Soehl Middle School dedicated an electronic sign in front of the school to the memory of longtime school secretary Elizabeth Givens, who died in April after serving Linden students for more than 40 years.
By Gary Miller
The Linden Public Schools family came together on Tuesday, Oct. 15, to honor and remember “the soul of Soehl.”
An electronic sign has been erected outside Soehl Middle School’s Henry Street entrance with a dedication reading, “In Loving Memory of Elizabeth Givens, 40 Years of Service,” honoring the school’s longtime secretary, who died on April 8.
“It is a great honor to have worked alongside with Ms. Givens at Soehl for over 20 years and most importantly to call her my dear friend,” Soehl Principal Isabella Scocozza said in welcoming dozens of family members, administrators, staff members, retirees, and students who attended the dedication. “Ms. Givens was such an important part of our Soehl family and gave so much to both the students and the staff at our school.”
Several members of Givens’ family attended the ceremony, sitting before a poster-sized photo of Givens that the school had created. The photo is made up of hundreds of small photos of the students who attended Soehl last year.
“That is a true tribute to her, because she loved the kids,” Scocozza said.
There are two copies of the photo: one was given to her son Steven, and another will hang permanently outside the main office at Soehl, where Givens started working in 1977. Through the 1980s, she served at both Soehl and McManus Middle School, before returning full time to Soehl in 1990.
Interim Superintendent Denise Cleary thanked Givens’ family “for sharing Liz with us for all of these years.”
“She was such a vital part of our Linden community, our school community, and important to everyone here at Soehl,” Cleary said. “When I would call Soehl, she always knew what was going on and had her finger on the pulse of the school.”
Board of Education President Gregory R. Martucci, who worked with Givens for years as a teacher and administrator, called her “the soul of Soehl.”
“I’ve known Liz for probably 45 years,” he said. “She was like a sister. She loved this school and she loved these kids. She was the heart and soul, the blood and guts. She enjoyed what she did. This was part of her life, and the tens of thousands of kids who cycled through she remembered as family.”
Richard Molinaro, district math director who was Soehl principal for three years until this summer, said he was fortunate to have Givens as his secretary.
“She was a valuable resource on the ins and outs of Soehl Middle School,” he said. “She always treated everyone with respect. In fact, you could say she was old-school in that regard.”
Molinaro went on to tell the story of his first days of working with Givens when he took over as principal in 2016.
“Her first question to me was, ‘How do you pronounce your last name?’” he recounted. “She tried, but she just couldn’t get it. I told her, ‘Just call me by my first name, Rick.’
“Well, she looked at me with that look she could give some of us at times, and said, ‘I’ve worked with a long list of principals, some long before you were even born, and I’ve never, ever called any of them by their first name – Rick,’” Molinaro said, drawing laughs from those who were gathered. “’So is Mr. M. OK?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”
Molinaro credited Business Administrator Kathleen A. Gaylord, Supervisor of Maintenance Lawrence Miranda, Scocozza, Vice Principal Gwendolyn Long, and all the staff at Soehl with making the memorial sign possible.
“After her passing, it was obvious that as a school we wanted to do something to celebrate her life and memory,” Molinaro said. “We discussed planting a tree, building a garden, and a host of other ideas. However, with her dedication of 40 years and being one of the cornerstones of Soehl Middle School, it only seemed fitting to have her memory cast among and on top of the brickwork you see before you, for all to admire and celebrate for a long, long time.”
The dedication ceremony concluded with a poem read by Elizabeth James, a crisis intervention worker at Soehl, who said she knew Givens since her days as a student at McManus. The poem was “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss, which included the following refrain:
“Let me live in my house by the side of the road, and be a friend to man.”