Cedar Mountain Commons resident Martha Jurczyk is a senior citizen but she easily recalls her mother’s stories about working in a factory during World War I. “I remember her telling my sisters and me, ‘you are not working in a factory; you are going to get an education,’” Jurczyk recalled. She heeded her mother’s advice and took it one step further – she became a teacher, instructing elementary school students for 35 years.
Jurczyk is one of at least 15 Cedar Mountain Commons residents who were professional educators. In recognition of National Teachers’ Month, the former teachers gathered in May to chat about their teaching experiences. They represent approximately 20 percent of the population at Cedar Mountain Commons, an independent and assisted living community located at 3 John H. Stewart Drive.
The group includes: Calvin Aarrons, Marge Albert, Barbara Block, Edward Bobko, Tom Brown, George Bryenton, Frank Chiarenza, Martha Jurczyk, Barbara Kilpatrick, Robin Nichols, Therese O’Hare, Hank Podolak, Margaret Reardon, Barbara Vassar and Marge Wyman.
Many of the women noted that when they were growing up in the 1930s and ’40s, the acceptable professions were nursing, secretarial or teaching. Resident Therese “Terry” O’Hare combined two of those fields, teaching nurses’ aides. “I found it very fulfilling,” she said.
Several recalled that their own teachers instilled a love of learning by nurturing their curiosity and instilling life skills such as compassion, patience and persistence. Many now hold extensive credentials and had impressive careers.
Living at Cedar Mountain Commons has rekindled connections several teachers made while working. Barbara Block remembers teaching Latin as a substitute for Marge Albert who said she found her pupils’ enthusiasm was contagious. Albert recalled the fun of Latin Day when high-schoolers from across the state would participate in Roman-inspired activities including “chariot” races. “It’s sad to be retired,” she mused.
Even though decades have passed since they were in the classroom, some of the former teachers are still in touch with their now-grown students. Jurczyk met a former third-grader who was visiting her mother – also a resident – in the dining room. They later caught up on old times during a social gathering in Jurczyk’s apartment. Calvin Aarrons said he is still in contact with several people he taught during his 34-year career. Edward Bobko, a retired Trinity College professor, still delights in talking about chemistry when his peers come for a visit. Margaret Reardon has been meeting monthly with her own retirees’ group since 1991.
Overall, the Cedar Mountain Commons residents taught for more than three decades, many in multiple towns, schools and subjects as diverse as music and special education. Their experience included primary age through college and in one case, in a juvenile prison.
Henry “Hank” Podolak was music department chairman in Wethersfield and in charge of the school bands. Tom Brown worked his way up to being principal in several Meriden schools. Others, including Barbara Vassar, who was a guidance counselor, were married to principals.
Some who credited their teachers with inspiring their career choice ultimately inspired their own children – and their pupils – to enter the profession. “Teaching was the best career there is,” Block said.
Though they hold distinct histories, the men and women agreed that the key to success was communication and being genuinely interested in their students. They never tire of sharing their stories.
“Know a teacher? Tell them to move here,” Jurczyk quipped.
Cedar Mountain Commons, a department of Hartford Hospital, is a not for profit independent and assisted living community. To learn more, stop by the next open house on Saturday, Aug. 4, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. For more information about Cedar Mountain Commons, visit cedarmountaincommons.org.