Today is Georg’s birthday. He is/would have been 77.
Months and months ago, my sister and I planned that around the time of Georg’s birthday, we would hold a memorial celebration of his life in the Detroit area with his many friends, students, collectors, and associates. We first thought we might hold the event at the butterfly garden at the Detroit Zoo, since he loved butterflies so much. But, that proved to be a bit out of our price range.
Then Illia got the brilliant idea that we should hold the memorial at The Roeper School, where she and I attended for all our growing up years and my mom and dad both taught art. My mom was my first art teacher. My dad was my first art history teacher. It was/still is a wonderful school, a school for gifted children built upon a philosophy of humanism that puts the student at the center of the curriculum. We could study what we wanted to study (within reason). We called most of our teachers by their first names, (except my 7th grade algebra teacher. He was always Mr. Morrow. I loved Mr. Morrow. He made algebra an art). We learned to respect other people and also ourselves. It was/still is an amazing community of learners and teachers.
When I went there, it was Roeper City and Country School, but it has since changed its name to simply, The Roeper School. It was founded by George and Anna Marie Roeper in 1941. They were two Germans (Anna Marie was Jewish) who had escaped Nazi Germany just before things got really bad. They first founded a school on the east coast before coming to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to found Roeper. The school now has two campuses, the original one, and another campus for the upper school in nearby Birmingham.
Georg and Anna Marie have both passed on. The school still exists and is thriving. Yesterday, a boy who went to that school for many years (WAY after my time) won a Gold Medal in the Olympics. Charlie White. Maybe you have heard of him. Roeper School supported and made room for every kind of gift that a child brought to the table. I never met Charlie, but my mom had him in art. She remembers kids sometimes teasing him because he was always running out to skate practice with that girl. Ah, children. You see what practice can get you. I feel like he is my little brother. I’m very proud of him.
George taught there about 6 years, I think. This would have been from about 1971 to 1977. He created a big stir when he advocated for having live models (yes nude) for his senior high schoolers to draw from. He won. Along with teaching studio art and art history, Georg instituted a Thursday afternoon bread baking club. A bunch of kids would stay after school and bake about 40 loaves of bread, enough to feed the student body at Friday’s lunch.
My mom taught there for 40 years and is now retired. She touched so many students lives. I need to dedicate an entire blog post to her some day, and I will.
Illia started there in three-year-old nursery and left when she graduated high school. I went there from 1968 until 1977, when (silly me) I graduated a year early because I was in such a rush to get on with life. Any high school students out there reading this, take my advice. Slow down. I also got married there in 1993 and had my wedding reception in the lunchroom of Hill House, the same place we will have the memorial in five short days. So, you could say that the Vihos family has a bit of history at this place.
Illia and I have been thinking about this day for the longest time and now it is almost upon us. I am a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. Being at a place so rich in memories, seeing so many old friends. What will I say to them? Part of me does not want to rehash the last year and how torturous it was for me to watch Dad gradually fail. I don’t want to listen to their sadness. I have my own grief to contend with.
But, this is a very selfish attitude and totally “not Georg.” If Georg was at my memorial service with a lot of sad people, he would want to listen to them, comfort them, invite them over for a meal. I won’t be able to invite people over (unless they want to come all the way to Sheboygan some time. I mean it is awfully pretty around here even in the dead of winter), but I can certainly slow down and be nice to them. I can listen to them share their pain.
Speaking of winter, I think Georg did the right thing by skipping this winter. He would have been absolutely miserable this winter with the extreme cold, the mountains of snow, and the many sunless days. And just when it seems like maybe things are getting a little better, a little sunnier, a little warmer, BOOM. A hand comes crashing down on the table. Back inside people!
I want to boycott winter until summer returns. I want to move slowly and mindfully through the coming week. I want to be gracious with my father’s friends, many of whom I really do not know all that well and many whom I do. I just haven’t seen them since I was a teenager. After Saturday, it is/will have been a very good celebration of Georg’s life. Everything is going to be all right. It already is. I know that.
Happy birthday, Dad. It is not Thursday right now, but I am doing all these things for you. For all of us. Practice. I will practice living a good life, even if you are not here to guide me any more. Love, Lisa