Dedicated educators have traditionally been very prominent role models, mentors and in some cases, supplemental or additional parents to their students. For many who attended Oak Park Schools, there were teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators who fit this description and made significant, lasting contributions to the lives of those who sought or received their guidance and inspiration.
I was extremely fortunate to have met faculty members, both in Junior High School and at Oak Park High School who were not only outstanding professionals who made deep impressions on me (I still quote several to this day) but who became treasured lifelong friends. Harry Weberman was someone who enriched every aspect of my life, beginning as a student and developing into a 45-year relationship that encompassed family, friendship, values, ethics and a lot of laughter along the way.
When I met Harry in 1970, he was in his first year as Assistant Principal at Oak Park High School, having been a teacher and counselor in Oak Park schools since the 1950s. He was already esteemed by his students for his genuine love of education and his relentless commitment to providing guidance and assistance to every student in enabling them to reach their full potential, both academically and personally. The number of people whose lives were turned around because of Harry, even at that time, was legendary throughout the school district.
Mort Meisner detailed in his recent autobiography the way Harry believed in him when others didn’t and allowed him to set out on a path that brought Mort great professional success bolstered by the confidence that Harry displayed in him.
That interaction with Mr. Weberman made me realize that I really had believed I was stupid. But I also realized that my grades didn’t truly reflect my intelligence.
This is one of countless stories about Harry and the compassion and dedication that he displayed every day.
Harry was also highly respected nationally for being one of the first to aggressively promote Advanced Placement classes and tests at a time when few public schools provided these opportunities. He was a guest speaker at national conferences and was recognized throughout the country by leading high school and college administrators, particularly in university admissions offices.
These relationships allowed Harry to advocate strongly for students who sought to attend colleges and universities and, in many cases, needed financial assistance to do so. Whether it was Harvard, University of Michigan, Wayne State or MIT, Harry’s reputation for integrity and commitment to his students enabled many Oak Park graduates to be able to continue their education. One well-qualified Oak Park student was admitted to Harvard in part due to a recommendation from Harry that included the assurance:
While the student might not receive all A’s, he will not jump out of a second story window.
Harry knew not only the students but their families. Whenever he came into a class to speak about the SATs or AP Tests, he would always recognize individual students and ask about their siblings or parents. Every time I was with Harry, someone – whether from the 1950s, 1980s, Jewish, Black, Chaldean – would come up to us and thank him for what he had done for them when they were in high school.
While Harry was highly respected by his colleagues and maintained many lifelong friendships with the people he worked with every day, his first priority and greatest satisfaction was his relationships with the students. He used to tell me that he was better friends with the students and I was better friends with the staff.
I got to know Harry beginning in my 10th grade year, as I was involved in various activities and committees, and we immediately formed a close relationship. I complimented him on the suit he was wearing. His reply?
I'll make sure to burn it when I get home … If you like it, it must be 40 years out of date.
The day I graduated, Mr. Weberman instructed me to call him Harry from then on. Through my college years, we stayed in regular contact, particularly since his son David and I lived in the same dorm and he would invite me to join them for meals when he came up to Ann Arbor.
When I moved out of state for a few years, I would visit with Harry and his amazing wife Miriam, also an esteemed educator, each time I came back to Detroit. When I moved back to the area, he performed an amazing mitzvah. There was a young special education teacher at Oak Park High School and Harry, knowing that I required significant guidance, made what is in Yiddish known as a shidduch by introducing me to her. My wife Lisa and I will be celebrating our 40th anniversary in March.
Over the years, Lisa and I became honorary members of the Weberman family. With Harry and Miriam’s three children, Bernie, David and Freya, their spouses, children, siblings, nieces, nephews — all who came into the Weberman home were made to feel it was their home and family.
I would marvel at what a special family Harry and Miriam had created and suggested it was a result of the love, caring, compassion, decency and high moral values that were constantly in evidence. Harry replied that there was a lot of luck involved, which I did not believe until Lisa and I had children of our own. (We were lucky too.)
We were very privileged to have shared many Seders and Rosh Hashanas, as well as numerous family celebrations with not only my wife Lisa and I but our two children, who became part of the Weberman clan and were able to experience how fortunate we all were to be included. We shared our families’ weddings and bar mitzvahs over many years. Harry and I watched numerous Super Bowls together; neither of our wives had any interest in those events.
We would speak on a weekly basis, discussing sports, politics and religion. Harry would always say that he did not vote for the President but for the judges who would be appointed by the particular administration.
Harry and I shared most every Michigan football and basketball game. He got such joy out of meeting former Michigan players and coaches. If we didn’t have tickets, we would speak every Saturday morning to discuss the prospects for that day’s game.
When we moved to Florida, the two things I missed the most were being with the Webermans and Michigan Football. Lisa and I relished our reunions back in Detroit and playing host to Harry, Miriam and David in Florida.
Harry died in December 2015 at 93 and, earlier this year, Miriam died at 95. Our family misses them terribly but we are so fortunate to have had them in our lives.
I still want to call him on Saturday mornings this time of year.