically hit by a truck and killed on October 1. The attendance, organization and outpouring of the community was incredible. Many students and faculty from Woodstock, where I went to school, and Killington Mountain School, where she taught most recently, from her local Jewish community and beyond were in attendance, and had something to say. She touched so many lives and lived brightly, vibrantly, with purpose. I was happy to hear my husband say as we were leaving that some of the remembrances of Dr. Halley reminded him of me – he said, especially the part about signing her husband up for things she was volunteering for!
When she tap-danced on the table to get our attention that first day, I was laughing nervously along with the rest of the class — but I just thought she was the coolest and I wanted to be like her. Sitting in the high school gym in front of theatre director Harriet Worrell and her husband Chuck Worrell who was the football coach and taught me how to drive, I realized there were a lot of teachers I wanted to be like; who influence me to this day.
In the shower this morning, I thought about writing a letter to the school in case there’s ever a question of funding the arts programs at the school. I have a lot to say about the role they played in my life. Thinking of how each teacher influenced me, I realized that it shouldn’t take a tragedy to thank them. Here goes.
I told Mrs. Worrell yesterday, and I’ll say it here – I don’t know that I’d be able to talk to people without my theatre background. I have to fake confidence in meeting people for the first time, teaching workshops and at business networking events all the time and I just act like I’m on stage and it helps me get through it. I thought of it on the way home so I didn’t get to tell her this, but my first involvement with theatre was that she appointed me stage manager for the Nutcracker. I’m now co-managing a building of more than 70 artists and business owners and for four years chaired what grew to be a craft festival with 40 vendors and there
must be a correlation. Whether stage managing was something she believed I could do to spark a little confidence in a fuzzy-haired supershy kid, or she just thought I’d be good at managing, it laid the foundation for what I’m doing now. Also, I always say the word often with a soft T because she told me that’s the proper way to say it. Actually, I believe she might have told us we sounded uneducated if we said it with a hard T. And though I stopped drinking soda in recent years, I drank Diet Coke for a long time because that’s what kept her going during late rehearsals. That, and that she loves what she does.
I told Mr. Worrell this true fact: When I’m driving, every single time I turn, I hear him in my head barking in that football coach way, “AUSTIN! Do not accelerate through the apex of the turn!” I liked that he called me Austin. Made me feel that he liked me enough to refer to me the same way he did his players.
I want to tell my English teachers Mr. Steele, Mrs. Roof, Mrs. Beda (well, I did tell Mrs. Beda because I saw her yesterday!), and Dr. Halley that I was a staff writer for two years at the prestigious weekly paper The Chronicle here in Glens Falls and that they don’t hire just anybody there. And even now that I’ve left to pursue my own business, I still freelance for them here and there. One of the services I offer my clients is copy writing, as well. I have them to thank for it – for encouraging and refining my writing as well as introducing me to some fantastic literature; lines of which I still have memorized – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Whither thou goest, I will go… Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d in any one self place... The rosy fingers of dawn…
In poetry class with Mr. Mears I was with other students who were going through tumultuous teen years themselves, though I was so focused on my own angst I didn’t realize it until after I graduated and I looked through their poems with a less selfish eye. We all had our troubles.
I have reached out to my art teachers here and there, but Mrs. Johansen and for many years Mrs. Schulte-LaValley nurtured my creativity and gave me a safe haven in the art room. Today I have a studio in The Shirt Factory where I create mixed-media paintings and odd jewelry, and have more than 30 shows under my belt, many of which are solo shows. I have two more planned in the next five months and just was accepted into my first show in New York City. I sold a painting for $900 last week. I’m on the board of two arts organizations and was co-President for two years with one of them. My business cards say I’m an artist, and people see me that way. Not only was the high school art room my safe place to hide from the perils of high school; it also gave me identity and
an environment where I could be creative and express myself. Art was always something I was interested in, but in high school I learned how it could say things that I didn’t know how to express in other ways.
April Doherty – Doh – was not only a teacher but also my friend. Her teaching went beyond Chemistry to life lessons and belief structures that are now deeply a part of me. I remember her saying her father (I believe – could have been grandfather) just radiated love at the end of his life. I remember her saying the sweet thing about Fluorine and Lithium was that one was carrying around this extra electron and when the other took it they realized how attractive the other was and rushed into each others’ arms, which was a better love story than Romeo and Juliet. Most importantly, we would have lunch dates and I’d share my poetry with her and she’d take me very seriously. She helped me handle my Depression and realize I wasn’t the only one ever to feel that way. She, and Ms. Murray, and Ms. Smith, were my friends. They helped me through the roughest parts of adolescence.
I never really considered myself a science kid, but my religion (Katethysianism. I made it up) is deeply based in the science classes I took in high school. I’d stay late with Ms. Filiss in 8th grade and miss gym to ask her about black holes and space and life on other planets. Actually, no – I didn’t miss gym. I sucked at dodgeball, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, running the mile and just about everything but hockey. Which I also kind of sucked at.
I’d have lunch with Ms. Murray and ask weird bio questions (If you cooked your leg, where does the blood go? Would it circulate back into your body or just go in the same direction? – Her answer was that you’d probably die of shock before you’d figure out what happened to the blood. But that didn’t answer my question about the circulatory system!). Though the math stuff crossed my eyes, I was fascinated with the space aspects in Physics with Mr. Brennan. The movie he showed us, ZOOM, is a cornerstone of Katethysianism. And what do I remember about Mr. Cullen? He had a skeleton in his room. What was its name? Otto or something?
Math wasn’t my thing but doing the problems correctly always felt good. And I had math teachers who cared about me as a person, too, and didn’t mind helping me a little extra, or writing back to me about my angsty doodles and noticing when there was something wrong, or asking me about art. Mr. MacLeod and Mrs. Kenison especially.
History always bored me a little but I really liked Mr. Bibby. Human Adventure with Mrs. Tarleton was a social science, and I learned about sleep, cycles and human development and that was fascinating to me. In Global Studies with Mrs. Stetson I tried sushi for the first time and now it’s one of my favorite foods. I hated memorizing where countries were, but the unit we did on population growth underlies everything I do – the garbage I make, the number of children I want to have, the way I interact with my community to try and make things better. Mr. Young taught us that the capital of Iowa was Des Moines, but more importantly, he taught us that it’s okay if you don’t remember something but never hestitate to look it up.
I remember the one time I had detention I filed sick notes with Mrs. Brown in the middle school office and I actually liked it. I went on to several clerical jobs and now with my business I have files of my own to keep track of.
Ms. Lemieux taught me in Life Skills how to measure dry ingredients, how to cook an omelet and how to make a pizza. I wish I did better at sewing. I want to tell Mrs. Satterthwaite that I’m in an all-girl a cappella group called The Skirts now. I know I was never super at singing, but I liked it a lot. Without the music practicum I took with her, I probably would be even worse at following along than I am now.
Then there’s the guidance office, and nurse’s office. I should have told Suzy Hallock-Bannigan when I saw her yesterday that I drink tea every single day now, and offer it when people come to my house. One of my good friends here in Glens Falls owns a loose leaf tea shop and tea is a big part of my life. I want to ask her what kind of tea she had in her office. It was so good, and tasted like a cup of “I understand.”
There’s so much more. French teachers, Tech Ed., field hockey coach Wendy Wannop, Hilda in the cafeteria, Mrs. Harpster, the custodial staff, and the teachers I didn’t name here that I should have… I realize now that high school is a tough time for everyone, and that the teachers know that too and are watching out for our best interests as people and not just grading us as students. They understood me more than I realized at the time, and laid the foundation for the life I live today.
Which is an awesome one.
I’m living in a house of my own in Glens Falls, Very Happily married in June 2010, co-managing The Shirt Factory where I have an art studio, running a business called Advokate that helps artists and small businesses self-promote via press releases, web design, graphic design, art career consultations and more. Advokate is coming up on its first anniversary on October 13 and our number one customer is the City of Glens Falls itself. I’m on the board of Art in the Public Eye and North Country Arts Center, sit on the programming committee for the Wood Theater and for five years organized NCAC’s Colors of Fall Art and Craft Festival. I was Co-President of NCAC for two years. I’ve put together a bunch of community events including a juried art show for my customer Adirondack Audio and Video which was perhaps the biggest one to date other than Colors of Fall and help out when I can with Irene’s Islands (I designed HelpKillington.com) and the Glens Falls Food Co-Op.
I’m so grateful for the faculty at Woodstock Union Middle and High School from 1993-1999. The things I’m doing with my life are a direct result of my middle and high school education, and there are many others like me who are doing well now because of those fantastic people. We are thriving because they cared. The world is a better place because of them.
I hope they know, and I hope Dr. Halley knew, that we are grateful. Thank you to Dr. Halley for being such an inspiration, for educating and for pushing! My heart goes out to her family for their great and untimely loss – but I’m sure I can speak for everybody who knew her even for a little while when I say that what we gained from having her in our lives is immeasurable. Her legacy is great. Our lives and the lives we will go on to touch are a tribute.