For a long time, Jerry Dresner has dreamed of traveling to Hawaii with his wife, Kim Berney. They originally planned a 10-day trip for this November.
But now, Dresner, who worked at Pikesville High School for the past 21 years and recently retired, and Berney will be able to visit the “Aloha State” for a while longer, thanks to the generosity and admiration of friends, students and associates.
Ethan Goodman, a longtime colleague of Dresner’s in the PHS social studies department, did not want his friend and former teacher to leave the mainland without a special farewell gift. So Goodman quietly went on social media and set up a GoFundMe page to raise $3,000, enough money to send Dresner and his wife to Hawaii for an extended period of time.
Dresner, 62, is not a social media-oriented person, so Goodman and friends easily achieved their objective in secrecy. At an end-of-year ceremony with just PHS teachers and administrators on Monday, June 12, they stunned the retiring teacher with a check for $3,500 from 128 donations.
There also were many kind and grateful notes written to Dresner by colleagues and students, past and present, on the GoFundMe site that the teacher had yet to see.
“I was totally shocked. I had no idea,” Dresner said. “I’ve never seen that happen with anybody else. I had no idea that was happening.”
Interestingly, Dresner and Berney almost made it to Hawaii once before. Several years ago, they planned a trip there and had everything in place until the airline went bankrupt.
Now, however, Dresner said he has the time and — after Monday — even more funds for such a journey, thanks to the students and staff at PHS.
Earlier in his life, Dresner worked as a lawyer for 16 years before deciding to become a teacher. He went back to school, student-taught for a while and waited for a job to open up at the age of 42.
Nothing came that summer until a position at PHS finally became available a few weeks into the 1996-97 school year. Dresner took it and never left.
As he retires and moves on, Dresner leaves behind a legacy among those he dealt with in academics (Mock Trial Teams, Model U.N. trips to New York) and coached sports such as tennis and badminton.
“He’s so amazing,” raved Jennifer Filosa, a social studies teacher with whom Dresner has worked for eight years. “He’s an inspirational educator who holds kids accountable and to a high standard, and the kids that are going to benefit from that are the ones that will embrace the challenge.”
That legacy is exactly why Goodman felt something special needed to be done upon Dresner’s retirement.
“I was going through my yearbook for the first year that he started teaching,” Goodman said. “It was my senior year … and then it just hit me. Wouldn’t it be nice if I reached out to all of his former students and former colleagues and current colleagues and the whole school community to see if they could help send him to Hawaii because it was a dream?”
Goodman posted the GoFundMe page link on Facebook with dozens of photos of Dresner napping, something he was regularly caught doing at PHS (and which became a running joke). The money started rolling in.
“[Dresner] is a national treasure and I will miss spending my school days with him,” Goodman wrote on the page. “As long as I’ve been a teacher, he’s been by my side. I figured this was a good way to let him know how much he will be missed by the entire school community.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could get hundreds of people to make his dreams come true? You know how he loves to dream.”
At Monday’s ceremony, once Dresner realized what was unfolding, the tears began flowing among the guest of honor, his family members and the PHS staff.
Dresner, who became a bar mitzvah at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, said he looks forward to retirement, although it will be an adjustment. First, though, he said he will be thinking about all of the kindness and generosity that is helping to send him to Hawaii for an extended time.
“I had no idea,” Dresner said, shaking his head in disbelief. “This may force me onto social media for the first time, just to find a way to thank everybody. Now we can stay [in Hawaii] longer. It’s something we’ve always looked forward to.”
Jeff Seidel is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
Photo of Jerry Dresner (right) and Ethan Goodman by Jeff Seidel
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