“We are the safeguards of (Roeper’s) philosophy,” senior Gavin Buckley said. “We’re here now to make the world a better place.”
Middle and upper school teachers, administrators and students gathered at the Birmingham campus Tuesday morning to honor Roeper, who passed away Friday in California at the age of 93.
Even more importantly, Tuesday was a time for the Roeper community to remember and reaffirm Roeper’s educational philosophy and how it continues to shape the lives of Roeper students.
'She's a heroic figure in my life'
Durning the 45 minute tribute to Roeper, students, staff and Roeper’s friends stood up to speak about their memories of Roeper, who founded the Bloomfield Hills-based school for gifted learners in 1941 with her husband George.
One of those students was Roeper senior and Rochester Hills resident Ruthie Lane, who, along with four other students and teacher Dan Jacobs, traveled to Roeper’s California home in January for a once-in-a-lifetime visit.
“She’s a heroic figure in my life,” Lane said. “I feel very privileged to have met her and go to this school.”
For fellow senior Maggie Mae Shelten, whose mother Colleen Shelten teaches at Roeper, the school co-founder was always a bit intimidating during visits to the Shelton home.
“I was always a little afraid of her,” Shelton said. “But she taught me to have a human respect for the people around me.”
Respect, freedom and a progressive educational philosophy are the cornerstones of Roeper’s school. After fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, the Roepers came to Detroit in 1941 to lead a psychoanalytically oriented nursery and grade school.
The school grew rapidly thanks to the Roepers' humanistic and innovative approach to education, and the couple purchased the campus in Bloomfield Hills in 1946. The school added the Birmingham campus for middle and upper school students in 1981.
Eventually, the school would focus exclusively on gifted education, becoming in 1956 only the second elementary school in the country to do so. During the next half century, Roeper and her husband — who passed away in 1992 — became pioneers in the realm of gifted education and mentors to hundreds of educators.
During Tuesday’s tribute, Interim Head of School Philip Deely said that after he searched for Annemarie Roeper on Google, 39,000 results popped up.
“Annemarie has … an importance over and beyond her contributions to this school, great as they were,” he said.
Friends urge students heed Roeper's last message: 'There is time'
Still, Roeper’s greatest legacy is the school she left behind and the students and friends dedicated to carrying on her philosophy in teaching and living.
Buckley told students a story from Roeper’s earliest days as a teacher, when one of her students drowned while at school. Heartbroken, Roeper was crying in her office when another young student walked in, came up to her and asked her how she was doing.
“She realized this was a humanely gifted child, and that’s what she wanted to foster,” Buckley said.
Two of the last people to visit with Roeper before her death were Emery and Linda Pence. Emery, Roeper’s alumni director and former head of the middle school, said that even when she was weak, Roeper was more alive than most people.
Linda said Roeper kept a notebook at her home, where she would record her thoughts on conversations and visitors. The last entry in that notebook, Linda said, were Roeper’s notes for her address to Roeper’s 2012 graduating class. Those last thoughts were simple, Linda said: “There is time. Take the time. There is no rush.”
Emery Pence echoed those thoughts, reminding students that after escaping one Holocaust, Roeper created the school to prevent another from occurring.
“Don’t be afraid of dying,” he told students. “Be afraid of never having lived. (Roeper) is alive as much as we make her alive.”
For more stories on Annemarie Roeper and her legacy in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, visit Annemarie Roeper, 1918-2012.