Mar 2, 2016

Herr Reich's German Class...

Warren Reich
A few days ago, I had begun to write a blog entry about my high school German teacher, Mr. Warren Reich.  As I initiated a Google search to see if there were any traces of information about "Herr Reich" out in the World-Wide Web, I was shocked to find his obituary, posted only a couple of months ago!  One of my favorite teachers of all time had lived to the ripe old age of 92!  Perhaps this blog entry should begin with that obituary:
"Guilderland -- Warren W. Reich, a veteran of WWII, died on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 at age 92. Warren was born in Tonawanda, NY on June 26, 1923. His parents were first and second generation German. Warren was raised by his grandparents. His great-grandparents on his mother’s side came to America from Germany in 1848, the year of many European revolutions.

Shortly after graduation from Tonawanda High School Warren became a private in the U.S. Army. He served from 1943-1946, in New Guinea and the Philippines, 496 Anti-Aircraft Battalion. 

In 1946, Warren enrolled in what was then the State College for Teachers in Albany, thanks to the G. I. Bill. He graduated in 1950, B.A., went on to Indiana University, M.A., 1951. He received a Fulbright Grant to study in Germany the summer of 1960. He received his PhD in 1970 in German Literature from the University of Connecticut. 

Warren taught German at Mont Pleasant High School, Schenectady and recently had reunions with some of his former students, who remembered him as an outstanding teacher. 

In 1961, Warren joined the German faculty at SUNY Albany. In 1969, he became an associate in the Division of Higher Educations, State Education Department, from which he retired in 1985. 

Warren created crossword puzzles for the Sunday New York Times in the 1980s and 1990s, one of his proudest achievements. His puzzles are included in the published collections of the New York Times and Simon and Schuster. 
Warren and his wife Nina traveled widely, driving many kilometers in most of the European countries and enjoying river cruises there. 

Warren was a very loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Nina; his children, Mary Louise (Trudy) Warner, Nancy Reich, William (Margot), Theodor (Halina); his step-children, James (Cathleen) Howarth, Alison (Kenneth) Nelson, Leslie Brennan-Somps (Christopher Somps); 16 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his loving 97 year old sister, Bernice Everett of Tonawanda, NY.
Warren was predeceased by his first wife, Jeanne Wooldridge Reich in 1970. 

Calling hours will be held on Saturday, January 2, 2016 from 1:30pm to 3pm at New Comer Funeral Home, 343 New Karner Rd, Albany, NY 12205. A memorial service will follow at 3pm.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to: the Alzheimer’s Association, 4 Pine West Plz Ste 405, Albany, NY 12205, Environmental causes, and animal welfare."

I couldn't help noting the understatement that his former students remembered him as an outstanding teacher.  He was well beyond that.  He was creative and dynamic in his approach to teaching.  The year I was going to start first-year German, Herr Reich had received permission to start an experimental program in which there would be no text book until late in the school year.  We would learn by ear and by speaking only German in class.  In fact, on the first day of class, Herr Reich put a fishbowl on his desk.  He explained that the only English allowed in the class would be in the sentence asking how to say something in German:  "
Wie sagt man auf Deutsch.......?"  If we used any English words outside of that inquiry, we would be required to put a nickel in the fishbowl for every word of English.  At the end of the year, we would have a class picnic paid for by the proceeds from the bowl.

Herr Reich also had a piano in the back of his class room.  Every Friday, we took some time from class to sing songs in German, courtesy of the Herr Reich Song Book, a mimeographed and stapled set of German ballads and drinking songs.  We gathered around the piano, he played and we sang.  "Dudu liegst mir im Herzen" echoed down the halls of Mont Pleasant High School.

He also had a creative bent when there wasn't an exact German equivalent for a particular English word.  Our Latin teacher resided in the classroom adjacent to the German class.  Her name was Ruby Brakebill.  Herr Reich creatively referred to her as Fraulein Brachenschnabel -- Miss Broken Beak.

He often told stories in German to sharpen our ability to listen and translate.  We heard of his experiences during World War II as a malaria control officer in New Guinea.  He told stories he had heard from his parents about life in Germany.  I realize now that he was only 5 or 6 years out of college when he was teaching us.  What a blessing he was to my young
The house on Sumner Avenue
where Herr Reich lived in 1956-57

It didn't surprise me to note that a former student had contacted Mr. Reich and that the two had held a reunion.  In 2011, the Schenectady newspaper published an article about that event.  He was that kind of exceptional teacher -- the kind you appreciate more as the years pass.  How fitting that his former student wanted to honor him.

One of my closest friends at the time I was attending Mont Pleasant High School was a classmate named Paul St. John.  He and his family lived in a house on Sumner Avenue not far from Nott Street.  Mr. Riech was their upstairs tenant.

I especially appreciated Mr. Reich's teaching when I took an additional year of German at the University of Rochester.  Because of his teaching skills, I breezed through the class.  Danke, Herr Reich.

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