Often teachers, like their students, are eager for the end of the school year. Helen Beckham, however, was a teacher who wanted a part of her to stay at school forever.
Beckham taught for more than 20 years, at Maize, Washington School, Chisholm Middle School, Lincoln and Northridge schools. But it was Suncrest, a country school, that held Beckham's heart. This was evident on reading her will after she passed away in January. The school was a part of the Newton School district, located east of Newton
“I think it would be really neat if a cup of my ashes, about a heart amount, could be taken to the mud hole at Suncrest. Because that's where I left part of my heart. I had my most happy and rewarding years at Suncrest.”
Beckham's son-in-law Robert Carlton read those words aloud Saturday morning March 23. “Know that as a family you have done everything your mom wanted done. And that's a blessing,” said Carlton.
Suncrest school is now the residence of Beckham's former fifth grade student, Michelle (Kozaka) Ruebke. Ruebke welcomed 17 of Beckham's family members who gathered to fulfill her request. Beckham's husband, Dwight, spread her ashes at the site of a historic Suncrest moment.
It was the spring of 1976, the last day of school. A couple students got into a fight in a mud pit in the just-mowed grass behind the school. When 6th grade teacher, Joe Hinz tried to stop them, he got thrown in the mud. Soon the whole school was involved. When everyone realized the parents would be coming in a few hours for a graduation ceremony, students were sent to the showers—which soon clogged with grass and mud. Water flowed down the hall.
While touring the building, Hinz pointed out a spot halfway down the hallway. “That's about where Helen and I were scrubbing the floor when Mr Johnson (the principal) came in.” The story goes that they just stared at his shoes and went around him.
The teachers weren't sure how long they'd be employed. A fourth-grader asked where Siberia was. Hinz responded “for you kids it's a long ways. For us, it's a lot closer.” The principal didn't seem to want to know what had happened and kept on walking.
The girls' shower still has the original tiling, and is now part of the master bathroom. Ruebke said that showering there still brings memories of that crazy day, 40 years ago “All my best childhood memories were at Suncrest,” said Ruebke. Evidently, it was a special memory for Beckham as well.
The school is remembered as a place of creative learning, powered by its teachers. The gym was the site of many a dodge ball game, said Hinz. Beckham's class did special events and learned about life, making a silent film at Cowtown, participating in the Walk for Mankind. A video survived of a 1980s class' MTV show, lip-synching to hits like “Born in the USA.”
Ruebke shared how Beckham cared outside the classroom. “I know her birthday was August 18. Helen knew I wasn't ok and for years, she took me for ice cream on her birthday.”
Beckham's legacy continues in her two daughters and son, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Beckham's husband Dwight was a music teacher at Suncrest, as well as in Newton and Valley Center, and played for the Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra and the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Other family members shared what she meant to them, including Beckham's niece, Sherri Engels, a former kindergarten teacher who shared a love of education with her aunt.
A marathon runner, Beckham said in her will, “I have done my best in the race, I have ran the full distance. I have kept the faith.” She added this post script, “I have done everything I've wanted to do...and more.”