On April 6 a light was extinguished with the passing of Bellmore resident Marjorie Hohl, at age 80. A relatively unknown giant in the teaching profession, Miss Hohl spent over 30 years teaching fifth grade at the Saw Mill Road School in North Bellmore, within the same classroom. She made a huge impression on virtually every student that ever set foot in her classroom, and also on her colleagues, over the many years that she spent at the school.
Majorie Hohl’s first class at Saw Mill Road School in 1957. She was one of the group of teachers that opened the new school
North Merrick resident Gene Maron, a cousin to Marjorie Hohl, told Your NewsMag she retired from full time teaching in 1994, “but even today, over 20 years later, there is no student whose life she touched, that doesn’t remember her with enormous love, affection and respect.”
“She was teacher, mentor and second mother to virtually every one,” he continued.
After retiring in 1984 from teaching, Maron said she eventually went back to school to earn a Master’s Degree in Library Science, and worked part time as a substitute librarian in the North Bellmore School District.
A funeral mass for Miss Hohl was held on April 13 at the St. Francis De Chantal Roman Catholic Church in Wantagh, where former elementary student Matthew West eulogized Miss Hohl, his fifth-grade teacher. What follows is the eulogy, which provides perhaps a clarity and depth of vision into the nature of the student-teacher relationship not now easily understood in today’s grownup world of teacher evaluations, and expected student results:
Eulogy for Marjorie Hohl
My name is Matthew West and I am proud and honored to eulogize my fifth-grade teacher, Miss Marjorie Hohl. I have known Miss Hohl for 30 years, having been her student at North Bellmore’s Saw Mill Road School in the mid-1980s. She was my teacher, my mentor, a “grandparent” and a friend to me. And, I am the person I am today in a large part due to her presence in my life.
Before Miss Hohl’s class, I had been a very shy child, a child who was highly creative but never given opportunities to channel and communicate my creativity outwards. For the first time ever, this lady believed in me and my talents beyond merely what a parent thought of his/her child. It’s one thing for a parent to say, “Oh, my child is great and has amazing potential.” Parents are biased, of course.
However, hearing this type of encouragement from an outsider was the first time I ever heard “You can do anything. You are highly creative. And, ultimately, you will be successful.” These words would come to make the biggest impact on my adult life.
As a 10-year-old, hearing this is powerful stuff … and Miss Hohl was the one who was able to dissect my personality, skillsets and strengths, and channel them in ways that no other adult had ever done before.
Dissecting parts of life was something that Miss Hohl excelled at. In fact, it was a major part of her teaching philosophy. She often said, “When you have to take something apart and then draw it in detail, you then begin to really understand it.”
Miss Hohl was a huge proponent of the arts. There were many times in her classroom she would painstakingly re-draw with pastels on the chalkboard, famous paintings of famous artists, maps of the world, scientific concepts like chromosomes and DNA. She would take sentences and dissect them on the board and then put them back together again with her students so that they would be able to understand parts of speech, and why words were connected in the ways that formed proper language.
There would not be a day that went by where her hands would be clean, because they were usually covered in charcoal and French pastels used in her drawings.
Her classroom was completely covered in art, which visually stimulated children’s senses. She said many times, “We don’t live our lives in black and white. We live them in color.” She went on to say, in a guest lecture to my Harvard graduate school class, “My teaching intention was always to try to reach the permanent memory storage area of the brain. One’s hand drives the mind. By having my children hand-copy at their tables what I was drawing and explaining at the chalkboard, whether it was a state map, skeletal system or planet, the process incorporated the visual by seeing, the tactile by the drawing and the audio by explaining as I drew each coast line and visual on the board, I was harnessing three of their five senses. I kept the pictures on the board and up on the walls in the classroom so they further imprinted in the children’s memory.”
Saw Mill Road School was impacted by Miss Hohl’s creative leadership. Just a few examples of her creative presence would be seen in the following ways:
She re-created six 10-foot Revolutionary War reproduction murals for our country’s Bi-centennial in 1976. They hung in the school’s cafeteria and auditorium for decades – and are probably still hanging there today. There would be many times Miss Hohl would get on huge ladders to repair the murals in the cafeteria after children had thrown meatballs at the paintings.
She re-created Haley’s Comet and painted it (it must have been at least 100-feet long) on large mural paper and then hung it in the cafeteria for the whole school to see.
For Walt Disney’s birthday, every year, she had children paint their favorite Disney character and then hang them on the school’s windows and hallway walls. She created a wonderland of visual creativity in the school. Miss Hohl brought Disney World to that school.
For Grandparents Day every year, she created hundreds of corsages made out of tissue paper and doilies and had her students hand them out to all of the grandparents who entered the school.
Miss Hohl loved history. She had boxes of historical newspapers dedicated to several events in history such as John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the first man landing on the moon and the assassination of Martin Luther King among others, and commemorated historical events by creating displays with these actual newspaper clippings and hanging them in Saw Mill’s main lobby.
For the U.S. Constitution’s bi-centennial in 1987, Miss Hohl and I recopied the entire US constitution word-for-word and hung it on large white sheets of construction paper in the school’s auditorium. We were two crazy, eccentric, creative minds working together for a common goal.
It’s often been said that people who don’t have children of their own live a very lonely life. And, given this philosophy, it may be easy to assume that because Miss Marjorie Hohl never got married or had biological children of her own, she led a very lonely life.
However, if people make that assumption, they would be very wrong. You see, Miss Hohl did have children and led a very rich life. She had over 1000 children and treated each one of them as her own. She was able to use her own creative gifts and inspire hundreds of childrens’ minds to become doctors and lawyers, teachers, artists and musicians, and business leaders and innovators of today.
When word got out about Miss Hohl passing away, there was a huge outpouring of sympathy and emotion on Facebook by her students, with each student telling how this woman affected his or her life in positive ways.
I am and will forever be indebted to her for how she brought out all of my talents. And, as a result of her being in my life, the lives of my own children will be forever changed because I carry on her teaching and learning philosophy to them.”
So many times, I would be on the phone with her and say, “Thank you so much for being there for me. Thank you so much for inspiring me. Thank you so much for believing in me and she would always respond the same way. “You had all the gifts inside you, always. All I did was just bring them out.”
Meanwhile, among more student comments made about Majorie Hohl’s passing were these on a facebook page:
“I remember her teaching us how to dissect sentences and I won the school and district spelling bees while I was in her class!!”
“I went to her service this morning, and was happy to be able to tell her family how much she meant to her students. She was really quite wonderful, and left a lifelong impression on me. I credit her with my love of reading to this day.”
“I heard you speak this today Matthew and you made me cry, bringing back memories. A great lady for sure.”
“A perfect eulogy for a wonderful human being.”
“How she dissected sentences stays with me.”
Marjorie Hohl was buried in a small cemetery in Southampton, near her second home.