On Saturday of Labor Day weekend Dina and I went to Twin Falls, Idaho and visited one of my heroes—my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Vira Amende. Mrs. Amende is 98 years old and resides independently in a beautiful continuum of care facility. We found her apartment, knocked on the door and she opened it and greeted us warmly.
She had no idea who we were. I was in her first-grade class at Washington Elementary in Twin Falls, Idaho in 1972—a mere 47 years ago. I remembered her as being taller—but back then I was a lot shorter. I showed her my first grade photo and asked her if she remembered the student in the picture. She immediately replied, “Oh that is Ryan, I always loved him.”
I then told her that I was the kid in the picture. She was stunned, gave me a big hug and invited us in for a visit. She is a long-time friend of my Great Aunt and has kept up on me, and my status, over the years. She was amazing—just as kind and cheerful as I remembered her being so many years ago. Her mind is razor sharp. She immediately asked me about my sister and where she was living, and she even remembered the name of the road that I lived on in Jerome. (We moved to Jerome the summer after my first-grade year.)
I shared with Ms. Amende that she was my favorite teacher. I shared that whenever I think of her, I remember the time, care, interest, patience, kindness and love that she extended to me so long ago. I told her that she was my inspiration to be a teacher, and that she is one of my heroes.
I shared with her that I distinctly remembered her husband visiting the classroom a couple of times during the school year. He was always dressed professionally and he was so kind and funny. With tears in her eyes, Mrs. Amende shared that her husband, Robert, to whom she was married for over 60 years, worked at Farmers Insurance and always liked to drop by her classroom to visit her students.
Dina and I sat in her living room and talked with her about our two daughters, our time in South Korea, and about the fact that Dina and I were both working as public school teachers. She listened with great interest and asked us engaging questions. She shared that she loved teaching; however, she only taught for seven years at the schools, Washington Elementary and Sawtooth Elementary in Twin Falls, Idaho. As we were talking about the year that I was in her first-grade class she asked, “Was that the year that we made butter?” Yes it was. I remember getting the chance to work the churn and eating some of that butter on toast that we made in the classroom. Wow, what a great memory!
Mrs. Amende said that even though she didn’t teach long, she loved teaching and loved all of her students. However, she did say that she liked teaching little boys a bit better than little girls. To explain this, she said that little boys would come in from recess, red-faced and sweaty after a rough and tumble time outside, and they would shrug it off and ask for a pencil to do their work. Whereas, little girls would come in from recess and the first thing they wanted to do was to tattle and complain that so-and-so wasn’t being friends with so-and-so. She loved all of her students, but she said that she would have been fine with a room full of boys.
I am thankful that I was a student in Mrs. Amende’s first-grade classroom. I don’t remember a thing she taught me, but I will never forget how she made me feel. Her kindness, encouragement, care and love still resound warmly in my 53 year-old heart and mind. Mrs. Amende is my hero.