For nearly 25 years, I've taught a few classrooms down from one of the most remarkable personalities I've met in education -- a charming, friendly economics teacher named Bill Bogatz.
Bill began teaching at Wantagh High School in 1974. He lost that job in 1978 in an economic downturn and worked in insurance, for Amtrak and taught in another district. In 1988, he returned to Wantagh High for good.
Always single, he dedicated himself completely to his job, the school and his students. He never took a sick day in his years at Wantagh.More ExpresswayReader essaysReader essaysGet published in Newsday
In a 1995 article in the student newspaper, The Warrior, a student wrote that, "One time in the brutal winter of '79, Mr. Bogatz had root canal surgery. The pressure was mounting in his gums and the pain was unbearable. Nonetheless, Bogatz taught his seventh-graders that cold winter day."
Now 63, he is retiring from full-time teaching on Wednesday.
This school year, as I would pass Bill in the halls, I would remind him of "lasts" -- last crisp fall day, last home basketball game, last spring break. He'd offer witty retorts, but more recently he just solemnly nodded, seemily aware of the waning days before graduation. He described the school district as a family and showed his love of his work in so many ways.
Since 1990, he has been the voice of Wantagh football and basketball (an activity he'll continue). He punctuates his play-by-play with school trivia questions, and he announces the presence of school alumni.
He filled file cabinets with any fact you could imagine about the high school's 60 years, which he used in his teaching and at sporting events.
He advised the school's student academic team, which competes in "College Bowl"-type games against other schools.
He was political affairs director of the Wantagh United Teachers union.
And he was a fierce competitor at the school's annual student-teacher Ping-Pong tournaments, earning the title "Forrest Gump of Wantagh" from a fellow teacher.
With students, he showed interest by attending extracurricular activities and games, and giving them laminated clippings when they were in the newspapers. He'd strike up conversations and offer extra help before or after regular school hours. In economics class, he wrote rap songs or puns to get principles across -- "I'm supply and you da man."
At a retirement function, colleagues saluted Bill.
"Years from now, we will say to new teachers, there was a man who once taught here who . . . and then we'll stop. Because we know we'll never be able to capture who he was and what he meant to the school," said David Dubin, who has taught English at Wantagh since 1981. "I am grateful that I had the opportunity to share a school with the most dedicated teacher I have ever known."
Each day by 5 p.m., when most teachers are gone, Bill would break for a bite of food in his seemingly never-ending day of prepping, grading and after-school and union activities. He'd always pop his head in my room, smile and offer to purchase a snack or a meal for me.
On a recent night, I stayed late as adviser of the student newspaper. Out in the teachers parking lot, there were only two cars -- mine and Bill's.
Reader Pete Kravitz lives in Dix Hills.