A Life-Changing Reunion 20 Years In The Making

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.

  • G Dog

    I thought teachers were overpaid, over-benefitted union thugs. Who would have thought that teachers have such a positive impact on young people!!

    • me

      Most of them are. Just remember all the kids that lost school days in WI because of the protests that were supposedly all about the kids. The teachers that are great, are undermined by the union.

      • Jim

        The kids missed a few days of school because of the Wisconsin situation. Oh, the humanity!! LOL

    • Robin

      Are you being sarcastic?

    • Robin

      It’s sad, some of the comments about taxpayers and teacher’s salaries.

      I believe we can thank Republicans and Fox News for the “we don’t need no education”, union bashing, lowest common denominator opinions. The right want’s to keep the workers uneducated mules that carry the burden of our society,
      for the enrichment of the established elite. The fact that so many buy into this is the direct result of poor education and the failure to develop the ability of objective reasoning, leaving them to be susceptible to propaganda from the
      powers that desire to exploit them.

      They feel threatened by educated and articulate people.

      This made me mad for years, but I am resigned to the fact that too many of our citizens extend their failures to others. The result of excellent propaganda from the right. Unions may not be efficient, but they are necessary to check the
      power structure that would exploit manpower, if not for organization. How many good/educated teachers would there be if the unions were busted and all the smart/humanist teachers were driven to make a decent living, proportionate
      to their educations, elsewhere. In spite of their desire to help our society and children?

      How does one come to the conclusion that teachers are “union thugs”? Ignorance!

  • judy

    You were so fortunate to locate your teacher. How many times I wished I had been so determined to do the same, even though I am in my sixties. My search ended disappointingly, when her obituary in our LOCAL newspaper ended my search for her. Back in the days I attended school, being a lefthander was something teachers tried to change. This particular teacher took me aside and helped me with my writing skills, never attempting to change which hand I wrote with. Many an after school day was spent with her helping me with Math also,which was very hard for me. She was so patient , and had a way of explaining and showing me “how” an answer was derived. Because of her dedication, I became proficient in math, and experience many compliments for beautiful penmanship not too many lefthanders are able to achieve. If there was a special teacher in your life, dont wait to thank them.Do it now, before its too late .

  • Adam

    There are many teachers out there like this. Although, today “pushing” a student to achieve would more likely result in a reprimand from school administration – at least in St Paul…

    • robin

      Trust Me. Becky’s (Mrs. MacDougal/Ms. Bertuccelli) “pushing” a student would be firm, yet gentle. The kind of discipline/encouragement that Aristea responded to. Children and their parents should be thankful that someone challenges them to be their best. That shy girl Ms. Bertuccelli “pushed” went on to go to Northwestern University and is a driven, young rising star in journalism.

  • Jake

    I hope these two thank the taxpayers who made all this possible.

    • Jim

      People pay for their own public schooling by paying taxes as adults, and the teacher works hard for her money. So they should thank themselves.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Thursday Night Football

Listen Live