A Powerful Acknowledgment of a Fourth Grade Teacher who Passed Away – received by Her Daughter!
By Judith W. Umlas
September 27, 2023
Back in 2009, I attended a gathering at my next-door neighbor’s home in Pennsylvania. While there, I talked with a nice person, Mitchell Golding, about where he was from. Well, it turns out we were both originally from New Rochelle, New York. I asked him what elementary school he went to and was pleasantly surprised to hear that we went to the same one: George M. Davis, Jr. Elementary School.
So, then I tried the craziest question of all on him – I asked him if he had ever had a fourth-grade teacher named Mrs. Wagreich when he was there. “Oh, yes, “he exclaimed, “she was one of the most important teachers in my life!” To his great surprise, I told him Mrs. Wagreich happened to be my mother!
From there we got into a conversation about how his father had passed away very suddenly when he was in third grade, at a time when his mother was quite ill, and confined to bed for a long period. That had caused him to be in a very “rock-solid shell” ever since then. “But your mother tried drawing me out of my shell had some success,” Mitchell said. And he started to laugh as he told me she had made him the “Wise Owl,” or narrator, in the class play and it was the biggest part of all! He said that drew him out tremendously, and he started to gradually come to terms with his great loss.
In a follow-up email, he sent me the photo below of the class, and my beautiful mother was in the picture! Mitchell is third from the left at the top! He also sent me his report card from that year, with my mother’s handwriting, which you can see below. I was so moved that I burst into tears when I saw that. Numerous times, and in various ways, he told me how important she had been to him both emotionally and educationally.
There are other stories about my mother that stayed with Mitchell.
Mitchell was a voracious reader of the World Book Encyclopedia that many people grew up with in the 1960’s. One particular day while having lunch at home, Mitchell read the chapter about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During math class that same afternoon Mitchell raised his hand and was called on by my mother. Did Mitchell have the answer to a math question? No, Mitchell stood up and announced to the class, “Did you know that in 1933 there was an assassination attempt against FDR that failed but the Mayor of Miami was killed.” Rather than admonish Mitchell for this seeming non sequitur in the middle of a math lesson, my mother smiled and kindly responded, “Mitchell is going to be President one day”.
Mitchell also recalled that shortly after Richard Nixon was first elected President of the United States in 1968 my mother put up the pictures in the front of the class of Richard Nixon and his Vice President, Spiro Agnew. Much of the fourth class booed when my mother did this. It was clear that they, or more specifically, their families, had supported the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. Though it was Mitchell’s impression my mother might not have supported Richard Nixon either, she admonished the class that Richard Nixon was now the President of all of us and, as such, he deserved all our respect. This was an important civics lesson that always stayed with Mitchell.
So, this makes an important point for me, and I hope for you as well!
And it’s this: If you want to acknowledge somebody profoundly, even if they have passed on, get it to one or more of that person’s family members. I always knew as her daughter that Sylvia H. Wagreich was 150% committed to all her students, in every class she taught for 34 years. Every Saturday, for example, she would take one of them out to lunch with her at the restaurant at Lord & Taylor’s department store. And I was politely but firmly excluded from this date. She wanted to give her full attention to her precious students. So, I knew they meant the world to her, but I never know how much my mother had meant to her students — and to this one, Mitchell Golding, in particular.
I hope she did know! I don’t know if she ever realized what a huge difference, she had made to this student who was so lost, so hurt!
I spoke to him recently to get permission to run this amazing little story for all of you, and he said he was just telling someone about my mother and how she had reprimanded a broken-hearted student who had lost his mother recently, telling him to be more like Mitch who had adjusted very well to the loss of his father. Mitch was laughing hard as he recounted my mother’s good intentions and lack of tact! I also detected a note of affection and pride in his recounting of the incident. It was clear that my mother had made an important contribution to the adjustment he eventually made in order to become the successful attorney he was.
I truly hope my mother got “wind” of his heartfelt appreciation and acknowledgment. I know I certainly treasure it for the two of us! Thank you, Mitchell, for getting that acknowledgment through the “wind’ to my mother, and directly to me!
Judith W. Umlas
Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President, author and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL), a global corporate training company. She is the publisher of IIL Publishing, New York. She is also the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment ©2006, IIL Publishing, New York, which has been credited with changing workplaces and lives by making use of the 7 Principles of Acknowledgment she developed. Her book on Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results was published by McGraw-Hill Professional in association with IIL in early 2013 and You’re Totally Awesome! The Power of Acknowledgment for Kids was published in late 2013 by IIL Publishing.
Judith delivers inspiring, motivational, and transformational keynote addresses on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. She also leads webinars and teaches full day virtual and traditional courses to organizations such as Volvo, the U.S. Army, Prudential, JMP Engineering, the World Bank, Fannie Mae, IBM, AT&T, Google, Amway, CCL Industries, the New York Police Department, and many others. She has trained over 100,000 people through her leading edge, highly interactive and engaging courses, and keynotes – with outstanding and long-lasting results. She heads up the Center for Grateful Leadership, a division of IIL, whose members from around the world are committed to practicing and implementing the Grateful Leadership initiative in their organizations.
Judith Umlas is a presenter at this year’s IPM Day 2023! Check out all event details, registration, and speaker lineup here.
Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.