I didn't know this photo on the steps of the old Brownsville School existed until Miss Kalter shared it -- and several others -- with me a few years back. Amazing that I am Facebook friends with quite a few in this photo, including Cheryl Rodenburg, John Scott, Robin Buell, Dennis Houchins, Kim Cushing and Jeryl Telker.
The old Brownsville school was built in 1912, a red-brick classic, three stories, appropriate to the era. There, generations of children attended all twelve years. The red brick, the original slate chalkboards, and the Palladian window over the entrance gave the building a slightly elegant rather than merely utilitarian flair--this in a small, rural-Indiana, unincorporated village.
Among the generations of students passing through its hallowed halls were my dad, Huburt, who was in fact born the year it was built; my brother, David, who graduated from there; and my brother, Tim, who finished up at Short High School in nearby Liberty following 1960s consolidation.
Not long before the school was abandoned for good, then sold to a private owner, and eventually torn down, I made the attendance cut, barely. I was in the last kindergarten class to attend school there, the summer of 1964. It has always been a matter of personal pride that those few weeks made me an alumnus of that particular Union County school, adding something in common with the men in my family.
Kindergarten was exciting! I was finally old enough for school. The old building, on its last legs, seemed grand to my five-year-old eyes. I remember sitting behind Christy Sweeney who was wearing her navy blue dress with tiny stars on it. I can still picture the view of Brownsville through the large classroom windows. I loved playing Red Rover in the school yard and I remember swinging on the tall swings. I carpooled with Cheryl and Brenda Rodenburg and our moms.
Our kindergarten teacher was Miss Grace Kalter. And on the last day of school that summer, I remember receiving the first award of my young life. I was called with others to the front of the class and presented with a small ABC’s storybook. It was inscribed by Miss Kalter with a note that said it was for perfect attendance in kindergarten. I still have it somewhere.
I graduated from high school twelve years later with almost every single person who went to kindergarten with me that summer.
But after that summer, I never saw Miss Kalter again all through school. She taught at another county school, Kitchel Elementary, and the next dozen years went by in what now seem like a blur.
It wasn’t until many decades later that Miss Kalter again appeared on my radar. The mother of a former mayor in New Castle, in the town where I work, knew I was from Liberty and mentioned that she knew Miss Kalter. I got her address, and sent her a letter. Miss Kalter wrote me back.
It was like getting a letter from a celebrity. She was a celebrity. Aren’t all teachers celebrities? I always thought so. She seemed to remember me and she said she had photos of our kindergarten class.
I had dreamed, literally, about that class, classroom and school for all of my life and here she had evidence on film of those days. I asked if I sent her some money, would she send me copies. She did. I think I cried when I saw the photos – my friends, classmates and me. There we were in our five-year-old glory.
Miss Kalter and I began exchanging Christmas cards and pleasantries. Last year when I did a book signing at the Union County Public Library, Miss Kalter and her sister were there!
The other day, it happened again. A Christmas card arrived with a short update from my kindergarten teacher. I think it’s my favorite card every year.
The Lord presents us with unique gifts throughout life, personal ones that are special only to us, and one of mine is the annual Christmas card from the kindergarten teacher I had more than half a century ago.
I don’t think too many people at age 57 can say they get cards from their kindergarten teachers. Thank you, Miss Kalter! And Merry Christmas.
Teachers are our heroes. And they are our celebrities. God bless them, every one.