Dennis Marek: Why would one remember his nursery school teacher after 70 Years?

As a very young child, it became quite obvious to my mother, and probably my older sister, I had a bent toward carelessness and sometimes a very determined behavior. I remember on Sunday after church, I insisted on walking down to the Kankakee River, where my parents had a dock. The dock was only a foot and a half wide, and I would fall in the river at least once per month in spite of stern warnings to be careful. I cannot recall how many times Mom had to wash that Sunday outfit. But I was determined I could walk all the way to the end.

Perhaps to keep some sanity in the household, I was sent to preschool when I was barely 4. While we lived out toward Aroma Park, the school was in the YMCA building across from the courthouse. There, we had other children to play with as well as new and exciting toys. Our main teacher was Launa Whipple, only known to us as Miss Launa. That name stayed, even though she would marry Lawrence (Larry) Weeks, a Kankakeean and World War II veteran from the 8th Air Force, in 1948.

I remember a girl of my age named Suzie Taylor who also attended what then was called nursery school. There was no kindergarten yet. Apparently one day, I needed all the available blocks to build whatever super structure I was creating, but Suzie also had some of these rather large blocks. I do not remember what ensued, but I apparently took the needed blocks away from her. It was alleged I hit her with one of the blocks to get her attention.

I cannot say which instructor took charge, as there were several assistants with Miss Launa, and I loved her way too much to think she would do this, but I was placed in a cab and sent home collect. I have joked for years my mother paid, and then I paid and paid and paid. I would like to think my behavior improved thereafter, but I have no specific memory.

I do remember going next to Steuben Grade School on Wildwood Avenue for first through third grade. We had a principal, Miss Redfield, who was supposed to be a terror, but I had developed an unusual skill. I could fix stuck zippers on coats. I was called out of class on several occasions by Miss Redfield to extract a child from his or her coat.

As I went through those years of early education, I have memories of almost all of those teachers. From nursery school through eighth grade, my teachers were all women but two. Then, why do I so distinctly remember Miss Launa? Was it because she was my first real teacher outside my home or because this woman was the epitome of comfort upon one’s first scary experience outside the family?

Three years ago, I wrote a column about my sister, who lives in Escondido, Calif., rediscovering our teacher, Launa Weeks, in the neighboring city of Poway. They had a chance to visit from time to time, and the two of us combined in writing about our long-ago teacher. Apparently, the article reacquainted many former students of hers with Miss Launa through Facebook from across the country.

On Sept. 9, we lost that favorite teacher in Poway at the age of 98. Miss Launa was born in Kansas City and received her bachelor’s degree from Baker University in Kansas in sociology. In 1946, she received her Master’s degree from the University of Chicago, where she studied early childhood education. That means I had a nursery school teacher with a Master’s degree as a 4-year-old.

Miss Launa moved to Kankakee in fall 1946 as a teacher in the Family Nursery School sponsored by the Kankakee Community Chest. I must have been in her first class of teaching in 1947. That nursery school was discontinued in 1950, and she entered Kankakee School District 111 as a kindergarten teacher. She retired from that school district in 1981 after a career of 35 years in education.

Miss Launa was a member of the local St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for more than 50 years, and, of course, taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

Miss Launa gave to her community in so many ways. She was a member of the Historical Society, the Kankakee Woman’s Club, the Minerva Book Review and the Quadrille Dance Club. In addition, she was an amateur photographer and specialized in reel-to-reel film making. In her later years, she had many of these rare films converted to DVDs so she could rewatch them and leave incredible memories for her children and grandchildren.

Miss Launa’s daughter, Susan, has decided on Oct. 19, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on South Harrison Avenue in Kankakee, there will be a memorial service and visitation starting at 10 a.m. with the service at 11. A light lunch will follow.

So, if you are here and were one of the thousands of children who benefitted from our Miss Launa or someone who admired this special woman, please feel free to attend. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to St. Paul Episcopal Church at the above address.

Thanks to you some 70 years late, Miss Launa, for all you taught us and how you withstood young boys such as me.