Annemarie Roeper is gone, but her spirit and commitment to the ideals that spurred the creation of will remain strong, according to students who assembled Monday morning to pay tribute to the late school founder.
During an emotional 30-minute program at the lower school campus in Bloomfield Hills, roughly 200 children ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade shared memories and impressions of the . Notions of respect, inclusion, peace and learning were repeated by many of the dozens of all ages that grabbed the microphone to express what they thought of Roeper, who is regarded as a pioneer in the field of gifted education.
"We are all going to miss her," said Sean Moss who is a Stage IV student at the school, the equivalent of fifth grade. "But imagine what it will be like if we're even more accepting of each other than we all are now."
Students, including many of whom personally met Roeper during her frequent visits to the campus or her 90th birthday celebration, were told of her death late Friday or early Monday morning. They spent part of the morning crafting folding paper triangles with character traits Roeper instilled through her writing and philosophy.
"It was hard to hear the news," said Veronica Lyon, a fourth-grader from Huntington Woods. "But we wrote poems and drew to get our feelings out."
Lyon was one of the last students to meet and speak with Roeper during a visit with her mother to California on spring break.
"We were very close by and decided to stop there. I knitted her a pillow, which she really enjoyed," Lyon recalled Monday. "But she asked a lot of questions and was really interested in what was going on at the school. She really cared and was happy to see a little bit of Roeper there, I think."
Staying True to Mission
Roeper and her late husband, George, founded The Roeper School in Detroit in 1941 after fleeing Nazi persecution in her native Austria. The school, which started with just nine students, was founded as a place where tolerance of all people and differing ideas were encouraged as a direct result of that experience, school officials said.
"She and her husband had seen terrible war and the horrible, mean things people did to each other," said Emery Pence, the school's alumni director and Roeper's close friend. "Annemarie wanted a school to help develop confident people who could work with others, know themselves, manage their own growth and build a better future."
Pence, who joined the lower school in the early 1980s, also reflected on his last conversation the school's matriarch while addressing the crowd Monday.
"She was still trying to ask questions and discuss issues," he said amid tears as he recounted a visit with her two weeks ago. "She was still growing as her body was dying."
If there is anything longtime Roeper teacher Colleen Shelton said she hopes to instill in her students through Annemarie Roeper, it's the expectation of respect and importance of hearing all voices that want to speak.
"The humanistic respect that she had for everyone. That's big," Shelton said Monday, reflecting on her own 42-year career at the school. "This is very hard, but I'm taking comfort in the fact that the kids are saying they know that the school is still here and so are Annemarie Roeper's ideas. And that those things won't change."