Patricia O'Hara, a longtime teacher at the Birch School in...

Patricia O'Hara, a longtime teacher at the Birch School in Merrick, died on Jan. 9 at age 92. Credit: William O'Hara

Patricia O’Hara was the kind of person whose vocabulary didn’t include the words "I can’t."

"She never knew those two words," her friend Bernadette Beaudreau said. "If you asked her to do something, she would find a way to do it."

O’Hara, who taught for 37 years, including 23 at the Birch School in Merrick, died on Jan. 9. She was 92.

O’Hara was born on June 18, 1929, and raised in the Bronx. Her mother, Nora Rainey, was a nurse. Her father, William Galpen, performed in the chorus of many Broadway musicals, and introduced a love of performance to his daughter.

"He made my mom take piano lessons and develop her musical talents so that she ended up going to the High School of Music and Art," said O'Hara's son William.

After graduating from the High School of Music & Art, O’Hara earned her bachelor’s in elementary education from Fordham University in 1949. She began teaching second grade in the Yonkers school district the next fall. At night, she took graduate courses, earning a master’s from Hunter College in 1951, according to her son.

In 1953, Patricia O’Hara was sworn into the U.S. Department of Defense Teaching Program and sent to Japan to teach art to the children of American military members stationed at bases there.

"She went on this adventure for a year and she talked about it like it was the time of her life," her son said.

Patricia O'Hara was an educator for 37 years including in...

Patricia O'Hara was an educator for 37 years including in Japan, where she taught children of U.S. service members, in the Yonkers school district and 23 years at the Birch School in Merrick. Credit: Family

In Japan, Patricia O’Hara formed lifelong friendships with her two roommates, who also were elementary school teachers. They would go out dancing and travel to other parts of the country together.

After fulfilling her service commitment, she returned to the Yonkers school district and married William O’Hara. The couple had two sons and moved to Merrick in 1963. Patricia O'Hara started teaching at the Birch School, an elementary, the following year, her son William said.

Her memories of Japan became a part of her lessons. Patricia O'Hara put together a yearly presentation about the country, showing souvenirs, pictures, and cooking Japanese cuisine. It offered a different perspective of Japan during a time when many Americans were still resentful about the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, which led to U.S. entry into World War II.

O'Hara loved to combine as much knowledge as possible into lessons, her annual plant sales being a great example. She incorporated science by having students grow plants from seedlings. They would make plant containers out of old soda bottles and macramé, in an effort to encourage upcycling and creativity. The students learned economics while pricing the plants. Plus, their profits raised money for charitable causes, instilling values of giving.

Sandy Gart, who taught at Birch with O’Hara, remembers her as a teacher loved by students and respected by colleagues.

"She was not only good in the classroom, but she also was a wonderful musician," Gart said.

If there was a piano in the room, O’Hara was drawn to it, playing songs for students or accompanying school musicals. She was an accomplished violinist, playing with the Island Symphony Orchestra.

After retiring from teaching, O'Hara discovered a new passion. In 1986, she joined the chorus of the Island Lyric Opera House. She served as the manager of the chorus.

"She kept them all in line," said Beaudreau, who performed alongside O’Hara. "She made sure that they were all dressed properly in their costumes, that they all had gloves, that they all knew their roles very well."

O’Hara also was a talented artist, painting scenery for the opera company and creating artwork for family and friends.

She struck up a friendship with the late opera soprano Beverly Sills after sending her a fan letter. They would write back and forth, discussing their mutual love of opera and confiding about personal issues.

O’Hara loved spending time with her family on their boat. During the warmer months, she’d spend Friday to Sunday cruising the South Shore of Long Island and the New England coastline.

Besides her son, O’Hara is survived by three grandsons, Ryan, Dylan and Connor; and two great-granddaughters. She was predeceased by another son.

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