Elementary school teaching creates lifelong influences, memories
When Mark Lobene was confronted with the COVID pandemic in New York City, he decided to create a “Gratitude Tour.”
The former East Irondequoit resident built a spreadsheet listing the people whose support and encouragement had influenced his life. He used the lockdown time to find and thank them for their positive influence. Among those was his third-grade teacher at Pardee School, Irene Erwin.
Lobene eventually learned that she was still in the Rochester area, decades later. He called Erwin this summer.
“I was excited and hopeful that she would pick up and remember me — and she did,” Lobene said. “She was very pleased, recognized me immediately, remembered teaching my sister, recalled which house we lived in and asked about both my parents. She told me she appreciated my reaching out to thank her.”
Erwin said her initial reaction to Lobene’s call was surprise. Though she’d run into former students still in this area, his was the first phone call she had ever gotten from one.
A career, then a career change
Over a four-decade career, Erwin estimated she taught nearly 1,000 students. In addition to Pardee School in East Irondequoit, she taught first grade at Dewitt Road and first and second grades at State Road elementary schools in Webster. She retired from teaching in 1990.
Lobene, in the meantime, graduated from Eastridge High School and St. John Fisher College. After a year working in this area, he headed to New York City.
There, Lobene pursued a career in the financial technology sector. He worked in sales and operations for technology firms on Wall Street. He joined a Silicon Valley software start-up, built a sales team in the New York office and helped open a London office. The firm was eventually bought by the international news organization Reuters. Lobene then joined a software consulting firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He led the development of the financial sales division in the U.S., and, as before, helped open a London office, with team members from around the globe reporting to him.
At the same time, Lobene began cultivating his interest in theater. It was actually in Erwin’s class, where he appeared as a talking Christmas tree in a play, that Lobene was first intrigued by the stage.
Living in Manhattan, he took advantage of every opportunity to attend small dramatic productions. He took acting classes at night and on weekends, along with individual lessons while still working during the day.
“One thing led to another and I was able to work with world-class teachers in New York City,” Lobene said.
He eventually traded his full-time role in business for full-time study in the Actors Center Conservatory program.
Lobene is now on his second career and has compiled a diverse resume. His film credits include appearing in the independent production “Mother of the Week” and co-starring in the short “2nd Life.” He’s acted in more than a dozen off-off-Broadway productions and produced two comedies at the Producers Club in New York City. He’s also done acting and voiceover work on corporate training films and commercials, as well as for the History Channel. Recently, he co-starred in the indie sci-fi thriller “The Institute,” which is in post-production.
Crediting the classroom
After his phone conversation with Erwin, Lobene wrote to his former teacher, not only repeating his thanks, but praising his educational experience at Pardee.
In Erwin’s class, Lobene recalled, each student’s show-and-tell led to a teaching moment.
“She tried to have us draw a helpful conclusion and apply it to our lives, like ‘so if you’re looking for vitamins, ask for homegrown carrots,’” he said. “The mood was always upbeat and energetic, and she encouraged everyone with a positive phrase after answering any question.”
The experience at Pardee cemented lasting bonds. Lobene keeps in touch with friends living across the U.S. in Kentucky, Colorado and California, and touches base with those still in Rochester when he visits.
“When I called Mrs. Erwin, we talked as adult to adult, discussing things like educational trends, global trends and events,” Lobene said. “But most of all, I wanted the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to her for being such a great and inspiring teacher. It’s been a long time, and it was a happy surprise to connect and talk with her. She even suggested I make this into a documentary!”
Below is a copy of Lobene’s letter to Erwin.
“Dear Mrs. Erwin,
“What a wonderful pleasure to speak with you three weeks ago! I'm so happy that you picked up the telephone and recalled so much from those years. For me, third grade was a significant shift from second grade, more serious and more musical — I started to study the French horn, which eventually led to trumpet under the terrific Mrs. McCarthy.
“Speaking with friends from all over the world, I realize that Pardee School was a very special place — the time was right, the team was right and the parents were really interested in education for their children. This magic mix, including significant federal aid to education starting in the post-war period, led to a world-class grade school in a middle class neighborhood! We should hope to replicate this all over the USA, though I know that would be a tough assignment.
“I called because I wanted to express my gratitude to you for being such a great teacher and for your sensitive and caring influence over my schoolwork, and of the others too. Your class was always upbeat and about what each of us could do, not what we were limited by. This positive environment predated the New Age mantras and led to great results. I vividly remember where I sat in class, the Christmas play, the spelling tests and so much more. Your class made me want to be ‘smart.’ So, thank you again!
“I've enclosed some printouts of my website that should at least provide you with an idea of my appearance and my current activities. New York City has been very good to me — great opportunity, great friendships, great international exposure, a place where it was hip to be smart and ambitious, and ultimately where I met my wife. When I moved here at 23 years of age, I wanted to prove that I could ‘make it in New York City.’ Life was tough, with lots of work, yet lots of fun too, and I was up for the challenge. My ambition knew no bounds. Ultimately, everything worked out, and I was able to pursue my performance work with financial security. Somewhat older to be starting an acting career, but nonetheless, up for the challenge again. I guess I'm just not happy without challenges.
“I will keep you posted of any major accomplishments.
“Please stay healthy and happy — you deserve it!”