Lorraine Poppe, a beloved and transformational educator for 44 years, died on April 16 after a long period of declining health. She took a leave of absence from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, where she served as principal for 23 years, in 2017, before retiring last year. She was 67.
When news of her death spread, social media lit up with former students and colleagues remembering how Poppe sparked the fire of learning through her tireless dedication and care.
She had perfect attendance for 18 of her 23 years at Kennedy, according to Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District administrators.
When Poppe announced her retirement last year, Kennedy’s acting principal at the time, Dave Seinfeld, praised her “long and storied career.”
“I’ve known Ms. Poppe for the past 15 years,” Seinfeld said, “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.”
Last week, Seinfeld reflected on the “thousands and thousands” of lives touched by Poppe. “I had the honor of being her sub” when she retired, he 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,” he added, “and still looked up to her.”
Sal Tascone, a former Kennedy science teacher and leader of the Key Club, said that Poppe was “a true professional,” and that her smile could “light up a room.”
“She touched my life and the lives of so many others,” Tascone said. “Nothing took place at Kennedy without Lorraine’s strong support.”
Poppe’s longtime friend and former colleague Peter Lynch told the Herald that Poppe “knew how to work the room, and made sure everyone gave their best.”
Lynch was the principal of Baldwin High School — where Poppe got her start as an educator, as an English teacher, in 1974 — from 1982 to 1988.
He recalled Poppe engaging the students, making sure they were excited to come to class.
“Very few people cut her class,” Lynch said. “Students liked going to her class, and that’s very hard to do sometimes.”
In 1995, when Poppe became the principal of Kennedy, several Baldwin educators followed her there so they could continue to learn from her. “If I was a teacher just starting out at that point, I might have gone to Kennedy, too,” Lynch said. “She was that good.”
“Lorraine was the ultimate JFK leader — everything was about the family of the Cougar nation for her,” Gary Morganstern, president of the Bellmore JFK Alumni Association, said last week. “There was no calling that was too much for her.”
Ron Steiger, public relations director for the alumni association, said 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.”
Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District Superintendent John DeTommaso had trouble putting Poppe’s legacy into words last week. Chiefly, he said, she was 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.”
Kennedy Student Government President Jonathan Mashal posted a statement the day she died, noting that Poppe 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.”
Herald Executive Editor Scott Brinton said that he knew Poppe for 18 years, first as a journalist covering Kennedy, and later as a parent.
“She was truly a committed, caring, thoughtful principal,” Brinton said on Facebook. “I am saddened by her untimely passing.”
Poppe’s wake was held April 18 at Weigand Brothers Funeral Home in Williston Park, and her funeral was held the next day at First Presbyterian Church in Mineola. She was buried at Nassau Knolls Cemetery in Port Washington.
Information on surviving family members was not available as the Herald went to press.
Anthony O’Reilly contributed to this story.