Monday, February 11, 2008

Stepping into God's loving arms

Things are different in big cities.

In small towns, kids finish school and see everyone around town for the rest of their lives -- classmates, teachers, the principal.

In cities, kids graduate from high school and spread out across the country, across the world even, and forget most of what they left behind. The last time I visited the Woodson campus as an alumnus was the fall of 1967, when I came back to see my friends in the marching band at the Woodson-Annandale football game.

I went back in 1980 as a sports reporter, covering a basketball game between Woodson and one of the Alexandria schools for my first newspaper job with the Alexandria Gazette.

I never went back to see the teachers I had known and liked. There weren't many, and my favorite teacher of all -- Rachel Maguire from 12th grade English -- had moved over to Oakton.

But teachers stay.

Teachers stay and teacher generations of kids, affecting their lives the same way they did those of their parents and sometimes even their grandparents. It's why movies like "Goodbye Mister Chips" move us so much.

Joan Bedinger was one of those teachers, not for me but for many others. She taught drama and directed productions at Woodson for 30 years till her retirement in 1994. The theatre at Woodson is named after her.

She died last week after the last in a series of strokes. I was kind of surprised to realize that while we were there and she was teaching, she was younger than my 27-year-old daughter is now.

The Woodson drama Web site, which has information about her and her funeral services that will be held Saturday in Fairfax, says she "stepped into the loving arms of God."

That sounds pretty nice to me.


Dena said...

My sister, Neva, attended Woodson only one year, 1965-66. A couple months ago, she said her favorite teacher that year was Mrs. Bedinger. One of only two freshmen in a Drama I course, Neva's creativity was ignited & supported by this skilled teacher.

Tonight, I told my sister the news of Mrs. Bedinger's death. Listening to the memories of someone whose fourteenth birthday was in mid-February that year, I'd say this teacher saw & respected her young students for who they truly were.

When asked what character & scene she planned to rehearse for a class assignment, Neva said she wanted to portray Helen Keller from a piece in "The Miracle Worker." Mrs. Bedinger advised against it, "because that would be too easy for you." On the phone tonight, Neva told me, "I was on cloud nine for weeks after that comment."

~ Dena

Dale Morgan said...

With Susan Morales' permission, I am placing her memories of Joan Bedinger below:

"I was terrified of Miss Bedinger. At a time in my life when I was struggling with who I was and how I defined myself, she represented all that I was not. She was filled with a confidence and exuberance that for me was intimidating. That being said, I signed up for Drama
1. I was terrified, yet I had to try it, such was her power to draw us near to her passion.

To this day I can vividly recall a class exercise, perhaps the first we had to do. Though I may appear to some to be an extrovert, I am in truth shy. To get up in front of that class and perform was very scarey. Looking back at that moment from here, I am amazed at the topic I chose- having at the time no experience with or knowing anyone who had lived through the Holocaust (perhaps there is truth to reincarnation) I played a Jewish woman about to flee from her home to try and escape. For whatever reason, at the end of my
play, as I looked around my life/my home, I think I actually was doing that in some sense. Anyway, the class was totally silent - for a long while. I can still see Miss Bedinger sitting in the desk amongst the students as she said to them, "Forget about all the business at the beginning, but THAT is the way you do it." It was a moment of support, relief, but at some level, the beginning of a young woman discovering herself.

Miss Bedinger inspired us to take a risk, to rise to a challenge. She did it naturally through her own passion for life and by what she loved doing. We were drawn to that light within her. Her skill as an educator was to do that
in such a manner that we still remember today."

Susan Morales-Kosinec

Dale Morgan said...

With Carla Rieker's permission, I am placing her memories of Joan Bedinger below:

"Although my focus was music in high school (I studied Cello privately), one of the greatest thrills was being chosen for "The Unsinkable Molly Brown!" As a cast member, I got to sing in the chorus, had a speaking line, a singing solo line, and was generally present onstage throughout the musical. This experience given me by Ms. Bedinger has lasted me throughout my life. What a gift. As an educator, she was patient, kind, supportive, and clear on her expectations; as an educator myself, to me she was the kind of educator all students need to guide them."

Carla Rieker-Cloninger

Alan Eisenberg said...

As a WTW drama student from the class of '86, I recall an older Joan Bedinger who was my teacher, mentor, and friend. She changed students lives and treated us, not as students, but as family.

She had a very large family, starting from the early teaching days in the 60s to her retirement in the 90s. Not a soul she touched wasn't affected by her. She will be missed.

Dale Morgan said...

With Bob Wither's permission,I am placing his memories of Joan Bedinger below:

When I think back to our time with Joan I am heartened by the wonderful, energetic and enthusiastic memories we created together. The very soulful, spiritual and sensitive friendship she shared with us was indeed a cherished gift.

Bob Withers

Dale Morgan said...

Bob Withers attended Joan's funeral service and told me that 'Bobbie Lanzer gave a very touching, heartfelt and poignant eulogy at Joan's memorial service on Saturday.'