Honoring a Veteran Teacher

No, she’s not retiring,” a refrain said repeatedly as Friedel Jewish Academy in Omaha, Nebraska, asked people to join the committee to plan the celebration of a beloved teacher’s 30 anniversary of working at the school. So much was the concern that people might misinterpret the meaning of the celebration, that a logo was created using the tag line “30 Years: Cheers to the Next Decade and Beyond!”

Denise Bennett joined the staff of the school as her first full-time teaching position out of college. She grew up in a small town in Nebraska, and the multiage classrooms at the day school reminded her of her own schooling. She has served as the school’s general studies teacher for the older grades all these years, currently teaching fifth and sixth grade.

The celebratory event, attended by hundreds of community members, began with a proclamation from the mayor of the City of Omaha:

Whereas, Denise Bennett has dedicated her teaching career to the students at Friedel Jewish Academy, and

Whereas, The Friedel Jewish Academy, its staff and students, follow these guiding principles: Love of Learning, Love of Torah, Love of Israel, Repairing the World and Love your Neighbor...

Denise Bennett Day was declared on May 24, 2018. (She jokes that she likes to think of it as an annual event.)

For each of her sixth grade graduating classes, Denise has written a song that honors the individual strengths of each student. This vocal tribute to the graduates is sung by the school’s faculty at the annual graduation ceremony. For the Mrs. Bennett Celebration, a song was written to honor this phenomenal educator. It was sung to her by more 40 Friedel alumni, called up to the stage by name and graduating class year, among hugs and tears as they greeted Mrs. Bennett, seated in the middle of the stage.

From there, Denise was joined on the stage by a group that included four of the heads of school and 14 of the school’s presidents over the course of her tenure. This group presented her with a message of congratulations on behalf of the governor along with a certificate of appointment as an admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska.

If you remember elementary school geography lessons, you are probably thinking, “Navy? In Nebraska?” The Great Navy of the State of Nebraska began in 1930 when Governor Charles W. Bryan went on vacation and Lieutenant Governor T. W. Metcalfe took over the affairs of the state. Acting Governor Metcalf wanted to do something to honor his friends, so he created the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska and appointed his friends as admirals. Since then, Nebraska admiralships have been bestowed on many notable Nebraskans, with stated requirements for appointment as follows: “Admirals in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska are individuals who have contributed in some way to the state, promote the Good Life in Nebraska, and warrant recognition as determined by the Governor.”

The evening’s celebration closed with a video montage of Friedel alumni, including the entire graduating class of Denise’s inaugural year of sixth graders, sharing the life lessons they learned from her that they’ve carried with them since childhood.

In promoting the event with alumni and the Omaha Jewish community, we offered the opportunity for people to contribute to the newly created Teachers’ Wish List in honor of Denise and the other wonderful teachers at Friedel. Donations from the event provided for new iPads for the whole school, funded field trips and added equipment to our innovation lab.

Author
Beth Cohen, Head of School, Friedel Jewish Academy, Omaha, Nebraska
Issue
Organizational Memory