Franklin Elementary, East Chicago, IN 1976
We sat, two to a desk, all facing the front of the classroom. First day pre-class discussion had come to a halt as our new teacher moved things around after telling us he’d be with us momentarily. We watched in curiosity as he grabbed the 3′ wide chunk of concrete and placed it deposited it on the desk with a loud kerflunk sound. No one said a word as we all stared in similar fashion to the many children and parents who first watched Willy Wonka approach the gate entrance to his factory to welcome the winners of the five golden tickets.
Mr. Gurevitz, our own peculiar man with red, wavy hair grabbed the second rock, larger than the first, grunting though executing safe lifting procedures before walking back to the desk. Suddenly and shockingly, he tripped, falling forward and losing his grip. Vanessa Ryan screamed and leapt backwards from her chair in horror as the rock landed and bounced off of the desk and into her chest.
Our collective gasps quickly changed to surprised laughter after realizing that the second item was made of Styrofoam and not a rock at all.
It was at that moment that I realized that I wanted a career in Education in some manner.
And his antics didn’t end there. Over the course of the 4th grade academic year, Science teacher Stuart Gurevitz wowed us with great facts, discoveries, trivia, anecdotal tales and extraordinary science experiments, few of which escaping from memory. His was a class that you dreaded missing, knowing something fantastic was bound to happen. In fact, it was arguably the only class in which you actually looked forward to the tests.
One of my favorite lessons was his demonstration of electrical current and a completed circuit, using a man-powered generator with two exposed wires. He had the entire room join hands in a broken circle, which was closed by the extended hands of the two students who held each wire with their “extra” hand.
He slowly turned the handle as we giggled from the tickling sensation, energy coursing between and through each of us. As the hand-generated (low) voltage increased, we held on excitedly, watching him “crank up the juice” with the mischievous face Willy Wonka, taking his tourists through along that nightmarish river of frightening images.
The speed of the revolutions eventually reached the point where it became too much for us and we let go of one-another, laughing in pure delight.
One of the things we didn’t know at the time was, despite his small frame (but still large to us), Mr. Gurevitz possessed an inordinate amount of upper body strength. No doubt attributed to his days as an athlete. He exhibited his physical prowess by grabbing hold of a vertical pole outdoors and extending his body sideways, perpendicular to the pole and perfectly parallel to the ground. To a wondering class, he appeared to be levitating. Nonetheless, we cheered as he held in place, looking like Superman, flying sideways with arms spread wide.
Mr. Gurevitz was a kind, caring and very entertaining character, much like the aforementioned Willy Wonka. The difference being that he was an educator, dedicated to the field of science; someone who utilized any and all methods to maintain our respective interest and ultimately, our retention levels.
He is the reason why I know the difference between Cirrus, Stratus, Cumulonimbus and other clouds today!
I enjoyed my time with him so much that I was devastated when I had to miss school for two weeks, having contracted Chicken Pox from my middle brother Terry. Even when my grandmother died, all I could do was stare at the classroom window from across the street below (my church was across the street from the school, and I could see the faces of Mr. Gurevitz and my classmates as they waved at me in support and compassion as I stood outside the limousine).
I’ll never forget how Mr. Gurevitz anxiously allowed several of us students to write and perform our own classroom play for extra credit. It was Danny Bieniak, Greg Rodriguez, Ricky Ali, Steve Homco and me – putting on our hilarious “Invasion Of The Booger People” for the class. It was the story of a scientist whose careless assistant sneezes into their experimental and hopeful cure for the common cold. Upon ingesting the tainted batch during self testing, the scientist and his assistant become “booger” monsters, covered in mucus (coated in the slime from the gooey Slime toy of the 70s). They soon attack the public, putting the contaminating substance on their unsuspecting victims, resulting in their transformation to “booger people” as well.
Steve and I both play double roles as policemen who succumb to the infection as well as the superheroes, Nasal Man and Tissue Man, respectively. Steve had a box around his torso with arm openings, wearing conically shaped hat, through which he sprayed his super serum while bending over. I had a similar box, with a slotted opening, pulling tri-fold towels and casting them on the creatures, returning them to normal and saving the day… …and the world.
Y’all will never know what we protected you from. We need OUR flowers too!
Mr. Gurevitz also served as the coach for the wrestling team, on which we were allowed to participate at that youthful age of 9 and 10. I have a hilarious story coming up, based on that experience, so be sure to sign up at the bottom for email notification of “I Was A Professional Wrestler (For A Day)”. Coming soon.
The only things I hated about his class were the ending of the period and the eventual last day of school, knowing we had to move on to different courses. Fortunately, before that, Mr. Gurevitz and I had several brief conversations after class and sometimes after school. It was during these times that he expressed his belief that I had a future in speaking and/or training. He told me that he believed that I needed to feed my thirst for knowledge and how things work and then use that newfound information to teach others.
He was one of the reasons that I enjoyed my 25 years as an Environmental, Safety & Health Director. I got the greatest joy out of using applicable stories, practical jokes, guest speakers and humorous video clips during training to strengthen the interest and content in my presentations. I was later blessed with an international award (Champions Of Safety, 1998) and the cover of Occupational Hazards magazine.
It was during my acceptance speech that I gave credit to Mr. Gurevitz for inspiring my unconventional and unorthodox methods (I wore my Chicago Bears jersey, ON STAGE, to open with the analogy, explaining the similarities between the safety compliance role and that of the offensive linemen in football. My mother was PISSED when she found out I stood in front of an audience of several hundred business professionals, dressed like I was going to an NFL game. But if you know me, you know, “that’s how I do”.).
One of my great return gifts to him has always been conversations with former employees who’ve shared that although they hated the job and have blocked as much from memory as possible, they never forgot the 4-hour safety orientation session that was anything but boring. They always remarked about the great information and how it was delivered, keeping them actively engaged. I even once had an executive recruiter tell me that it was the greatest presentation he’d ever seen in his career.
That was Mr. Gurevitz at work. That was HIS legacy. I, am his legacy.
Franklin Elementary, East Chicago, IN 2005
The most beautiful part of my story? Fast forward to 2005, when I took my family back to East Chicago for our 20-year class reunion. We stopped at the renovated Franklin Elementary school and walked to his classroom. And there he still stood, EDU-TAINING (educating and entertaining) his eager young pupils. My real surprise came when he looked over at us in his doorway and excused himself from the classroom. And although it had been almost 30 years, he took one look at me, held out his arms and yelled, “TISSUE MANNNNNN!”
…I stood, speechless, as he told my children the story of me and my other classmates, who he vividly remembered. I was even more amazed to see that I was on his “Wall Of Fame”, attempting to look tough as I posed for the wrestling team photo.
Then he capped it off by walking back to his desk and removing a preserved copy of the script of, yes, “Invasion Of The Booger People”.
Thank you, Mr. Gurevitz. You are the reason that I stand here today as I am. The next generation Willy Wonka.
I love you.
Tune in tomorrow for Teacher Feature: Day #2 – Myra Anderson!
Like what you read? Have something to say about Mr. Gurevitz or a teacher who helped mold you? Leave a comment in the section below! And don’t forget to sign up in the section at the bottom to receive email notification of future posts from Kenny’s Camera, Cooking & Crazy Confessions at ZootsBlogSpot!