Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Leroy Gray Memorial

The memorial for my former teacher, Mr. Gray, was Saturday, and what an experience it was. It was exactly the kind of day I remember from when I was a kid--bone-chilling cold. The sky was overcast, and the 30 mph wind cut right through our jackets. It was supposed to be 50 degrees, but it was only 42, with a wind that made it feel like 12.

We left at 6:30 that morning and arrived at 11:00. We walked into the track meet, and I immediately started looking for friendly faces, aged 25 years or so. Ironically, the first one I found was Mrs. Gray, my English teacher and mentor, and Mr. Gray's wife. She was surrounded by family, and her face lit up when she saw me. "Don't tell me--Jim!" she exclaimed, and I nodded and hugged her. There were plenty of other former students there to see her, so I gave her some space and kept searching the crowd. Magi had Sera bundled up and huddled against her in a blanket. As more and more people started to arrive, recognition would wash over our faces and we would just start gushing. A couple people passed me a few times with a puzzled look on their faces, as if they wanted to say something but just couldn't place my face. I let them off the hook, though, as I was a lanky 200 pound (yes, 200 pounds is lanky when you're 6' 4")18-year old kid when they last saw me.

Old students and athletes of Mr. Gray's began to assemble, and my former next-door neighbor Kellie Amidon started warming up her cornet to play the Star-Spangled Banner. I kidded her that she used to play the trombone, and she responded that she kept trying to play bass clef when reading the music which she had taped down because of the winds. Nancy Markham had a prepared speech and was going over it while Paul Williams, my former basketball coach and recently-retired athletic director tried to get the public address system going. I stayed busy catching up with Denise Shively and Rhonda Cochrane.

Nancy (Markham) Klein

A break in the track meet was called, and people assembled around the home stands. Nancy gave a heartfelt speech, followed by a 21-gun salute by the Cadillac Area Honor Guard, given in respect to Mr. Gray's service during the Korean War. Taps was played and a flag was raised to half staff, then lowered and given to Mrs. Gray. Nancy had arranged for the flag to be flown over Washington, D.C. last year. A new flag was raised over the stone memorial and Mrs. Gray graciously thanked everyone in attendance, showing off her still-booming voice that always commanded attention in the classroom.

Mrs. Gray

The Memorial Stone

On our way home, I pointed out the exit to the small town where the Grays lived (and where Mrs. Gray still lives) while they taught in Mesick. Magi expressed her admiration at the dedication it must have taken to drive 70 miles round trip to work every day for 22 years. I, for one, cannot thank them enough for the impact they both had on my life.


The Cadillac News covered the event here. They have exerpts from Nancy's wonderful speech.

I have created a Yahoo group for alumni of Mesick High School here. Stay in touch!


Jeff said...

Funny how I remember the names of people you went to school with, but not the names of the people I went to school with. I remember you taking me and Nancy Markham to some movie at the drive-in, after which you decided it would be funny to pull away with the car every time I tried to reach the door handle while trying to get back in. After 10 minutes of this, she made you stop. I'm probably the only one of the three of us that remembers that. Yeah, I'm still not laughing.

nancy said...

I can't believe I remember that incident as well. It was at a theater in TC. I still have emotional scars from it. I think Jim must have scars as well, as I repeatedly punched him in the arm as only a 15 year old girl can! The joy of siblings! I hope Jim at least sprung for popcorn for us on that day.

Jim McClain said...

Okay, we went to see "Firefox," with Clint Eastwood at the theater in Traverse City that used to be in the Meijer parking lot. I did spring for popcorn, as well as the movie tickets. My father apparently didn't get the concept of a date, because he made me take Jeff along, too, after the date had already been made. I was evil, I admit it. But I'm good now, really!

Julie said...

Thanks Jim for posting the pictures and the write up. I was unable to attend the Memorial but did go down to the track on Sunday and showed the memorial to my 12 yr old son. Mr.Gray was such a great teacher and coach. Julie "Tiny Tiger" Johnson - Class of '83