Friday, 09 July 2010 00:00
Great Neck English Teacher
Catherine Anna (nee Sanschagrin, Murray) grew up in Rouses Point on Lake Champlain in upstate New York just south of the Canadian border. Every morning before school, she would go for a swim in the lake’s icy waters. Most mornings she found herself swimming past a hotel on the lake north of her home. As morning breakfast was being served to patrons of the hotel out on the back porch, people would call out for her to join them for a hearty meal, but she always replied, “No thank you, my mother told me not to.” Her formative years found her quite active in sports, including tennis, volleyball, rowing, track and basketball.
After school, she worked in the Rouses Point Library earning a mere $.50 a week. One might venture a guess that this is where Catherine developed her passion for authors and their art of storytelling. In the third grade, as Catherine tells her story, her teacher brought out a book of poetry and Catherine’s eyes lit up. This was truly the favorite part of her school day. After her teacher finished reciting a poem, Catherine could recite it word for word, delighting her teacher. As her teacher once bestowed upon Catherine the gift of the discovery of poetry, so has she been the gift-giver to perhaps thousands of children whose eyes have also brightened at the sound of poetry’s cadence, marveling at the sheer beauty of spoken words, perfectly pronunciated, grammatically correct, describing a glance, an emotion, a vision - the vocabulary of the heart.
Catherine favored poems by Robert Frost; her favorite poem recited by her only recently: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Frost’s poetic musings regarding nature in all its wonder and splendor mirrored Catherine’s constant adoration of the outdoors.
She met her sweetheart, Gordon Murray in Williamstown, VT, while teaching in the Martin Rural one-room school there. She and Gordon married and had a son, Norman, an added blessing to their life together. Gordon was killed in an automobile accident when Norman was just 4 months old. After this tragedy, Catherine moved to Great Neck to be near her family who had already settled here. She began teaching in a Massapequa elementary school in 1942 and while teaching, obtained a master’s degree in education from Columbia University, graduating in 1949. She continued her teaching profession at Great Neck South High School until 1982. Her devotion to English grammar, vocabulary, literature and poetry made her a highly requested teacher for many prospective students. Her ability to inspire her students with the writing of Shakespeare, Hemingway, Frost and Dickenson and other classic authors continued the very same tradition started by her third grade teacher, to look for and ignite the spark in her students, as she had once felt herself.
Catherine was married to Anthony Joseph Condon for nine years before he unfortunately passed away in 1967. Catherine’s son Norman was tragically killed one year later in an automobile accident. Norman’s daughter, Chantel, currently lives in Bellingham, WA, with her husband and two children.
Catherine spent her remaining years after retirement traveling, voraciously reading novels and keeping abreast of current events and political issues. She gave generously to charitable organizations from the goodness of her heart, always compassionate to those in need of assistance.
Catherine was baptized in the Catholic church, yet family obligations found her attending Episcopal services throughout her lifetime. One of Catherine’s lifelong wishes was to return to her Catholic faith. This wish was realized a few years ago through the spiritual guidance of Monsignor Reardon of St. Aloysius Parish in Great Neck and she looked forward to weekly visits for one of the parish’s Eucharistic ministers to pray, receive Communion and socialize.
Catherine’s fondest memories are of her students, each and every one of them holding a special place in her heart. Stories of moments in the classroom were fondly remembered and recited time after time. Her love of teaching shown forth as she depicted classroom life in a one-room schoolhouse and bustling suburban high school.
Catherine is survived by her granddaughter Chantel Murray Craft of Washington; a cousin Grover Sanschagrin of Locust Valley; two nephews, Robert Murray of Vermont and Oliver Campbell of Virginia. She is also survived by four nieces, Denise Kancler, Suzanne Sanschagrin, Annette Petrone and Amy Kelly, all from Long Island. Two brothers, Ignatius and Dennis and her sister Leona all predeceased her.
Catherine’s wake was held at Fairchild Sons in Manhasset on June 27 and her funeral Mass at St. Aloysius in Great Neck on June 28. Burial at Holy Rood Cemetery.