MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Most of us have a memory of a favorite teacher, someone who went above and beyond what students and parents expected.
Judy Ann Gentz was a second- and third-grade teacher at Olson Elementary School in Bloomington for more than 20 years.
Her former students say not only did she teach them reading, writing and mathematics, she also instilled a love for learning and encouraged them to be leaders. We share her Life Story this week, talking with former students who are now all grown up.
Class photos from the ’90s capture cute smiles, but don’t fully reveal the love her students had for their teacher.
Michael Ervin, an attorney at a downtown Minneapolis law firm, had Gentz as his second-grade teacher.
“Here’s a picture of me and Mrs. Gentz at one of my hockey games growing up,” Ervin said.
When WCCO’s Angela Davis remarked that she looks like a family member because she was hugging him, he replied, “Yeah, it felt like it at the time.”
Ervin elaborated Gentz was a person he leaned on for comfort.
“My dad had passed away the year before I went into second grade. It was really helpful. I think Mrs. Gentz took an interest in me for that reason. She made an effort to come out and be a part of my life outside of school, be a mentor beyond the classroom,” he said.
Former students say Gentz made a pledge to visit all of her students outside of school at least once.
Andrew Patterson, who is now in his second year of dental school at the University of Minnesota, has fond memories of second grade.
“Exuberant. Exuberant. Big time smile. Big time personality,” Patterson said. “She really did see us as individuals, and I love her for that. Super fun. Emotions are contagious. When a teacher applies fun and joy to a concept, it makes you wake up in the morning and want to go to school.”
Gentz was married for 46 years. She was the mother of two daughters, and a proud grandmother.
Her husband Ron said, although she was incredibly giving, there was something she did not share with her students. She didn’t tell them about her lifelong health problems.
Treatment for a childhood illness left her with failing kidneys and back pain, and one year into her teaching career in the early ’90s, Gentz was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Really, looking back, Mrs. Gentz was a saint,” Ervin said.
Gentz retired in 2011, and was 67 years old when she died two weeks ago.
The family said donations can be made to the Education Foundation of Bloomington. Donations can also be mailed to 2575 West 88th Street, Bloomington, MN 55431.
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