Robert Weschler for decades taught hundreds of students at the Waldorf School of Garden City that the best ways of "getting your hands into the dirt" was through his classes of gardening, woodworking and physical education, said his son Bruce Weschler.
Known as "Wesch" to his students, Weschler, of Wantagh, died Aug. 15 at his son's home in Kernersville, North Carolina. He was 89.
Born and raised in Queens, Weschler attended a semester at New York University before enlisting in the Army and serving in Europe as a private, driving tank destroyers in Gen. George Patton's Third Army, 4th Armored Division during World War II.
One day while talking with friends about life after the war, a friend made a suggestion that determined Weschler's life path.
"They were sitting around, asking 'What are you going to do the rest of your life?' and one of his friends said 'Why not teaching? You always loved teaching.' It's like a lightbulb went off," said Bruce Weschler, 60, a self-employed handyman.
Weschler received a bachelor's degree in physical education from what was then called Adelphi College. In 1951 he began teaching at the Waldorf School and did not leave for nearly 60 years. He later received a master's degree in elementary education from Adelphi.
"From 1951 to 2010, Mr. Weschler taught numerous subjects and classes at the Waldorf School of Garden City -- including physical education, woodworking, gardening, stone sculpture, driver education as well as ballroom and square dancing; touching the lives of hundreds of Waldorf students," Robert Ingenito, the school's communications director, said in a statement.
"He just truly loved teaching, just being there with the kids," Bruce Weschler said.
Weschler's roles at the school spilled into areas beyond teaching. He drove the school bus, established playground rules and organized the first of many school traditions such as Field Day, sports nights and the holiday faculty luncheons. He established the school's Nature Trail encircling the campus, which was named in his honor in 2004. Until he was 84, Weschler participated in school dances, according to Ingenito.
Weschler married fellow churchgoer Edith Nielsen in 1953, and taught all four of their children as they made their way through the Waldorf School.
"I can't say I was treated better than other students," Bruce Weschler said of his time learning woodworking from his father. "He wasn't tougher on me than the others either. He let me go at my own pace."
Edith Weschler died in 2011, and daughter Bonnie died in 1975. In addition to Bruce, he is survived by son Bradley Weschler, 58, of Huntington Station; and daughter Bobbie Simon, 57, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The school will hold a memorial service Oct. 23, and a community square dance in Weschler's memory during the Fall Fair & Alumni Day Oct. 24.