Swift House students pay tribute to teacher (5/7/09)

May 7, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

On a quiet and sunny Monday afternoon, students at Williston Central School’s Swift House gathered around a newly planted tree just outside the classroom door. It was a time for closure, said teacher Julie Longchamp, over the sudden death of Swift House teacher Al Myers last week.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Swift House teacher Jason Lamb helps students plant a tree in honor of Al Myers, who passed away on April 25. Swift House students gathered outside Monday afternoon to celebrate Myers’ life.


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
The front lobby display case at Williston Central School, pictured above, was transformed into a tribute to Swift House teacher and WCS Drama Club director Al Myers following his death after a fall in the school’s auditorium.

For an hour, students huddled together in groups surrounding the tree. There were tears and laughter during the observance, as many students clung to each other during the emotional ceremony. Some students sang songs, including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Lean on Me.” Others recounted their memories of Myers, choking back tears as they credited him for inspiring them in school and on the stage. And some students told jokes Myers made popular in class. One student summed up Myers’ personality by calling him a “pretty swell dude,” which brought laughs from those gathered.

“It was a perfect, perfect ceremony,” Longchamp said afterwards. “We needed to mourn as a team.”

Myers passed away on April 25 after falling from a ladder while working on the school play, “The Wizard of Oz.” Myers had been the school’s theater director for many years. He had been a teacher at Williston Central since 1973.

To honor Myers’ love of history and the Civil War in particular, teacher Susan Mahony opened the ceremony by playing Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell” on her fiddle. Ungar’s Civil War lament, written for the Ken Burns documentary on the war, was one of Myers’ favorite instrumentals, Mahony said.

“It has a beautiful poignancy to it as a goodbye,” Mahony told the students.

Special Education Director Carter Smith told those gathered how Myers’ mission was to encourage students to pursue what they loved.

“He felt everyone should become lifelong learners,” Smith said.

Longchamp said Swift House would continue on, even in Myers’ absence. She credited the students for coping with his loss over the past week.

“All of you are amazing, amazing kids,” Longchamp said.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Mahony fiddled “Amazing Grace” as students tossed personal notes and thank you letters into the dirt surrounding the tree, which was donated by Paquette Full of Posies. Students and teachers sang the words as lyric sheets were passed around. Finally, student Elizabeth Waller closed out the event, playing “Taps” on her trumpet.

Afterwards, everyone was encouraged to grab a handful of dirt and throw it around the base of the tree. The notes became buried in the soil as dirt piled up around the tree’s roots.

As most students returned to the classrooms, a few stayed to make sure the remaining dirt would be shoveled around the tree, completing the planting ceremony. As Longchamp said, it was a quiet ending to a beautiful ceremony.