It was a very special homecoming for journalist Dan Rather, who returned to Love Elementary on October 12 where he had been a student more than 80 years ago to participate in a tree planting ceremony and to visit with Love students and staff.
“I knew I had come to Love to plant a tree, alongside trees I planted with my classmates so many decades ago,” said Rather. “But this visit turned out to be so much more. I spent time in the classrooms, where the eager young faces filled me with hope. God bless them, but these children apparently had spent some class time learning about this ancient alumnus, and their questions and work on the bulletin boards touched my heart with humility and thankfulness.”
Rather’s visit had been about three years in the making ever since current PTO president Diana Vining learned from fellow parent Ebru Erdini that Dan Rather had attended Love. Vining thought that hosting Rather would be just the kind of thing to give the school, which at one time was considered for closure but has since rebounded, the much needed “love” and recognition it deserves.
“I worked in DC for 15 years both on Capitol Hill for former Louisiana Senator John Breaux and then as a lobbyist, so I reached out to some friends to see if they could help put me in touch with someone in his office,” said Vining.
Fate intervened when Rather was the guest speaker at a conference that Vining’s brother in law was holding in Washington.
“I said to Walt if you don’t mention Love Elementary and that your sister in law is the PTO President, you’re going to be in big trouble,” said Vining. “His conference happened to be right around the time of Mr. Rather’s Teacher Appreciation post on Facebook – about Ms. Simmons, the former principal at Love – and how they planted trees on Arbor Day. From there, it all just kind of fell into place.”
The PTO worked with Rather’s grandson, Martin Rather, to find a mutually convenient time. The October date dovetailed with a visit Rather was making to his college alma mater, Sam Houston State.
During the day, Rather met with third, fourth and fifth grade students at Love as well as journalism club students from Heights High School.
The weather was perfect for the afternoon ceremony. Love’s students wore their red uniforms and held signs that said “We Love.” The Love Elementary choir, led by Jesus Lozano, performed a number of songs, including “You’re the One that I Want” from Greece and the “Marine’s Hymn” in honor of Rather.
Speakers included Love Principal Melba Johnson, PTO President Diana Vining, District I Trustee Elizabeth Santos, Houston Heights Association President Bill Baldwin and of course Rather himself, who spoke of his principal’s love of Arbor Day and his own memories of planting trees.
Rather spoke to the students about the importance of their dreams had them repeat him as he told them, “Dare to dream,” and “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Later, when reflecting on his visit, Rather noted that “the neighborhood has changed greatly since my youth. It is much more ethnically diverse, much like the larger city around it and the United States itself. But as I walked the hallways and met the children, I found so much in common with when I went there.”
For her part, Vining hopes the event will encourage people to really see Love, as she did when she finally decided to tour her zoned school after initially discounting it because it wasn’t one of the more buzzed about schools in the area.
“I grew up in Louisiana and walked to school so I love that we are just two blocks away,” said Vining. “We were drawn in primarily because of the dual language program and we love that our children are learning to be bilingual.”
Vining notes that new science and literacy programs have recently been developed at the school thanks to a generous contribution made by Tommy Vaughn Ford. Another neighbor, the Church of the Apostles have donated their time and resources to help improve Love’s basketball court and T-buildings. Other Love parents have been working tirelessly on building and grounds beautification projects. Next up are plans to utilize outdoor space to establish a new garden so that students can grow their own food.
Special thanks go to Buchanan’s Native Plants for the donation of the Oak tree that was planted, the Bermudez Family and Third Coast Clay for the donation of the accompanying plaque and to C&D Hardware and Cornerstone Materials as well as to the Houston Heights Association and to Love’s facilities manager Ernesto Lopez.
The day was an emotional one for many, including Mr. Rather, who asked if he could stop for a moment more on the way out of the school building.
“I want to take this all in,” he said.