Hank Lemoine gets his wish

Thu, 06/25/2020 - 5:30pm

It was longtime Block Island School science teacher Hank Lemoine’s final wish to return to Block Island and end his journey here. Hank and Toni Lemoine were treated to a soldier’s send-off at Pt. Judith on Monday, June 22, and were greeted by friends and former colleagues on the island. He is now staying with the Cyr family.

Mr. Lemoine’s friends and colleagues shared some stories and memories about him:

From former teacher Nancy Greenaway:

Hank Lemoine and I were colleagues for decades at the Block Island School.

An outstanding science teacher, he prepared engaging classes and shared his vast knowledge with skill and humor.

He loved the natural world — including the heavens above — and his appreciation encouraged us all to learn more.

I remember particularly, however, an occasion not related to his classes. The student body was attempting to learn more about the Viet Nam War. Hank, who had served in that war, spoke movingly about his experience and broke into tears. I had lived through the war as a civilian, studied the war and the politics around it, but it was that time with Hank that allowed me to feel the impact of the Viet Nam War on those who fought in it.

I consider Hank one of the best teachers at the Block Island School during my time there, and I am grateful to Toni and Hank for the social gatherings they hosted that brought our faculty together. — Nancy Greenaway

Former art teacher Teri McCombe:

I have been thinking a great deal about Hank with his return to the island. He was a wonderful teacher, an intelligent colleague and a wise friend. Hank was always there to support the students and led us through a difficult time when the school administration turned to site-based management. I am not sure how long Hank worked full time and led the Core Team but it was a tremendous undertaking and many extra hours added to his plate. I served for several years on the team as Hank steered us through NEASC (New England Association of Schools) evaluations to certify our school and validate our graduation diplomas. This was no small feat since our staff was tiny in comparison to larger districts preparing and filing the paperwork in advance of the NEASC evaluator’s arrival. Hank defused tempers, soothed frustrations and offered sage advice at every twist and turn along the way. He always had a story or a wry joke to ease the way.

My favorite memories teaching with Hank were always when we team taught. Hank saw amazing beauty in the natural world around us and we frequently surprised students with a science and art link. He guided my students through the construction of a giant papier mache coelacanth, a rare ancient fish. It hung for years from my classroom ceiling. We captured spider webs on dark construction paper to study their construction and admire their patterns. We drew what we saw under the microscopes, enlarging them into abstract paintings. This later became a permanent lesson built into the middle grades curriculum. Perhaps my favorite lesson was printing fish, a Japanese tradition called gyotoku. Dating back to the 1800s, it originally gave bragging rights to the fishermen but became an art form in and of itself. Hank would meticulously pin the fish onto a clay base, respectfully spreading a gill, naming the parts of the fish as he went. Then the students would roll the ink and take impressions on rice paper. One year, particularly inspired, Hank placed an impression of a small bait fish on his lab coat above the pocket. I always smiled when I saw him wear it.

Most of all Hank loved his students. He always went to bat for them, encouraging them when they needed it, patient with those who required a second teaching of a topic or more time to complete a paper. He got kids out of the classroom and into the field, inspiring his students to be naturalists by using the island as his classroom. Hank was fair and honest with the kids and shared his personal story about his time in Vietnam in a particularly moving class. He enlightened young minds and braved their teenage anger with grace. Prior to awards day, he actually spent quiet time in the lab, silvering a beaker to present to his outstanding Chemistry student of the year. The kids loved this award — a real motivator. No piece of paper would do! (My son still has his next to his athletic awards.)

Hank and Toni frequently opened their home to colleagues and friends, offering the warmth of their hearts and home. Many school holiday parties were enjoyed by their Christmas trees along with a few of Hank’s homemade beers, too.

I wish him the best in this final journey, another teachable moment for us all. He is a reminder of the human cost of war, the fragility of life, and how one person can make a remarkable difference. I am so glad he is being honored now, recognized for his generous contributions to us all. — Teri McCombe

Barby Michel

Barby Michel, a former elementary school teacher at the Block Island school, sent in a letter she had written to Hank about a year ago:

Hi Hank,

I wanted you to know that we were all talking about you last week when Scott and his family were here for 10 days. We did a lot of reminiscing and both Scott and Laura were talking about how important you were to them throughout life and how you were their favorite teacher!

It made us laugh to think of the time you took Scott’s class to Vermont — I think to see an eclipse. You came back saying you had never seen so much bacon consumed by all the boys! I think you had stopped eating meat at this point. In Scott’s case, it was probably because Doug and I didn’t often have bacon at home so he was free! By the way, he still likes bacon, but I think he eats the healthier kind.

It is no mystery why Scott became a science teacher. You inspired him like no one else! I remember when he came out of his college interview at Colgate and said they had asked who was his favorite teacher and why. He said it was a piece of cake to talk about you and it put him at ease. You two really have a special relationship and bond and it started when he was a baby when Toni took care of our kids. What a blessing you have been to us! (This memory is my favorite. Scott must have nailed the interview because he got into Colgate Early Decision!)

Rachel Lemoine

His daughter Rachel shared this with us:

I had a pretty idyllic childhood. Before the Nature Conservancy was even on the island, he worked for the Department of Environmental Management doing these nature walks all summer long. He studied geology and has a love of geology and he would do these geological walks and explain the formation of the island. We would do tide pools and he talked to me all about wildlife. I was the youngest in the family and I was like my dad’s little assistant. I adore him. He’s this incredible, intelligent and humble father. I am blessed to have him as a father.