A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about my first memory of Inauguration Day and about my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hallas.

I was thinking of that post earlier this evening and decided to do some poking around Google to see if I could find Mrs. Hallas. I did. The first result was her obituary. She died on Sunday. It’s funny how timing works out like that.

“Kindergarten teacher, Catherine Hallas of Madison died Saturday, Feb. 1, 2009… She was 63 years old… Mrs. Hallas taught kindergarten at the Vroom Learning Center in Bayonne for more than 35 years before retiring in 2002…”

This is really sad news to me because, as I’m about to graduate from college, I look back and can name a few of my teachers who have a had a great impact on who I am today. Mrs. Hallas was one of them.

I had Mrs. Hallas for Pre-K and Kindergarten. I remember my first day of school and walking into her classroom for the very first time. I still remember how it was laid out with the wooden kitchen in the back left, the piano behind it, the blue rug with the yellow taped squares in the middle, the tables toward the front, cubbies to the right and the kidney-shaped reading table to the far right. There was a chart on the far right wall with our names listed in height order for when we had to line up “two lines, boys and girls, fingers on lips.” She always walked through the halls and down the stairs backwards, facing us and keeping us in order.

I remember learning to color in circles (it was a picture of a gumball machine), and our thanksgiving party where we wore paper headdresses and bonnets. I remember halloween when she entered me into a coloring contest and I won, but I couldn’t get the prize because the contest was designed for a fifth grader so she talked them into making a different, more appropriate prize and then put it on a giant sheet of construction paper for me to take home and hang on my wall. I remember sitting at the reading table in the “advanced” group writing sentences with letters that took up two lines in a marble notebook. I still have those notebooks.

She called me Jenny. I never really liked being called Jenny, but Mrs. Hallas was the exception to the rule. I met my best friend in her class and we’re still friends to this day. She was my teacher when my parents first split up and she was the one who explained to me that boys always don’t know how to tell a girl that they like them (in trying to explain to me why Joey had hit me with a green lego board).

She played the piano and sang to us during music time and she had that ever-so-kind kindergarten teacher’s voice. Mrs. Hallas was the model for everything a kindergarten teacher should be.

I remember when she got sick. It was toward the end of my kindergarten year. She sent each of us a very nice letter at home explaining why she wasn’t going to be returning to school the next year. It was when I first learned what cancer was.

I really wish I had the opportunity to tell her how much my time in her classroom has meant to me and how much of it I still remember today. I’ve always been a firm believer that your first teacher shapes the way you look at school for the rest of your life and I feel so fortunate to have had Mrs. Hallas to set me on the path to who I am today. She will be missed - not only by me and my classmates, but by the hundreds of children who won’t have the opportunity to sit in Mrs. Hallas’ classroom.

Thank you, Mrs. Hallas.