Pat Christy started teaching in upstate New York in September 1948, with a starting salary of $2,400 a year. Later, she said, she moved closer to her friends and family on Long Island to teach phys. ed. in the North Bellmore School District, eventually ending up at the new Jerusalem Avenue Junior High School — no longer a building in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District.
When she retired from her 34-year teaching career in June 1982, Christy wasn’t ready to leave her friends in education behind. In 1984, she established the Bellmore-Merrick Retired Teachers Association, an extension of the Belmore-Merrick United Secondary Teachers Union.
Thirty-five years later, the association lives on. On May 22, dozens of the retired educators — including Christy — gathered at Elisa’s Ristorante in Bellmore to share stories.
“We all come together again in Bellmore, and it feels like home,” Sharon Wisla, the current BMRTA president, told the retirees. “There’s almost 50 people here — it’s exciting to see all my old colleagues and friends again.”
The luncheon was a celebration of education, and a thanks for the teachers’ devotion to the district. Retirees, old and new, filled the backroom of Elisa’s, all representing the Central District throughout the decades.
“It feels strange” to join the association, said Mark Steinberg, who will join the BMRTA after his retirement from Grand Avenue Middle School next month. “It’ll hit me tonight that it’s really happening.”
Steinberg, one of 14 retirees this year, has taught in the district for 35 years. For the past six, he was also the president of the teachers union. “These are the people you go to if you want to know the history of the district,” he added. “They tell us where the union started.”
“Being a teacher is the best thing I could’ve done with my life,” said Daniel Shannon, a 20-year retiree. As a teacher, “I went to every graduation,” he added, “and they were the most bittersweet moments, always wonderful and sad at the same time.”
The association also gave the educators security in their retirement plans. Before starting the group, Christy feared losing her health insurance coverage. Over a steak dinner with then-BMUST President Louis DeFilippo at McCluskey’s — a now defunct Bellmore eatery — the retiree chapter began to take form, bringing Christy confidence that the insurance would continue.
“People used to say, ‘I don’t know how you live on a teacher’s salary,’” said Gerald Brynien, a past BMRTA president. But the union and association bring security, he added. “The union will fight for you. It’s very important to teachers.”
At the event, Wisla, president of the association for 11 years, was re-elected to the position.