She’s that one teacher who’s hard to forget.
“Mrs. Kermizis has been the teacher that I have measured all of my teachers by, including my daughter’s teachers,” said Jennifer Narraway, a 1991 graduate of Akron’s Our Lady of the Elms High School.
Narraway joined dozens of women, family and friends who bid Martha Kermizis a fond farewell Friday afternoon at a retirement party at Our Lady of the Elms. A plaque bearing her name was placed at the entrance of Room 222.
As the bell rang throughout the day, young girls weaved among the crowd gathering outside Room 222. The same story was told time and time again about the 75-year-old retiring biology teacher.
“I actually started coming to this school because of her,” said Alexandria Kemper, a 23-year-old graduate who recalled shopping around for a private school in eighth grade.
During a tour of the Elms, “she started talking about science ... and all these cool things,” said Kemper, now a microbiology major at the University of Akron.
Waiting to wish her former teacher well, Anne Dye said she wouldn’t have received her master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree from Purdue, or pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering while filing three patents, if it weren’t for Kermizis.
“I think a lot of Elms graduates would say that,” Dye, a 2006 graduate, said of the lively lessons and lasting impressions Kermizis made.
“She was a friend and a mentor, which is unusual at that [young] age,” said Narraway, one of many students who keep in touch with Kermizis. “She’s just a once in a lifetime teacher.”
These are the memories and the faces that Kermizis said she will miss most. “The students coming back,” she reflected, “saying ‘I’m in science because of the passion you cast upon me.’ ”
She has roots at the Elms, starting out as a preschooler and graduating from high school in 1955. She returned there to teach after college in 1971 — with Room 222 as her home base.
Still, there’s one accomplishment that stands out in her decades of teaching in front of a chalkboard, attending class with other girls or hovering over a dissected animal.
“I got to teach my children,” Kermizis said from behind thick glasses.
The laughter that surrounds a Kermizis family conversation subsided and a sincere, humble smile washed over her face as she remembered having two of her four children in class. Those two daughters, along with her sister, stood by as her husband lowered a plaque commemorating Room 222 eternally to her name.
It was an emotional moment for the family, who grew up with the Elms in their blood.
Lisa Kermizis-Abraham remembered her mother and teacher — who has stayed active kayaking, skiing and wind-sailing her whole life — as an energetic woman who cut no slack, not even for her daughters.
“The Elms has always been at our dinner table. This has been our life,” Kermizis-Abraham said in her mother’s classroom on Friday. “It’s just as hard for us to leave here.”
Mrs. Kermizis laughs at the thought of never coming back or seeing her students again. She’s become a part of the school. And she can’t be run off that easily, she jokes.
“I have squatter’s rights in this room,” she said. “I’ve been here 44 years.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com.