Retired teacher recalls late Bush on class trip

PHOTO PROVIDED Third-grade students at Four Mile Elementary School display a quilt they made for then-First Lady Barbara Bush in a class taught by Kathy Johnson, of Loyalsock Township, with help from art teacher Kim Tagana who put the patches together.

In the midst of a church-mouse-quiet ceremony held in the Rose Garden at the White House one cool, spring morning early in former President George H.W. Bush’s term, a youngster not versed in the ways of pomp and circumstance suddenly yelled, “We love you, President Bush!”

Kathy Johnson, of Loyalsock Township, a former teacher at the Four Mile Elementary School, recalled the silly breach of ceremony caused by one of her third-grade students at the time.

“I couldn’t figure out who it was, and I didn’t dare ask,” she said, chuckling. “(The president) picked up his hand and gave a little wave.”

Johnson and her class had been invited to the ceremony in Washington D.C. after one of her students created a pull-out card for then-President Bush, which read, “Do not disturb — gone fishing,” and featured fish that pulled out on a string, she said.

Bush replied to the gesture, sending Johnson a letter that she keeps framed with his photograph. Dated April 18, 1989, it reads:

“Dear girls and boys: How thoughtful of you to send me your letters and the cleaver … and colorful ‘Do Not Disturb — Gone Fishing’ sign. I’ll keep it and use it on the next fishing trip I go on. It is always a joy to see young citizens using their talents in a creative way. You can be proud of your work.

With my best wishes for a happy and bright future,

Sincerely,

George Bush”

The misspelling of the word “clever” stuck out to Johnson, especially as the former president’s loved ones honored him during his funeral Wednesday.

They mentioned how his spelling and grammar weren’t perfect, but he still wrote letters to those he served, she said.

“He was just a special person,” Johnson said. “He was not there for the notoriety. He was not there for himself, he was there for his country. I hope that’s what my (students) remember.”

Another of Johnson’s classes had the opportunity to interact with the Bush family by making a quilt for then-First Lady Barbara Bush, who was known to love literature.

Each student made a different patch for the quilt based on a book, Johnson said, then the class sent the finished product to Barbara Bush.

One day, in the midst of a school wide assembly, Johnson got a phone call.

“I was embarrassed because you weren’t supposed to take calls during the day,” she recalled. “But the principal told me, ‘You’re going to want to take this phone call, Mrs. Johnson.’ I go to the office, the secretary’s gesturing to me, ‘Shape up.’ It was Barbara Bush calling to thank us for the quilt!”

As Johnson shared her stories, voices from the television resounded in the background. She apologized for the volume — she was watching the broadcast of Bush’s funeral services.

“I was just saying goodbye to a good friend,” she said.

“When he left office, he left a letter in the Oval Office for Bill Clinton, and it congratulated him and said to him, ‘You are my president now.’ I think that’s why they were so close and became such good friends,” she added. “It’s not about your party, it’s about the person.”

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