In 42 years, thousands of students entered Stephanie Ginsberg’s classroom at Memorial Junior High School and they came out a little more knowledgeable about themselves.
Ginsberg died nearly a year ago, less than a month after she retired as the school’s health teacher. She was diagnosed with skin cancer and missed several weeks of school during her last year at Memorial to undergo treatment, but her illness spread.
“Se worked to the very end,” Principal Anthony Mignella said, “because she was so passionate and loved teaching so much.”
Last Saturday morning, nearly 100 people came to pay tribute, including family members, teachers, administrators and former students. They saw the new memorial garden built in her honor, right outside her former first-floor classroom at the south end of the school.
Teacher Coreen Kelly-Johnson and librarian Joan Mahoney, two of Ginsberg’s closest friends at Memorial, planned the garden. They said it took about a week and a half to build but the idea started to take shape back in September.
“I just wanted to be able to look out her window and have a tribute to her,” said Kelly-Johnson, who said it was difficult not having Ginsberg around this year.
The memorial garden includes flowers, a small tree and two black marble plaques. A flower box was constructed by the school’s woodshop teacher, Mike Fisher. The garden was designed by Jeff Colucci and members of the district’s ground crew helped build it.
Ginsberg started the school’s BRAVE Club — Believe in the Rights and Values of Everyone — an organization that fights bullying and promotes positive behavior. She also helped to write the school’s anti-bullying curriculum, part of which she taught in her health classes.
Several people paid tribute to Ginsberg last Saturday. Assistant Principal John Squadrito, who had known her for two decades, said Ginsberg would often be the last person to leave the school at night. He said she was a dedicated teacher who loved her students.
Susan Piscitello-Pall, chairwoman of the Science Department, said Ginsberg was one of her first friends when she started teaching at Memorial 27 years ago. Michael McQuillan, chairman of the Health and Phys. Ed. Department, recalled the help Ginsberg gave him the first time he had to teach health. He also noted that she provided extra help to students every day even though teachers are only required to do so twice a week.
Several students also spoke. Ava Ramsundar, a senior at Central, explained how Ginsberg would always put down her work to talk to a student. “Losing Mrs. Ginsberg means there’s just another angel in the heavens,” Ramsundar said.
Other former students said that Ginsberg was not only a teacher but a role model, someone who cared about her them and would give second chances. Though many fought back tears, they also said they weren’t there to mourn her death but rather to celebrate her life.
Fred Yutkowitz, Ginsberg’s widower, said that Memorial was the center of his late wife’s world. “She willed herself to finish her final year here,” he said, “despite the many challenges that she was facing.”
Mignella said that while Ginsberg shunned the spotlight, he believes she would enjoy the garden in her honor, just feet from where she taught for more than four decades.
“I thought it was a wonderful tribute to Stephanie’s honor, not too showy,” he said. “I love the fact that it’s always going to be there.”