Friday, March 21, 2014

A Public Letter to "Mr. Samsky"

My 5th grade class photo! That's me in the front with the pink sweater and stone washed jeans, tightly rolled at the bottom... I remember thinking that fish necktie was SO cool...
Do you remember any of your teachers from as far back as elementary school?  I have several friends and family members who are teachers, and I can see how much they love and cherish letters from their past students.  So, it got me thinking about my elementary school past.  I remember two teachers well from my elementary school first grade teacher Mr. Larson, and my 5th grade teacher Mr. Samsky.  So, I thought I'd make this post a public letter to Mr. Samsky.  Got a teacher that you remember from your past?  Look them up and send them an email!  It just might make them smile today.  :-)

My Yearbook! 5th grade was the only year I got a yearbook in elementary school.

Dear Mr. Samsky,

My name is Gretchen, and I'm not sure if you'll remember me, but I was in your 5th grade class at Woodland in  1989-1990.  My last name then was Brandt.

Me in 5th grade

I remember you telling us at the end of our school year that there was just one thing that you wanted us all to do.  When we graduated from high school, we were look you up in the phone book (you assured us you would be the only "Stu Samsky" listed in Eagan), call you up, and tell you, "I did it, Mr. Samsky."

It's been 24 years now, but I remember more about the 5th grade than I do about any other elementary school grade!

Mr Samsky in the schoolyard - taken outside with my first real camera! Remember when cameras required a commitment from your parents to buy film and develop it?  Thanks, Mom and Dad! ;-)

I remember that you recognized my talent for art, and weren't satisfied with how often we had art classes for me in 5th grade.  So, you arranged for me to have extra time with another teacher (or counselor?) who helped me to come up with my own special creative projects to work on.

I created my first claymation "movie," based on a book I chose from our library called "Hiccup."  I built little hippopotamuses out of clay, filmed each frame, and the whole class watched my little "production."  I apologize for how painfully slow it was...I think the woman working with me didn't realize that we did not need several second shots of each frame. ;-)

I remember you taught us the word "Tchotchke."

I remember that I dressed as a California Raisin that year for Halloween, and the 5th grade put on a Halloween "wax museum" where the school got to walk through and view all of us in our costumes, posing as statues.  The other kids had to partner with at least one other person to create their back drops.  But nobody else's costume really made sense with a California Raisin, and I wanted to paint my own back drop my way.  So, you bent the rules a little bit and allowed me to work on my own....thank you! (Trust me, I had more than my fill of group projects throughout the rest of my school and professional career, so this did not hurt me!) ;-)

My official bus patrol card, stapled in the back of my yearbook...this is serious business!

I remember how proud I was to be an official, card-carrying "bus patrol," and how seriously I took my duties!

Me sporting my Girl Scout vest, with my fellow bus patrols in the yearbook...
I remember how much you loved your hot pink and zebra striped "Zubas," although your wife was not so crazy about them.

Well heck, maybe you do remember me still...after all you did put it in writing that you would! Ha! ;-)
I remember how much you went out of your way for me, to help me stretch myself, and to let me know that I had something special. The confidence I gained in the 5th grade would later be a huge help as I moved, changed school districts, and went through some awful bullying in Junior High.  I never was one of the cool kids...always picked last for gym...yet I somehow became very popular when it came time to choose a group to work with on an art related school project!

I wanted you to know that I didn't forget that you wanted us to call you up after graduating high school...I think I was just still to shy and chicken to call you up at the time.  But, I wanted to let you know that I DID do it! 

Lakeville High school graduation, 1997
I graduated from Lakeville high school in 1997, having started earning college credits as a junior in the PSEO program at Inver Hills.  I went on to study Graphic Design at UW-Stout, got married, moved to Ohio, and then ultimately earned my bachelor's degree in Industrial Design from The Ohio State University.  During college I worked as an intern for the Scotts lawn care company, a design firm called Design Central, and two internships with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnatti.  I graduated from college in 2003, came back to MN, and went on to design retail fixtures for Best Buy at their corporate headquarters in Richfield for four years.  In 2007 I had my first baby boy, who is now in kindergarten!  I left Best Buy to become a partner in a small 3-person design firm, which was a great experience. 

Me and my high school sweetheart with our two little munchkins!
Today I have been happily married for almost 15 years and have two fabulous little boys.  I run several businesses from my home in Mound.  I still do freelance design: graphic, product, and retail fixture design.  (  I create and sell gifts made out of my recycled junk mail, which is carried in multiple retail stores around the globe (  I keep the most busy lately with my company Paintertainment, a children's party entertainment/talent agency representing multiple artists in the Twin Cities.  ( In addition to offering entertainment at parties, pregnant belly painting, and theater makeup sessions myself and for other artists, I also own and operate an online retail store.  In my store I sell face painting and balloon twisting supplies to artists all over the country, and have recently self-published my 4th book on the subject. 

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, albeit 24 years LATE, that I did in fact graduate!  :-)  And the 5th grade in Mr Samsky's class brings me more happy memories than any other grade that I can remember.  Thank you!!  What you do makes a difference!  :-)


Gretchen "Brandt" Fleener

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