My favorite high school teacher died suddenly in her sleep last week, which is shocking and horrible. But, I have to believe she’s in an even better place, because she sure enjoyed the world she left and she’s a spunky spirit. So, if she did not like her new accommodations and did not appreciate being yanked from a place in which she still had so many plans, I think we’d all be hearing about it.
I’m choosing to picture Gladys Wisnefski with a pisco sour in her hand, at a table full of people she loves, engaged in an intellectual and animated conversation, and leaving every single person at that table feeling better educated and just a little bit prouder of themselves than they were before.
That’s not only how she taught her classes (minus the pisco sours), it’s also how she lived.
I’ve written about Mrs. Wiz several times on this blog, and I also had the honor of writing about her and her husband Mr. Don Wisnefski for the Xavier High School Alumni newsletter less than a year ago. After I sent her a copy of that article to proofread, she wrote back:
“Wonderful work, Laura. You are invited to be a speaker at our funerals whenever they take place.” I responded, “Ha! Well, let’s postpone that honor for a few more decades.”
Still so sharp she was eagerly planning her next academic lecture, so active she regularly recruited people to her favorite water Zumba class and so social she kept up with all her former students, her beloved family and a circle of friends that spanned the globe, Mrs. Wiz seemed genuinely ageless and presumptively immortal.
Her son Stephen’s eloquent announcement that his mother had died felt like a universal gut punch and I heard from lots of devastated friends. My mom was shocked and deeply saddened by the news, as were my sisters.
My classmates and I mourned the loss of a gifted teacher who introduced us to the world beyond our classroom and taught us to experience a language, rather than just speak it. A native of Chile, Señora Wisnefski spoke with authenticity about people, politics and places in South America, Central America and Europe. Then, she took us there via chaparoned trips to Spain, and foreign exchange programs to Guatemala and Columbia.
Really, it was an astonishing program for a small Catholic high school in the 1980s and we’re all eternally grateful.
It was enough, really, that she provided such fertile ground for us high school students but here’s the real kicker: she kept in touch with all of us as we made our way out into the big, beautiful world she’d shown us. She cheerfully attended weddings, birthday parties and graduations, and she became one of the most prolific Facebook commenters I knew.
It’s a rare gift when your teacher becomes your friend.
Thank you one last time to Mrs. Wiz. You introduced us to a big, beautiful world and you made it even better.