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 Lorraine Eisner, teacher who had great chemistry

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

©2007 The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) / North Jersey Media Group. www.northjersey.com

Lorraine Eisner, whose unbridled enthusiasm and love of world travel animated her chemistry classes during a 40-year teaching career at Bergenfield High School, died Sunday at age 79.

Mrs. Eisner, who lived in Bergenfield for 57 years, had lung cancer, even though she was an "avid non-smoker," said her son, Peter Eisner.

As Bergenfield High's teacher of longest standing, Mrs. Eisner led the faculty procession at graduation. Her illness forced her retirement a year ago.

"Lorraine had the passion and enthusiasm of a first-year teacher," said Dr. Michael Kuchar, the Bergenfield superintendent.

"She lived in town and was a highly visible educator whom students gravitated to," Kuchar said. "She was always there for them. Weekends, they'd show up at her house."

Kuchar said Mrs. Eisner used chemistry as a means of applying logic to learning, and always related her travels to the classroom, as when she'd bring in minerals and artifacts from Egypt, a favorite destination.

Allison Wortche, an editor in New York for Knopf & Crown Books for Young Readers and a 2000 graduate of Bergenfield High, said Mrs. Eisner made chemistry "fun and interesting and applicable. ... It was obvious how much she cared about teaching and about her students."

Mrs. Eisner, a youthful-looking woman nicknamed "Mama Lorraine," mentored novice as well as veteran teachers and encouraged others to join her on exercise walks after school.

"She was the total teacher," said Carmen Archetto, the school district's mathematics supervisor.

Mrs. Eisner was born in New York City and grew up in Bayonne. She was valedictorian of Bayonne High School in 1945 and studied biology and pre-med at New York University, with the goal of becoming a doctor.

"But basically, she met my father and stopped studying and married and had kids," said Peter Eisner, who lives in Bethesda, Md., and is an editor at The Washington Post.

By the time Mrs. Eisner was ready to go to work, in the 1960s, medicine was no longer an option. So she turned to teaching.

Peter Eisner and his sister attended Bergenfield High while their mother taught there. "She was known to be very serious, and at the same time she was fun and telling stories about the world," Peter Eisner said.

"She used to tell the kids what I had for breakfast," he added, chuckling at the memory. "I was appalled."

If not for her illness, Mrs. Eisner would have kept teaching, her son said.

"She would have wanted another 40 years," he said. "My mother had the old-fashioned idea that democracy is based on good education, and that the world at this moment was in need of a new generation not only skilled in science but rounded enough to make intelligent decisions about the world. And she thought she was doing her personal part."

Kuchar said he had a deal with Mrs. Eisner: "When she got better from the cancer, she would volunteer at our autism academy. Unfortunately, it didn't happen."

Mrs. Eisner's husband, Bernard, died in 1996. In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Wendy Eisner of Covington, Ky.; a brother, Jerry Gropper of St. Augustine, Fla., and two granddaughters.

The funeral service is 3:30 p.m. today at Robert Schoem's Menorah Chapel in Paramus.

The family has established the Eisner Memorial Science Scholarship at Bergenfield High School. Donations can be sent to the high school, 80 S. Prospect Ave., Bergenfield, NJ 07621.

E-mail: levin@northjersey.com

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