My aunt, LaVerne Busek, died this week.
You probably did not know her. In fact, I am not sure how much I really knew her.
People tell me I was among her favorite people in the whole family.
But we were not close in the way many relatives are.
She was always "our aunt in Cleveland" and lived a life much different than that of her blue collar brother (my dad) or farm-wife sister (my aunt, Alta Coultrip) in Wakeman.
She was a teacher, a professional woman. She never married. She traveled the world. She read challenging books and the Christian Science Monitor and Women's Wear Daily. She had theater and symphony and museum memberships.
The things I know about her seem so superficial.
For instance, I know she always had a parakeet. For years, each replacement bird was named Mr. Pickwick.
She loved to garden and would haul bushel baskets of manure from her sister's farm to improve the soil in her Shaker Heights garden.
She knew the city of Cleveland like a taxicab driver. She could tell you turn-by-turn directions to get anywhere.
That's how I first discovered she was developing Alzheimer's disease. I was in Cleveland and called to ask how I could get from where I was to her home. When she could not even remember the name of the cross street nearest her home, I knew she had a problem.
That was three-and-a-half years ago. Shortly after that incident, we helped her move to The Carriage House here in Norwalk. Then, as the Alzheimer's progressed, she relocated to places with the capabilities required to deal with that nasty affliction. She died last Tuesday night in Norwalk Memorial Home, covered by a quilt her mother had made for her 40 years ago. She was seven weeks shy of her 89th birthday.
As with every obituary, hers seemed regretfully inadequate to me. And, of course, even the luxury of 800 words in this newspaper column cannot summarize an 89-year life.
So I will simply tell you some things about LaVerne Mildred Busek and the topic that was most important of all to herschool.
She was a student herself, of course. And some headlines from the Wakeman High School student newspaper, "The Broadcaster," are telling.
From April 3, 1936: "Wakeman Places First In County Oratorical and Reading Contest. LaVerne Busek and Ruth Filkins Represent Local School." The story went on to say: "LaVerne, who has represented us several times this year oratorically, succeeded in defeating her rivals in both the Declamation and Scripps-Howard contest. Her essay was written by herself and entitled 'Should Ohio Have A One House Legislature?'"
And from May 27, 1936: "Florence Tousley is Valedictorian; Class Salutatorian is LaVerne Busek. Averages Are Very Nearly Tied."
She later became a teacher herself.
Here's a June, 1964 note from 10-year-old Kim Ringler: "Dear Miss Busek, You cannot imagine how much I appreciate your fine teaching. This year I have honestly enjoyed school because of your strict determination to let me LEARN! I write this letter in earnest and hope you realize this. Your admirer, Kim Ringler" I found a box full of others stating pretty much the same sentiment. The quality and sophistication of the writing by these children suggest that some serious learning was going on in Miss Busek's class.
Even a class troublemaker felt compelled to write this simple but expressive note: "Dear Miss Busek, I am sorry about what happened yesterday. I know you expect me to behave, and it will not happen again. Sincerely, Abel Robertson."
Phyllis and Elmer Freiberg offered a parental point of view in a letter to the "Sun Press" newspaper in 1976: "We were surprised to hear that Miss LaVerne Busek...had retired from Sussex School recently. It is a real loss to the Shaker Heights school system. Miss Busek taught our three children and...did much to develop their character and love of learning."
As I said, at our distance we never really got close to our aunt in Cleveland.
But I see now she was busywith her strict determination to help Kim Ringler learn; with her high expectations for Abel Robertson; and with her commitment to develop character and love of learning as noted by the Freibergs.
These are very nice things to be said about any human being. And I am glad they were true of my father's sister, my Aunt LaVerne. May she rest in peace.