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A Life-Changing Reunion 20 Years In The Making

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Ask any TV news producer, anchor or reporter, and they’ll tell you, one of the things they look for in great storytelling are what we call “moments.” While these are the people who often share your moments, sometimes the opportunity presents itself to share one of their own. WCCO’s Aristea Brady had such an opportunity.

What if you could go back in time, almost 20 years, and say thank you to the one person who changed your life for the better?

Home videos from when I was a kid reveal a little girl a bit shyer than the one you see on TV.

It was fourth grade and I was running for secretary of my school. Less than professional home video captures a chat between me and my father right before I was supposed to give my speech.

“I’m really nervous,” I said.

“Why are you nervous?” my dad asked.

“I don’t know I’m just scared. I’m just scared,” I said.

My family had recently changed school districts to one that had much higher expectations, resulting in what became a poor self image.

This is where Ms. Bertuccelli enters: the teacher who would eventually have a hand in changing my life.

While searches on Internet failed to find her, I’d hope the popular reunion-maker Facebook could get me at least a relative.

I found a man who shared not only a striking resemblance to Ms. Bertuccelli, but also her maiden name.

He replied, saying yes, his sister, now Mrs. MacDougal was still a teacher at Minnetonka Middle School.

This inspired the reunion.

The morning came to surprise my old teacher. Although I was a little nervous that she wouldn’t remember me, I had a good hunch.

The principal interrupted Mrs. MacDougal’s class and asked, “Can I talk to your class for a minute?

“Sure,” she said.

“Channel 4 is here today because there is somebody from Mrs. MacDougal’s past that really wanted a chance to see you again,” said the principal.

At that moment, I walked in.

She remembered me.

It was a heartfelt embrace and lots of tears. Kids clapped upon site of what was obviously an emotional reunion.

Before we had the chance to sit down one-on-one with Mrs. MacDougal, we learned from one of her former students that my old teacher hadn’t lost her passion for making students feel better about themselves in the 21 years she’d been teaching.

“She just really gets it … She knows what we’re going through when we just aren’t acting normal,” former student Sami Tomczak said.

Tomczak was in a class that helped to give students a little extra help with math.

“‘Cause I had her for math skills, I almost felt disappointed in myself, but she made me feel like it wasn’t that big of a deal that I was in there, it was just helping me … She knows that we’re better at other things, it’s just not maybe math,” Tomczak said.

The chance to sit down with Mrs. MacDougal was the real confirmation that even though years had passed, people really do stay the same.

I asked Mrs. MacDougal with big eyes that took her back to a little girl she knew years ago, “We were pen pals. Do you remember that?”

“Yeah, I do remember that! We have roots, honey!” Mrs. MacDougal said.

In a 20-minute conversation, we caught up 20 years worth of material.

Over the years, Mrs. MacDougal created a family of her own. A marriage and two kids later, Mrs. MacDougal resides happily in Minnetonka.

During our chat, it was confirmed that fundamentally, people really do stay the same.

“Every teacher is terribly human, that’s why we go into this,” Mrs. MacDougal said.

Not only did Mrs. MacDougal stay the same, but so did many of the things on her classroom wall.

I asked her if she remembered the Kirby Puckett pendant that she had up on her wall.

“I think it was Kirby Puckett, and he was going back like this,” I said.

Mrs. MacDougal went to a dusty old box.

“Oh, just give me a second, it’s gotta be in here,” she said.

Minutes later, “Here we go! There it is!” Mrs. MacDougal said.

This prompted another hug as she told me it was now mine for the keeping.

As much as I learned Rebeccah MacDougal had stayed loyal to her roots, it was while looking at this picture of me in fourth grade where she rediscovered mine.

“It’s completely you! It’s completely you! … I’m so proud of you. You know, I did push you — and maybe I pushed a little hard at times, because I knew you were nervous about it but I knew you could do it … I’m so amazed by you. Thank you for doing this,” Mrs. MacDougal said.

It was an emotional journey. A trip back in time to find that person I’d so often thought about. At the end of it, I found she was still doing exactly what she was always meant to be doing.

“My connections to people are the most important thing … to me because that’s why I went into teaching because I want that connection. I’m overwhelmed. I’m so touched. It means the world. I can’t even express,” Mrs. MacDougal said.

On a very personal side note, I’m hoping this story encourages everyone, if the opportunity allows it, to go back and say thank you to their one teacher.

I can tell you from my experience, it’s incredibly rewarding.

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