Two weeks of tears close teaching career at St. Mary's Elementary First-grade teacher served 37 years ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY EDUCATION

June 14, 1993|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Staff Writer

It seems as if Jo Bembe has been crying for the past two weeks.

First it was over the Sunday brunch her co-workers held for her. Then it was the 200 yellow "Congratulations" balloons in her room, and the banquet with Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, and the Mass where her students sang songs about her.

The last good cry she had was on Friday while standing outside St. Mary's Elementary School. Mrs. Bembe was busy directing traffic, receiving bouquets of flowers from parting students and ending a teaching career that lasted more than four decades, most of it at St. Mary's.

"I've been crying all week," said Mrs. Bembe, 68, who retired this year after teaching first grade at St. Mary's for 37 years. "It was especially hard when these big seventh- and eighth-grade boys I taught -- who were bigger than me -- wrapped their big arms around me, hugged and kissed me and told me they were going to miss me.

"It's been a very emotional week for me because it's hard saying goodbye to a place I've been with all my life," Mrs. Bembe said.

Born in Annapolis, she attended St. Mary's school for eight years in the 1930s. She also married her husband of 35 years at St. Mary's Church in 1948. And after a six-year stint at Millersville Elementary School, she began teaching at St. Mary's in 1956.

"She's practically the foundation of our school," said Carleen Giannotti, 46, also a first-grade teacher at St. Mary's. "She had the ability to instill in the children a sense of calmness and a love of learning."

Mrs. Giannotti recalled taking 300 children to see a play at Anne Arundel Community College. The director couldn't get the children to be quiet, but Mrs. Bembe could, she said.

"Mrs. Bembe, very nicely in her quiet way, asked them to be quiet and listen," Mrs. Giannotti recounted. "All of a sudden, you could hear a pin drop. Mrs. Bembe always made the children feel special and that's why they love her. It won't be the same without her."

Although she will miss teaching, "it is time to move on," said Mrs. Bembe, who is planning to take a cross-country trip in September with newly retired friends.

"It took me a month to decide on whether to retire or not," Mrs. Bembe said. "My brother's been after me to retire and then I thought that maybe it was time for me to stop and enjoy life a little bit. And plus, these bones are getting a little old.

"The love . . . the teachers, the parents and especially the children have been so wonderful to me," Mrs. Bembe said. "It's been a very happy 37 years and that is why I stayed so long."

And how does the school feel about her leaving? The poem in a card that first-grade student Meg Hahn made might have said it best.

"A lifetime as a teacher is a long, long time it's true. But after 37 years, report cards are now due. We're sad to see this last day come, but now that class is through, the last grade from your last first grade is a huge A+ for you."

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