About 60 years ago, in a North Miami classroom, an inexperienced but enthusiastic Miss Parker was celebrating her fifth- and sixth-graders’ birthdays with treats, balloons, the school band and — of course — cake.
On Saturday, Parker, 81, who is known today as Marjorie Wessel, will be reuniting with her students from Benjamin Franklin Elementary School to celebrate their 70th birthdays.
“I just think it’s something really nice to look forward to because there’s different people coming from different places,” said Shirley Bazemore Strickland, who had Miss Parker in the sixth grade. “For people to take their time to come to something like this, it’s an honor. It’s an honor to be together.”
Strickland, 69, remembers playing on a maypole and learning her multiplication tables from Miss Parker, who was fresh out of college and teaching her first class — the fifth-graders — in 1952.
William Parker remembers singing 1950s hits in class, but also that Miss Parker was strict, “which I guess it was a good thing, especially in sixth grade, because that’s the age when we think we know everything.”
“I think she cares about all her students, and we could sense that even then,” said William Parker, 70. “We just knew that she was going to be one of our best teachers and friends.”
And that was still evident at their high school graduation, which Miss Parker attended — and 10 years later, when the students received letters from Miss Parker about a reunion. From then on, the Benjamin Franklin classmates got together every 10 years, including in 2010.
“I was a very strict disciplinarian, and manners and feelings of everyone should be taken into consideration, and that’s what I taught my kids,” Miss Parker said. “The parents really appreciated it, so we worked together. That’s part of why we were so close: We were like a family more than just a teacher and her students.”
Mary Ann Perretti Ensey, 69, said Miss Parker always “took a personal interest in every one of us kids,” whether it was listening to her students’ academic and extracurricular problems or calling their parents for an update whenever one was out sick.
“One thing I was was honest. It was what I thought, not what they wanted to hear,” said Miss Parker, 81. “I guess the proof is in the pudding — we’re still talking.”
Miss Parker didn’t plan to stay long in education. In fact, she found her way to Benjamin Franklin looking for three years of experience before she became a juvenile probation officer.
“What happened is that I fell in love with my fifth-graders and I never left,” Miss Parker said.
Miss Parker said that it was her students’ idea in 2010 to reunite two years later for a birthday party.
“I feel honored that they feel the way they do after all these years,” Miss Parker said. “In this day and age, can you imagine if even half of your kids like their teachers, how wonderful that would be?”
Miss Parker said she is planning several surprise gifts and guests for the June 2 celebration.
“It would be good to see all my old classmates,” William Parker said. “I don’t get excited over too many things, and I’m excited about this.”