In the shadow of Essex
On the Mark — By Craig Marks
It’s not being home-schooled, but it’s close.
Growing up, siblings David and Julie Komerofsky lived next door to Essex Elementary School. They moved there in the summer of 1973, just before Julie started kindergarten.
“It was great living next to the school,” said Julie Komerofsky Remer, 43, who now resides in Columbus and is a catering consultant. “We never needed to buy a swing set, because we had an entire playground at our disposal.”
Next week, Essex’ school bells will ring for a final time. It’s being shut down, along with Barrett and Rankin elementary schools, as a cost-cutting move by the Akron Public Schools Board of Education.
Both Julie and David moved out of the area, and the house was sold a couple years back. David last visited his old neighbor, Essex, four years ago.
“I was in town with my kids, and we stopped in for a quick look,” said David, 40, who lives in Austin, Texas, and is the executive director of Texas Hillel. “We met the principal and I got to show my kids where I spent so much time at their age. Amazing that after 30 years, the place smelled the same.”
There were perks to living a stone’s throw from Essex. Julie used its parking lot to learn how to ride a bike, and later to learn to drive. For several summers, the Akron Recreation Bureau held a day camp in the Essex kindergarten playground.
“All the neighborhood kids would go every day to play games, do crafts and eat Popsicles,” said Julie. “I had my first Bomb Pop there during the Bicentennial summer of 1976 and will always associate Bomb Pops with Essex.”
The proximity also allowed for personalized “at-your-door” service, which, depending on your perspective, was either a wonderful perk or one of the great childhood nightmares realized.
“When I was in fourth grade, our mom [Phyllis Komerofsky] went back to work outside of the house, and she would call me to make sure that I was awake in time for school,” said David. “One morning I didn’t answer the phone, so she had my teacher come over to ring the doorbell. I don’t think I overslept again.
“There are certain humbling conveniences that come with being able to see your classroom from your sister’s bedroom. Mrs. Slagle banging on the door to roust me from my slumber was quite something,” he added.
It was at Essex where Julie’s “all-time favorite teacher,” Carol Fuller, taught kindergarten.
“She played the piano and sang patriotic songs with us every morning,” said Julie. “She moved up with us to first grade, and it wasn’t until second grade that I realized not every teacher had a song in her heart and a piano in her classroom.”
David fondly recalls speech class with Irv Korman, who, besides teaching (and once writing for this newspaper), worked as a professional clown.
“He helped me to pronounce the letter ‘r’ correctly,” said David. “That has come in handy over the years. It was nice to learn diction from the Ronald McDonald clown who I would also see at Temple [Israel].”
Essex’s current students, the ones who are not moving up to Litchfield Middle School, will be reassigned to either Case or King elementary schools. Those that oversleep will be on their own.
In preparing this column, I contacted via email Irv Korman. Here are some of his Essex memories:
I was speech pathologist at Essex Elementary School from 1968-86. In those 18 years, I served under five principals: Mrs. Reese, Mr. Lower, Mrs. Moyer, Mrs. Lowe, and Mr. Cline. In my 18 years, there were only two custodians.
The unique thing about Essex was there was not much turnover in staff. Many teachers were at Essex long enough to have taught brothers and sisters from the same family. Marge Tannehill was at Essex long enough to have taught each grade from kindergarten through sixth grade!
The librarian, Mrs. Katherine Bowman, was the true definition of “a lady.” She truly loved the students, the library and HER books, and took good care of each.
The art and music teachers were top-notch and got the best out of the Essex students. The artworks and musical programs were not only well attended but first rate.
Having left Essex in 1986 and having retired after 30 years’ service in 1997, I am still close friends with two of the Essex teachers: David Mull and Marge Tannehill. David and I got together (and still do) once per week for several hours in the morning to write. We both confessed to “writer’s block” some years ago and began writing together. David has published three books and I have published one. Even Marge Tannehill has published one book.
When I began writing for The Village Views and later The West Side Leader, I was teaching at Essex with Derien Fitzpatrick. Her husband was assistant editor for The Akron Beacon Journal. He read some of my play reviews and entertainment articles and met with me over lunch at Stouffers Restaurant at Summit Mall. He gave me very sound advice pertaining to drama criticism that I still use today.
I still meet parents and students from Essex and have very fond memories. As a matter of fact, a former Essex student presently lives directly across the street from me!
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