Lorraine Poppe, a beloved and transformational educator for 44 years, died on Tuesday after a long period of declining health. She took a leave of absence from John F. Kennedy High School, where she served as principal for 23 years, in 2017, before retiring last year.
Poppe had perfect attendance for 18 of her 24 years at Kennedy, according to Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District administrators.
Ron Stieger, public relations director for the highly active Bellmore JFK Alumni Association, said Tuesday that he had known Poppe for 11 years, and he recalled her zeal for education in all forms, and how she would cheer on students at “virtually every co-curricular event.”
Poppe began her teaching career in the English Department at Baldwin Senior High School in 1973, eventually serving as a master teacher, dean of students and assistant principal, according to Steiger.
“Lorraine Poppe’s commitment to excellence and love for the students, faculty and staff is her legacy,” he said.
“Lorraine was the ultimate JFK leader — everything was about the family of the Cougar nation for her,” said Gary Morganstern, president of the association, on Wednesday. “There was no calling that was too much for her.”
Kennedy Student Government President Jonathan Mashal posted a statement Tuesday, noting that she was his principal for two years, and “she was incredibly influential on the school’s culture.”
“Over her 23-year career as principal, she helped mold the educational program that we are all a part of today, and was responsible for the hiring of almost all of the amazing teachers that we have the opportunity to learn from every day,” Mashal said. “Ms. Poppe’s passion for education and for Kennedy High School will be felt for generations, leaving an undeniable footprint on our school and community.”
Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District Superintendent John DeTommaso on Wednesday morning said it was hard to put into words the legacy of Poppe — a “kind, gracious, caring person and educator.”
“She loved staff and she loved kids and she represented all that was great about JFK,” DeTommaso said. “Honestly, she cared so much about JFK that it’s just more than any staff member or student could have ever hoped for — having her as a principal for 23 years.”
When Poppe announced her retirement last year, the acting principal at the time, Dave Seinfeld, praised her “long and storied career.”
“I've known Ms. Poppe for the past 15 years, and I can say without any hesitation that there is no educator I have met who is more dedicated to her school, the staff and its students,” Seinfeld said.
On Wednesday, Seinfeld reflected on the “thousands and thousands” of lives touched by Poppe.
“I had the honor of being her sub” when she retired, Seinfeld said, “and it was clear how she did an incredible job of running one of the best schools in the country.”
“I had 15 years of experience and still looked up to her,” he added.
A former student of Poppe’s, Mike Miller, wrote on the Facebook page for the alumni association Wednesday morning, “We all have a story about Ms. Poppe. She was an amazing principal, mentor and educator.”
Alyssa Seidman, of Merrick, now a Herald editor, attended JFK during Poppe's time as principal, and remembers her amicable presence. “Ms. Poppe was always in the hallways greeting teachers and students throughout the day, never without a warm smile," she said. “She was the kind of principal who commanded with grace, and went out of her way to make sure everyone felt included. She will be sorely missed.”
Poppe’s wake will be held on Thursday at Weigand Brothers Funeral Home at 49 Hillside Ave., Williston Park, from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Her funeral will be held on Friday at 9 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 182 First St., Mineola.
Andrew Garcia contributed to this story.
The Herald will update this story as more friends and coworkers share their memories of Poppe. Look for a tribute to Poppe in next week’s issues of the Bellmore, Merrick and Baldwin Heralds.