On Wednesday, October 18, on what would have been her 101st birthday, the Gaynor community gathered to celebrate the life and life’s work of the school’s Co-Founder Dr. Miriam (Mimi) Michael. Current parents, faculty, staff, and board members came together for a Celebration of Life, sharing memories of Mimi and experiences at Gaynor. A recurring sentiment throughout the evening was gratitude for Dr. Michael’s vision to found Gaynor and as a pioneer in special education when the field was still in its infancy.
Dr. Scott Gaynor reflected on a particularly memorable visit he made to Gaynor as a child, when the school was in its original West 74th Street location. Dr. Michael escorted him down to the basement where he took a seat with other children making art projects. He asked the teacher, Ms. Abrams, what he should do but was surprised when she countered him with the question, “What do you want to do?” Later that day, the future Dr. Gaynor asked Dr. Michael why students were allowed to do what they want in art, rather than being told what to do. Dr. Michael responded that the goal at Gaynor was to help children find their individual strengths. Teachers needed to work hard to discover what is special about each child in order to foster a love of learning. Dr. Gaynor said, “My grandmother’s legacy of fostering the joy of learning continues to impact the lives of children at Gaynor. Thank you Mimi, we will always remember what you have done for Stephen Gaynor School.”
Yvette Siegel-Herzog shared her sentiments about her friend and co-founder. “Without Mimi by my side, our legacy to the future of children whose educational needs cried out for acknowledgement and understanding would not exist. When we realized that legions of bright and creative students were misunderstood educationally, emotionally, and socially, Mimi and I literally exploded onto the educational enclave, clamoring and insisting that our boys and girls had been neglected for far too long. Together, we developed our mission and dedicated our life’s work towards the creation of a community where the needs of children and their families were recognized, dignified, and above all, acknowledged and remediated. Mimi’s shouting was louder than anyone’s.”
Finally, Lauren Pruzan Gaynor, granddaughter-in-law of Dr. Michael, and her children took the stage together to share a story Mimi’s granddaughter wrote for Mother’s Day 2016.
“If I could put one thing under glass, it would probably be my great grandma, also known as Mimi. She is 99 years old and for the most part healthy. I think she enjoys life, and would love to live how she is forever. I really enjoy spending time with her and she has so many stories and opinions about life. It really amazes me how she can be so old and she can still be part of a conversation of the upcoming election. I have met a couple 90 year-old people and by far none are like her. My great grandma inspires me and I think that a person like her should be kept under glass and nothing should ever change about her.”
Pruzan Gaynor finished with a smile, saying that Mimi was a strong woman and was never the type to stay under glass.
Rest in peace, Dr. Michael. On behalf of the entire community and the thousands of alumni who have found a home at Gaynor, thank you for your life’s work.