As Christians we know that God directs our path. Sometimes when we look back, we can see how the people we met along the way have influenced our lives. It’s a special gift and blessing when that happens.
More than 45 years ago as a part of a 9th grade health class requirement, I volunteered to help in a kindergarten classroom in a local elementary school. I love kids and was thinking of becoming a teacher, so this seemed like an easy and fun way to fulfil that requirement.
Lee, Mrs. Skandalaris to me at the time, was one of the teachers in that classroom. She had raised her 4 boys and gone back to school to get a degree in education. She hadn’t been teaching very long when I met her, but it was obvious that she was a wonderful teacher. She was kind, but had a no-nonsense way about her as well. It didn’t take long for me to gain an admiration for her.
I liked helping out so much that I did more than my 20 hours and learned so much in that classroom. Lee let me stretch my wings in that classroom as well. If I had an idea for one of the classroom learning centers, she encouraged me to prepare the materials and try out the idea.
A couple of years later when I was taking a high school child development course, our teacher made us aware of a Title 9 program at an elementary school in a needy area in our district. We could apply for the job and get paid to help tutor children in the reading lab. Lo and behold, the head of the reading lab was Lee Skandalaris. Along with 3 other students, I soon found myself heading to the reading lab every day after school to work with these kids.
Each of us was assigned children to work with, one on one or in small groups. We would pick them up at their classrooms, bring them to the reading lab, and work with them. Lee would give us some guidance on what the kids needed and then let us work. For 2 years I was blessed to have that wonderful experience. I learned so much through Lee and from just being given the experience of seeing where children need help and devising ways to help them. What an amazing opportunity I was given while still in high school!
I followed my dream of becoming a teacher, and through the years Lee and I kept in touch. She received our newsletters and was especially interested when we began serving as literacy specialists. Lee’s love of reading and education lead her to complete a Master’s degree an even her Phd.
When we returned to Detroit in January for my father’s funeral, we took that opportunity to contact Lee to see if we could come for a visit. She said, “I’m frail, but come see me.” Armed with literacy materials from our latest project in the Solomons, we enjoyed a lovely time with her in her sunny living room.
When we returned to Detroit in January for my father’s funeral, we took that opportunity to contact Lee to see if we could come for a visit. She said, “I’m frail, but come see me.” Armed with literacy materials from our latest project in the Solomons, we enjoyed a lovely time with her in her sunny living room. We talked about our projects and she told us about the ways she still kept busy in mentoring others and editing the newsletter for the retirement community in which she was living. And Lee gave me a beautiful antique broach she had acquired in New Zealand many years earlier.
Lee gave us updates on her sons and their families. She told us about her son Rick who lives in the Philippines and has cottages for rent. She said, If you ever get to the Philippines, you should go visit Rick and Techie. We agreed we would keep that in mind, but we were both thinking – we don’t know when we would ever have reason to go to the Philippines…
We left Lee’s place on that cold January afternoon with warm hearts and the gift of being able to visit in person with a special friend and mentor from my past.
A few months later, we were asked to consider helping teach a course in the Philippines. We were certainly surprised and we were happy for the opportunity to serve. Then we remembered Lee’s encouragement to go visit her son. We found the link and started dreaming. We learned there was an opening at Rick and Techie’s and we made reservations to enjoy a few days of holiday (vacation) while we were in the Philippines.
I was keen to meet Rick and Techie and was planning on sending Lee a photo of all of us together. When we did meet Rick, I showed him the photo Tim had taken of Lee and I in January. It was then that we learned that Lee had passed away just a couple of months after we had seen her.
We were shocked and a bit sad, but we were also so very thankful for the memory of seeing Lee one last time and the wonderful time we had with her. I’ll be forever thankful for Lee and her part in my formation as a teacher. What a blessing and gift.