I only knew Marjean Gries a little bit.
My first contact with her came shortly after I moved to Perry in February 2005 to become sports editor at the local paper. I liked her immediately, attracted by a warm friendliness, outgoing personality and sense of humor. Her joy in working with kids and her love for them was evident from the moment I first met her.
Marjean did not want to sit for an interview when she announced her retirement some years later, saying the story should not be about her but rather about the importance of teaching physical education to youngsters.
The way the students gathered around her each year at the Perry Elementary Track days told you everything you needed to know.
I have always believed that children, especially young ones, are somehow akin to puppies — they are trusting, almost to a fault, but also have an innate sense of the goodness (or lack of it) in others. They seem to be able to sense it when something is wrong, but also when it is right. Watching the students flock around her and vie for attention made it perfectly clear — this teacher was a rock star.
For 34 years she devoted her talents to teaching valuable life lessons to every student who passed through Perry Elementary. Think about that for a minute. Every student for 34 years. Touching thousands of lives, her impact was incalculable.
The Teacher of the Year in 2002-2003, she was so well respected by the community that she was voted onto the Perry School Board as a write-in candidate.
As the years passed, I became more and more familiar with Marjean, for which I am grateful. Everyone likes to be around people who are warm and fun.
The news of her unexpected passing April 19 rocked the community and all who knew her. Nearly 36,000 people saw our Facebook posts on her passing, posts that were shared 260 times and commented on 47 times. ThePerryNews.com stories about her unexpected loss were clicked on and opened more than 10,000 times.
I share those numbers not to boast but to illustrate the impact Marjean had on all her knew her or knew of her. The sadness so many felt was palpable, the sense of loss personal, and everyone felt the need to share those feelings with others, as we do in such times.
And yet the brightness of her spirit refused to be dimmed. Time and again those making comments recalled special moments, lessons taught, precious memories. They told time and again of her cheerfulness and competitive nature, her love for athletics and any chance to compete. A lover of games, she shared her passion with everyone she encountered.
Amid the shock and sorrow, the joy she brought to so many came to the forefront time and again. Her loss was painful and sad, yes, but — as I believe she would have appreciated — it was also a time for happy stories, fond recollections and smiles.
So many of you knew Marjean Gries much better than I did. You were lucky. You were blessed.
While I didn’t know Marjean as well as many of you, I do know this — as sure as her ever-present smile, it is a sure thing she is now in a place of unspeakable joy.
Imagine the games she must be playing now!