Of all the molecular combinations that Dolores Kubiak taught her chemistry students years ago, the bond they remembered most was friendship and respect. Anna Waldman, Emily Harris and Hinda Barsky Burke — all graduates of the Taylor Allderdice High School class of 1967 — recently collaborated to honor Kubiak, their former science teacher.
Several weeks ago, Waldman, who lives in Kingston, Tenn., discovered that Kubiak had fallen and was recuperating at Schenley Gardens Senior Living Center in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.
“I felt bad and thought, ‘How can I cheer her up?’” said Waldman.
So with the holidays approaching the Tennessee resident decided that she would brighten Kubiak’s spirits by sending a gift.
Waldman knew that Kubiak enjoyed art projects and shipped her former instructor a miniature Christmas village. The only problem was that the present required some assistance to build.
Because Waldman lived so far away, she recruited fellow Allderdice alums and former Kubiak students Harris and Burke to aid the assembly.
“Anna knows that I am a crafts person and Hinda is just a riot. … So when Anna asked us to go play Christmas elves for Mrs. Kubiak we just thought it was a wonderful thing to do. It was a great way to connect with our favorite teacher,” said Harris.
So on a Steeler Sunday, the duo headed over to Kubiak’s Oakland residence and set to work. Although the team only finished the gingerbread house from the do-it-yourself Christmas village, the project was a success, explained both Harris and Burke.
“It was a mitzvah: Here is a woman who as a teacher touched the lives of thousands of children and she did these things because that was her calling, and as one of her students it was a chance to give her something back,” said Burke.
“It was such an honor for me because Mrs. Kubiak was one of the three teachers in my four years at Allderdice that got me, she understood me. … And at this stage in life how often do we get to reconnect with those teachers from those formative years?” echoed Harris, who along with Waldman and Burke is looking forward to next spring’s 50-year high school reunion for their class.
“I loved it,” Kubiak said of the visit with her former students. “It’s like we never left each other. Hinda Barsky was the same way she was in class.”
Reflecting on earlier days, Kubiak said that she taught chemistry “for about 50 years,” and the recent visit was not the first time that former pupils have reached out.
“I hear from many of the students,” she said.
Such as last year, when Waldman and a group of seven other devotees treated Kubiak to an afternoon at the University Club in Oakland.
“It was wonderful,” Waldman said of the gathering, which included songs, a toast, the presentation of an award and the sharing of comments from those impacted by the science teacher.
“People need to honor their teachers,” said Waldman. “It’s so nice to remember them because they do so much for their kids.”
Kubiak is “one of the most popular teachers from our class,” said Harris. “I’m hoping that [she] will be attending [our reunion] and we will honor her there as well. … Fifty years later she is still important in our lives, and how many people fit in that category?”
But even before another celebratory event can get underway, unfinished business remains, said Kubiak. “Now these gals put this gingerbread puzzle together, and when they come back they’ll put the other ones together.”
A completion date for the miniature village’s construction has not yet been set, said Burke, but “it’s good to keep your eyes open for opportunities to do good because they come from the strangest of corners.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.