Rocky Raisen, who taught at Shenandoah Junior High School for 32 years, came up with all sorts of wacky ways to get kids excited about learning.
To celebrate the centennial of his idol, Albert Einstein, in 1979, he had 2,000 students spell out E=MC2, Einstein’s theory of relativity, on the football field. That stunt set a Guinness World Record.
He used square dancing to represent chemical structures, and made DNA molecule models out of toothpicks.
When he retired in 1992, former students got a stretch of Southwest 22nd Avenue at 19th Street designated Rocky Raisen Way.
And after he died March 7 at Baptist Hospital, some of the same former students created a Friends of Rocky Raisen Facebook page, posting tributes like Edgar Camacho’s: “He’s the only teacher that made me want to arrive 30-40 min. early to school.’’
Born Morton Stanley Raisen in the Bronx on July 7, 1934, he was 78, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Russian Jewish heritage. He attended the University of Illinois and the University of Miami, according to daughter Jodi Hart.
He’d been living part of the year in Brazil, and part of the year in Texas with daughter Julie Ortiz.
His brother, Elliott Raisen, wrote that Rocky “had melanoma cancer when he was young, bladder cancer in his middle age years, kidney and lung cancer, two hip replacements, and macular degeneration in the later part of his life. From this, it may not sound like it, but he had a long, good, happy, and fulfilling life. He took all of these obstacles in stride. In his mind and eyes every woman is a queen, every meal is a feast, every day is like pay day, and every day above ground is a good one.’’
Despite his illnesses, Hart said that in 32 years of teaching, her father never took a sick day.’’
Raisen’s former wife, Barbara Rosnick, said he got his nickname because he worked out and entered bodybuilding contests. They were married from 1953 to 1982, and remained friends.
She said he’d graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, where he played football. She said he “always loved science and loved children and wanted to teach. He loved life.’’
Rosnick said he spent his entire career at Shenandoah in Room 322. There, he created a dance team that became known as Rocky’s Gang, described in a 1983 Miami Herald story as students “dressed in blue and white leotards to impersonate neutrons and atoms [using dances] to teach the movement of atomic particles....’’
That year, the group performed in Israel at the Tel Aviv Youth Town Celebration. The story noted that in 1976, Raisen “turned a fire drill into a media event when he showed students how to form the word VOTE on the school’s playing field.”
Raisen said: “Why just waste a fire drill? Make them think and become involved. After all, it was an election year.”
But there was nothing unconventional about his parenting, daughter Jodi said.
“He disciplined in the proper way and taught us that necessity is more than want, but some wants were important.’’
What Rocky Raisen wanted, after he retired, was to experience the world. Having always lived frugally, he embarked on a “bucket list’’ of experiences that included a New Mexico cattle drive, a buffalo roundup, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, dog sledding in Alaska, a Native American powwow, visiting a meteor crater and the Taj Mahal, climbing in the Himalayas, and riding an elephant in India.
Brother Elliott wrote that Rocky “went hang gliding in Rio...He parachuted, flew in a WWII vintage airplane, swam with dolphins, manta rays, huge turtles, and even sharks.’’
Hart said her father “went to the gym every day and rode a fold-up bicycle. He’d go around picking up cans and made $50 a week from cans to take his children and grandchildren to dinner.’’
Raisen became a surrogate father to several young men, and personal tutor to professional athletes he met at the gym.
Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees pitching superstar, called Raisen his “mental coach,’’ Hart said. He also mentored Edgar Renteria, a retired Miami Marlins shortstop.
Bert Finale, now a retired Miami police officer, became one of the surrogate sons. He’d been in Raisen’s class in 1975 and said that unlike some Anglo teachers, Raisen “was very loving to us Cuban-Americans. There were a lot who were prejudiced, but he was inclusive.’’
They grew close in the 1980s, when Raisen began exposing Finale to aspects of the arts that Finale knew nothing about, like opera and Israeli dance. They travelled together and spent Finale’s 50th birthday together three years ago in Brazil.
“There were three things that Rocky loved,’’ Finale said, “food, women and people. He was so down-to-earth you’d think you were looking at a poor old man, but he never asked for anything other than to pick your brain,’’ one reason that pro athletes trusted him.
In October 1989, Raisen lost most of his belongings when his West Miami mobile home burned. The Shenandoah school community rallied to help. Students helped him salvage what he could, and fellow teachers made a “money tree’’ for him.
“He was a very humble man and didn’t know how to accept it,’’ ex-wife Barbara recalled.
At the time, Raisen told a reporter that he wasn’t going to let the loss crush him.
“You get down, you get back up,’’ he said. “If I had been inside [the trailer], I wouldn’t have to worry about insurance. They’d all be going to my funeral.’’
There wasn’t one to go to after Raisen died. His remains were cremated.
In addition to his brother and daughters Jodi and Julie, Raisen is survived by son Joshua Raisen.