From generation to generation
This is a story about a circle becoming unbroken.
Last week, Gertie Brog finally got a pin from the National Honor Society. She earned it three-quarters of a century ago, in 1933, as a student in the now-defunct Fifth Avenue High School in the Hill District. But like the rest of her class, she never received it.
The Great Depression didn’t allow for even such a minor extravagance.
Brog, 93, said it didn’t bother her to not have a symbol of her academic achievement. “It was just in the back of my mind,” she said on June 18, at a ceremony in her honor at Hillel Academy. It stayed in the back of her mind until a few weeks ago, when she read in the Hillel newsletter about the new class of National Honor Society inductees.
Brog got the Hillel newsletter because her connections with the school run deep.
Her children attended the school before it moved to Beacon Street. On lunch breaks back then, Brog would visit the construction site to walk over the planks of the new foundation and imagine the classrooms where her grandchildren and great-grandchildren now learn.
At a PTA meeting in 1951, Brog offered to type up a letter to help out a beleaguered principal. For the next 36 years, she worked as an administrative assistant at the school.
Reading the recent notice about a new generation of inductees, Brog decided it was time to ask for her pin. She wanted it, she said, to make a point. It was a way to teach her grandchildren and great-grandchildren about the achievements that come from hard work.
Brog asked Adam Reinherz, director of student affairs at Hillel, for help, and Reinherz presented Brog’s story to his new class of NHS inductees. The students took to the story, and decided to not only get Brog her pin, but also arrange a ceremony to present it to her.
Reinherz saw it as an educational mission being fulfilled. “This is a student-driven school, and without them it wouldn’t have happened,” Reinherz said.
The students found proof of Brog’s achievement in her old high school yearbook, a slim volume of black and white photographs, including one with Brog’s younger, but recognizable face among a crowd of 13 other students. It was marked “Honor Society.”
Even better, the students learned that Fifth Avenue High School was the Alpha Chapter of the National Honor Society, the first chapter formed after Edward Rynearson, once a principal of the Fifth Avenue High School, founded the society in 1921.
“We realized we had an amazing opportunity before us,” Shoshana Bachrach told the crowd of friends, family and students gathered in the Hillel library for the ceremony.
The students saw similarities with Brog beyond mere educational honors. They appreciated the story of personal accomplishment amid the broader economic troubles of the times, and respected Brog’s attachment to her community. “She has shown us that we can give back to our community even after we’ve graduated,” Bachrach said.
But the students also recognized something beyond personal connections. Hudi Milch, 16, said their interest in Brog’s story didn’t come just from Brog’s connections to their school or their community. “It’s really the fact that she deserved it,” Milch said.
The National Honor Society sent not only a pin, but also a plaque honoring Brog for “continuing to value [her] honor society membership after all these years.”
Brog, a corsage pinned to her salmon-colored blouse, attended the ceremony with three generations of her family beside her, and accepted her honors from the current National Honor Society inductees. Brog accepted her honors with a hint of tears in her eyes.
Now, Brog is a matriarch with a math problem. She has two children, 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. And she has one National Honor Society pin to pass along.
So who will get it?
“Every time the children make the honor roll, I’ll let them wear it,” she said.
(Eric Lidji can be reached at email@example.com.)