Sy

This is a difficult one to write, although there is much joy within it.

I lost a good friend the other day. Her name was Syranna Kosulic, but everyone called her Sy. She was a teacher, and a good one. This fall it will be forty years since we first met.

It was September. The small farm community where I was born had one high school with four hundred students, Sandwich High School; I was a junior. Sy was just out of college and took a job as the school’s new art teacher. Now, I didn’t take art classes so I never actually had Sy as a teacher. The school was too small to have a drama department, so beneath the “Art” teacher umbrella fell the responsibility of producing and directing all the school’s theatrical productions. I wanted to be an actor.

I ran into her in the hall one day and introduced myself. “You’re directing the play, right?” my shy voice inquired.

“Yes, I am. I hear you’re a good actor, hope you’ll audition tomorrow night,” she smiled. That’s how our friendship began, sudden, simple.

Sy recognized the talent festering within me, she had an eye, she saw it and coaxed it out, pushed me, encouraged me, helped me recognize my own potential. That’s just the way she was, she saw the best in people and worked to bring it to the surface, to help it breathe life. She touched people, possessed the ability all great teachers have; the gift to see the greatness within others.

Several days before graduation, I ran into Sy in the school’s office. The smell of mimeograph machine ink, lingering in the air, tugs at my nose, “So, are you going to college?” she asked.

I tipped my head, looked at my feet, scuffed the floor doing my very best James Dean and said, “Naw, I don’t wanna come out wearin’ penny loafers. I gotta go out and live life, see what it’s all about.” To this day I’m not sure why I said that, but it was one of those tiny defining moments that sets the course of your whole life. I told her I was going off to see California and then I’d probably go back to work at the Ford garage.

Then she said something I have never forgotten, “You have a lot of talent, it would be a shame to waste it. You need to do something with it.” Tears fill my eyes now as I consider the power of that moment so many years ago.

Several weeks later Sy saw a commercial, advertising a radio broadcaster’s school. She wrote down the information and sent in my name and address without telling me. One hot July afternoon a month later, while struggling to pull a tire off a rim, a man walked into the Ford garage and asked if I was who I was and then he said, “How’d you like to be in radio.”

I wiped the sweat out of my eyes, looked at the tire and said, “You Bet!” It was months later before I learned it was Sy who submitted my name. I spent the next 35 years as a radio and television broadcaster, an actor and director as well, all spawned by the selfless act of one caring individual; a teacher.

Sy and I remained friends over all these years, through all the highs and lows of life. It was one of those special kind of friendships that just are, and don’t need constant propping up. We’d talk a couple times a year, later email occasionally. Whenever I had the opportunity to return to Sandwich we always found time, no matter how brief, to get together. Often we’d meet at Rick’s Place, sitting at the table in the front window, having lunch or a coffee and endless conversation. Our friendship was one of those that just picks up where you last left off, catches up and paints itself with hopes and dreams.

She would tell me about school, her daughter Lynda, her husband Kos, their travels and adventures and later about the great joy her grandchildren brought her. She always wanted to know about my career, and when I began to write she wanted to read my work. She regularly checked this web site to read my columns. One column I wrote (0092 Special Edition) about Dave Graf, another teacher from back then, moved her to write me a lovely note. Ironically in that column I wrote, “I can recall three teachers who changed my life…” What I didn’t say was she was one of them. It was my intention to write a column about her, but I never made the time to do it until now. There is an important lesson in that. Always do and say what is in your heart and don’t wait until tomorrow, because life is so very provisional and finite.

Sy retired from Sandwich High School in 2001 after 34 years, a remarkable achievement, not just for the time given, but for the depth of her commitment to the art of teaching and to the young people she nurtured toward adulthood. Sy was not capable of just sitting back and putting in her time, no, she had the need to make a difference and she did. I was but one of thousands who passed under her tutelage. Often during our lunches, people would stop at the table, former students, with smiles and joy and gratitude for what she gave them. This was a very special woman. There are givers and there are takers in this world; Sy was a giver.

I will miss Sy deeply, as will so many others, but her memory will hold a very special place in my heart. Her sudden departure is most certainly the greatest loss to her family, but it doesn’t stop there, it is an enormous loss to the community as well; it is seldom one of this character, humor and goodness comes along. We who knew her were privileged, blessed to have been touched by the light in her soul. We must be grateful for that occasion, because at its core dwells the truth, the honesty and beauty of all life itself.

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