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Forgotten Letters

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Fifth Grade Teacher Kathy Burns Rosen in 1970
(Courtesy Kathy Burns Rosen)
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This weekend, the 1970 fifth grade class at Sunset Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash., will be having a reunion. What's brought them back together after 38 years is an old class assignment. Teacher Kathy Burns Rosen assigned her students to write a letter describing what they thought would be the most important thing to happen in the 70s or 80s. They self-addressed the envelopes. Burns promised to mail the letters back to them in 1980. She left Washington at the end of that school year, taking the letters with her. She spoke with John Moe about finding the letters years later, and what she did with them.

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Kathy Burns Rosen: I made a stop at my parents' home in Mankato, Minn., and they were put in a trunk in the attic with all with my college things and teaching things. I went on my way with the rest of my life. And that's where they stayed.

John Moe: Until when?

Burns Rosen: Until about a year ago. I was home, and I was going through some things in the attic, and I saw the trunk and thought "Well, let me see what's in here." And right on top were the letters. They were yellowed with age and had a rubber band around them. And it really caught me off guard. I was just taken aback. I sat down. I held them in my hands. I looked at them, and I felt terrible. I said, "My gosh. What have I done? I've let these kids down." I unfortunately forgot about this assignment--for good reasons, I understand that. But I was really heartsick about it, quite honestly, and didn't quite know how to proceed with returning them.

Moe: Well, how have you done? How many students have you been able to track down?

Burns Rosen: I've tracked down all but two of them.

Moe: Wow.

Burns Rosen: Every single one except two of them.

Moe: I want to ask you about one student in particular. What kind of student was Julie Jenson?

Burns Rosen: She was a happy-go-lucky little girl who always had a smile on her face; very, very bright, and energetic, loved school.

Moe: Well, Julie Jenson is with us from her home in Washington State. Julie, welcome.

Julie Jenson: Thank you.

Moe: Julie, you're holding your letter?

Jenson: I sure am.

Moe: Julie, do you remember this assignment?

Jenson: No.

Moe: What do you remember from the class?

Jenson: I remember learning about a lot of what was going on in society. I mean, the Vietnam War was the big, big, big thing. It was something that every child brought home to their families to discuss around the dinner table. You know, there were a lot of big things going on. As far as a letter like this, it would have been another assignment.

Moe: Well, Julie, you have the letter in your hand, can you open it, please?

Jenson: All right (opens letter).

Moe: You're laughing.

Jenson: Yes. It says, "Julie J. 1970" Shall I read it?

Moe: Please. Wait, wait, Kathy are you ready?

Burns Rosen: Oh, I'm ready. I'm ready. I can't wait!

Jenson: OK, I'm sorry, I'll get myself together here. "In 1970 there will be boys with long hair, girls with short hair, the style of clothes will be short skirts, 10-inch high heels and four inches across. There will hardly be any dresses." That is my letter.

Burns Rosen: Now, talk about profound!

Jenson: So was I into fashion or what?

Moe: So it's just a description of the fashions of 1970?

Jenson: It absolutely was.

Moe: There's nothing about the future or the 70s or 80s?

Jenson: No!

Moe: Well, it's kind of an ideal homework assignment when you think about it, because ain't nobody going to grade it for forever.

Jenson: There you go!

Burns Rosen: And I didn't have to grade it.

Moe: It was all sealed up!

Jenson: Kathy, what do you think about what I wrote?

Burns Rosen: I think it's great. And I think it's so typical and really, Julie, you'd be surprised, because some of the other girls certainly talked about fashion.

Jenson: Really?

Burns Rosen: They did, yes.

Moe: What have you been hearing about other letters people have been opening?

Burns Rosen: It was interesting. The war, space exploration, fashion. There was another one about hair, skirts and bell bottoms.

Moe: This was a few months after the moon landing too.

Burns Rosen: Yes, it was. The moon landing was in July of 1969, the summer before school started.

Jenson: John, I think part of the motivation for my note, now that I think a little more about it, was Twiggy.

Moe: Twiggy? Explain.

Jenson: The movie star, Twiggy.

Moe: Right. Very thin model, movie star. So people were landing on the moon and you were thinking about Twiggy?

Jenson: Can you believe that?

Moe: OK, so Kathy, you're the teacher, or the former teacher. Help us learn the lesson from the project.

Burns Rosen: I think for me personally, the lesson is life is full of wonderful surprises and incredible gifts. And this has been one of the most meaningful gifts I've ever, ever had in my life. I never, ever thought when I looked at the letters when I first found them over a year ago that I would ever find these kids. It consumed me for months. I just couldn't wait to get in touch with these kids. To know how they were, and I couldn't wait to see them. And in fact, I am going to see them!

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Two students still haven't been located. Kathy Burns Rosen is still trying to find Jeff Hollman and Kenny Henderson. If you're out there, let us know!

Comments

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  • By Shelly Otter-Green

    From Issaquah, YT, 10/23/2008

    I was one of the students in Kathy's class, and I don't think she gives herself enough credit for what she has done for us! She was an absolutely great teacher. Maybe it was because she was young herself that she related to us and treated us kindly and with respect. Words cannot express the gratitude I and many others feel. We were very lucky to have such a wonderful teacher--and now we have a wonderful friend! We are looking forward to more reunions in the future.

    By Susan Crosbie

    From MN, 10/23/2008

    Dear Kathy and Students,

    What a heart-warming story about a great woman and her students! Wishing you ALL all the best, Dr Susan

    By Lisa Freund

    From Port Townsend, WA, 10/18/2008

    Is there any way to get the names of the people in the class?

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