Puyallup: News

After 66 years, teacher and student meet again at Bonney Lake retirement home

Margaret (Peggy) Burley, right, was one of 31 students in a fourth grade class at Pacific Elementary taught by Robert Terrell, left, in 1951. The two met for the first time in 66 years at a retirement facility in Bonney Lake.
Margaret (Peggy) Burley, right, was one of 31 students in a fourth grade class at Pacific Elementary taught by Robert Terrell, left, in 1951. The two met for the first time in 66 years at a retirement facility in Bonney Lake. allison.needles@puyallupherald.com

They might not have met again if it weren’t for the dogs.

At their home at Cedar Ridge by Bonaventure: Retirement and Assisted Living Facility in Bonney Lake, 96-year-old Robert Terrell and 75-year-old Margaret (Peggy) Burley were out walking their pets. Burley was with her toy poodle, Buster, when they crossed paths with Terrell and his Maltese, Gracie.

“(The dogs) confronted each other a little bit,” Terrell said.

But it got a conversation going. Neither Terrell nor Burley remember exactly how that conversation went, but by the end of it, Terrell discovered that the person he was talking to was a former student of his that he hadn’t seen in 66 years.

“I couldn’t believe it… The first thing I told Peggy is, you don’t have to call me ‘mister’ anymore,” Terrell said.

Terrell started his teaching career after graduating from Western Washington University in 1950. That first job was at what used to be Pacific Elementary School in Pacific, part of the Auburn School District before it was combined with Algonia to become Alpac Elementary in 1973. At the time, Pacific Elementary was relatively small, with less than 200 students.

In his first year, Terrell, 30 years old at the time, taught fourth grade. Out of the 30 students in that 1951-52 school year, one of them was Burley, who was 9 years old.

“Looking back, it was my most enjoyable year,” Terrell said. “Once I got in the classroom and I met wonderful kids like Peggy, I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”

That fourth grade school year passed, and Burley moved on to the next grade as Terrell continued to teach for another six years. He was also a principal for 20 years for other schools in the Auburn School District — West Auburn Elementary, Pacific Elementary, Algona Elementary and Chinook Elementary, finishing up his career at Lea Hill Elementary.

Now, the two reminisce about memories from that class in the early 1950s, and they’re not afraid to poke fun with each other. When asked what kind of student Burley was, Terrell joked that she was a horrible student and had to use the paddle on her. Burley joked that Terrell yelled at his students all the time.

But it’s all in good fun.

“No, he was a great teacher … we joke with each other,” Burley said.

“She always got things done,” Terrell said. “I was lucky enough to have her in my class.”

The two now occasionally grab lunch, always greet each other in the hall and have become good friends. They have many years to make up for — so much has changed in the past six decades. Terrell’s a five-year resident of Cedar Ridge, Burley a four-month resident. Terrell was married for 77 years and lost his wife, Josephine, in May. He has three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Burley was married for 24 years and has two children and six grandchildren.

After 26 years in education, Terrell can still remember most of his students from that first year of fourth grade. With an old class photo Terrell found stashed away, he and Burley pointed out the kids they remember, name by name. Terrell often thinks about where his former students are now.

“I’d sure like to know what happened to those other 29 kids,” he said. “I would give anything to locate them.”

Cedar Ridge sales and marketing manager Ariel Halstead was moved by the story when Terrell told her about it.

“To hear that paths have crossed before, it’s pretty amazing,” she said. “If we hear from (other students), I’d love to host a reunion.”

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison

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