Though they were undoubtedly happy to see the school year come to an end Friday at Critzer Elementary School, there were smiles on the faces of Mrs. Thelma Hampton’s second grade class for another very special reason.
The last day of school is usually one students spend eagerly awaiting those last few minutes until summer begins, comparing plans with other kids and running excitedly through the halls in celebration of their impending freedom. Mrs. Hampton’s class was celebrating the life and friendship of their “classroom Grandpa,” Mr. Robert Dewese.
Hampton was preparing her class for a ceremony dedicating a Chinese maple tree in Dewese’s memory, and the children could hardly contain their excitement.
“What did Grandpa bring for the class?” asked Mrs. Hampton.
“Fruit!” the children exclaimed.
“What did he always tell us?” Hampton asked next.
“To always get a good education!” they replied.
Mr. Dewese first began visiting Hampton’s classes six years ago, when his son, Brandon Dewese, now an 8th-grader, had Hampton as a teacher. The visits became routine over the next several years and continued until his passing in April 2013.
In Hampton’s words, “Mr. Dewese visited (our) classroom on a monthly basis, providing fresh fruit as a healthy snack to my students for over six years. He always entered the classroom with a haughty ‘Hello!’ and a big smile. He would always tell jokes to the children and would always leave the classroom by expressing to the students the importance of having an appreciation for education. ‘Mind your teacher,’ he would say, ‘and always do your best in school.’”
The emotion in the room was palpable, as Hampton, and even a few of the students, could be seen wiping tears away as they joyfully remembered “Grandpa.”
The class calmly filed out, accompanied by Kym Allen, who also teaches second grade, and principal Michael Grim, to the second grade garden outside the school. There, the teachers and students conducted a quiet dedication ceremony as they planted the tree in his honor.
A student read the following message aloud to those assembled: “Today we dedicate this Chinese maple tree in memory of our classroom Grandpa, Mr. Robert Dewese, who unselfishly served our second grade class for over six years by providing us with fresh fruit, laughter and encouragement. We miss you, Grandpa, and will always cherish your memory with love in our hearts. Much love, Mrs. Hampton’s class.”
Brandon Dewese and his mother, Peggy, were also on hand to participate in the ceremony. Brandon helped plant and water the tree and each student took a turn sprinkling a handful of mulch at the base. The class also presented Brandon with a certificate of appreciation for Grandpa, which he accepted gratefully.
Brandon commented later that his dad “loved all of them and thought the world of” Mrs. Hampton’s students. Brandon said the students’ gesture of remembrance showed that his dad loved them and they respected him for everything he did.
The students had kind words to say about Grandpa after the ceremony, when asked what their classroom Grandpa meant to them.
“He meant a lot,” said Gwen Arnold. “I say he warmed our hearts.”
“He was very nice and kind,” said Andy Allison. “He brought fruit every month, and sometimes he would bring it early so we could get it early.”
“Sometimes he would tell jokes,” added Luke Price.
The students also jumped at a chance to say kind words about Mr. Deweese to his son.
“Your father was a nice guy,” Kaya Akers said to Brandon. “He had to spend like almost $1,000 for us.”
“He was a great man,” said Jeremy Hall.
Principal Grim was moved by what the students did in Dewese’s honor.
“I had an opportunity to meet (Mr. Dewese) last fall when he came in with a gigantic crate of apples,” Grim remembered with a laugh. “Everyone here kind of knew him … and I realized what was going on and the role he played for Mrs. Hampton and the students, so that was one of the best things. Obviously, his very giving and warm heart was evident, especially when Mrs. Hampton responded to that today.”
Grim said he thought planting the tree was a beautiful gesture. “It’s not something we always get to do and respond to appropriately and quickly at all times, so I think it was well done and I was glad to see that his family was able to show up and be a part of that today.”
“Grandpa” Dewese’s memory will not be forgotten, but will continue to grow in the hearts of the children he influenced and in the second grade garden at Critzer Elementary.