Memorial to fallen educators is dedicated

MTA Vice President Tim Sullivan was among state education association representatives from across the nation who traveled to Kansas on Thursday, June 12, to honor educators who have died in the line of duty.

Sullivan joined hundreds of family members, dignitaries and officials at the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia for the dedication of a plaza memorializing fallen educators. On the plaza, two large black granite monuments shaped like open books hold 113 names etched in gold letters.

Sullivan laid a flower at the base of the monument as the name of Colleen Ritzer, a popular math teacher at Danvers High School, was read. Ritzer, who was slain at her school in October 2013, was among the five educators from Massachusetts whose names were read during the ceremony.

MTA Vice President Tim Sullivan lays a rose at the base of the monument.MTA Vice President Tim Sullivan places a rose at the base of the monument.

Other Massachusetts educators listed on the monument and the dates of their deaths are the Rev. Theodore Brown of Springfield, Dec. 5, 2001; Maribel Gonzalez of Springfield, Nov. 17, 1999; David “Jake” McHugh of Lowell, March 27, 1997; and Carole Day of Acushnet, April 15, 1993.

“Our loss of Colleen Ritzer in Massachusetts is still vivid,” Sullivan said. “To see the names of scores of educators from Massachusetts and so many other states — teachers, bus drivers, education support professionals and others who died just doing their jobs — is very emotional. It makes you pause and remember what we do every single day.”

The memorial plaza is on the campus of Emporia State University. Sullivan said that before the ceremony he spoke to Emporia State University President Michael Shonrock, who expressed his appreciation that ESU will be home to “a lasting monument to educators for all time.”

Ruthanne Buck, a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was the keynote speaker at the event. “It is my hope that we never etch another name” in the monument, she told those assembled for the ceremony.

Among the tragedies recalled at the dedication was the fatal shooting of 20 schoolchildren and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was the shooting in Newtown that prompted research and the decision to build an enduring tribute at the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1989.

State affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers provided the names of educators who had died in their states, and many made financial contributions to help build the memorial. Educators from 36 states are listed.

Donations for the memorial have come from corporate sponsors, foundations, retired teachers and schoolchildren.

Carol Strickland, executive director of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, emphasized that no donation is regarded as too small.

“We want this to be a national monument built by the people in America to honor these heroes,” she said. “We loved the money order for $25.38 that was sent from a kindergarten teacher for her students, who collected change for several weeks for us from their lunch money.”

Later additions to the plaza will include outdoor touch-screen kiosks that will tell the story of each educator and help visitors to understand the purpose of the memorial.

Donations may be mailed to the NTHF, 1200 Commercial, Campus Box 4017, Emporia, KS 66801. Further information about The National Teachers Hall of Fame and the memorial can be found on its website, www.nthf.org.