Helga found a mentor at Julia Richman High School

Helga found a mentor at Julia Richman High School

This is an except from The Ruby Family Histories (2006), written from Helga Ruby's point of view. 

At the end of that first summer, I was set to go back to school, where I hadn’t been in three years. Frankie, the elevator man, who was black and a very nice guy, gave my mother information of nearby public schools, which he warned us were not very good.

He advised her to send me to Julia Richman High School, which was over on the Upper East Side. I hadn’t been to school in three years, so initially the Board of Education people wanted to send me to a junior high school on the West Side, but a teacher there heard that I already spoke good English and recommended I be sent to Julia Richman, which I was.

It was a long trip. Every morning, I would have to take one subway train down to Times Square and then crosstown to the East Side. My mother was worried about a young girl traveling across the city every day, but she finally agreed.

I thrived at Julia Richman, coming in as an 11th grader and graduating two years later as school salutatorian. At the beginning, I was in a class for immigrant kids called ‘Foreign Accent’, which was taught by a wonderful teacher named Miss Gannon, who became a mentor for me. She was a pure person, who dedicated herself to helping her best students, including those without money, to reach their full potential.

Miss Gannon thought I was a fast learner and a good writer. She had me write a lot of essays and spent a lot of time with me. I also got high grades in American history, which I had known nothing about until then.

I hadn’t imagined being able to go to college, given that we had no money, but Miss Gannon helped me to get a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin and a job there that would pay enough to cover my room and board. I was tremendously excited, but my mother stamped her foot down and said to Miss Gannon, “No, Helga needs to go and work here in New York. Stop filling her head full of fancy notions.”

When I persisted and told her I was going to go to Wisconsin no matter what she said, Ogi replied that if I did leave she would jump out the window and kill herself. She seemed so desperate that I believed she might actually do it.

Ogi could be a very strong-willed person, and in this case she was determined not to let me go. I was all she had in the world and she couldn’t bear the idea that I would go away to far-off Wisconsin and leave her all alone in New York. I couldn’t change her mind and finally had to tell Miss Gannon I wouldn’t be able to go to Wisconsin.

She was, of course, terribly disappointed, having made such an effort on my behalf, but she understood why I had to say ‘No.’ It was a hard blow for me, and I always resented Ogi for that.