East Northport students lobby for beloved teacher

East Northport Middle School English teacher Leslie Spanko

East Northport Middle School English teacher Leslie Spanko died on Dec. 13, 2013, of a stroke. She was 62. Newsday's obituary for Leslie Spanko
Photo Credit: Theresa Braun

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Former students and colleagues of a popular East Northport Middle School English teacher who died Friday have waged an online campaign to get a character in an upcoming novel named after her.

Over a thousand people had "liked" Leslie Spanko's name on author Tim Green's Facebook page since Friday evening, assuring a character in a future book is named after her, the author said.

Spanko, 62, a seventh-grade English teacher, was found dead in her home earlier on Friday, after she didn't show up for work and fellow teachers became concerned. She had gone home sick on Thursday. Her son, Alex Spanko, 23, said she died of a stroke.

Searching for a way to remember her, teachers at the middle school submitted her name to Green, a former NFL linebacker and defensive end turned writer, who spoke at the school two weeks ago. He had mentioned that he was holding a contest on his Facebook page to name a character -- a lawyer for a fictional Major League Baseball player -- based on how many people "liked" different names submitted to his page.

"Hearing that my son's favorite teacher from middle school passed away was so devastating for everyone here," wrote Barri Feuer of East Northport on Facebook. "Having this positive thing to focus on has been nothing short of miraculous."

In an interview, Feuer credited Spanko with instilling her now 15-year-old son Ethan with a love of reading.

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Alex Spanko said it was a fitting tribute to his mom, who raised him by herself. He recalled how they would go to Shea Stadium on weekends, including many Mother's Days.

"She loved teaching sports books," he said. If the character she was being named after wasn't a teacher, it was appropriate it would be a lawyer, he said. "She loved to argue her case," he said.

Green, in an interview Sunday, said no name he has put up for votes has ever gotten the response this one had.

"This one was so poignant. I saw Leslie two weeks ago," he said. The librarian, who invited him to the school, insisted he meet with Spanko.

He could've closed out the voting yesterday -- and Spanko was assured to win, ahead by 900 votes and counting. But he wanted to extend it for another day, so the middle school students could participate today.

Other teachers said Leslie Spanko's death has devastated the school community.

"She had this kind of sarcastic wit about her," said Sandy Leahy, 42. "She told it like it was. Kids adored her, and she was just an incredible educator."

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