Sixty years have passed since Mr. Carlo Sparti entered Gardner Street Elementary School and opened a new world for more than a dozen wide-eyed sixth graders. Alumni, now grand- and great-grandparents, reunite to celebrate the man who has connected their lives. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on May 29, 2012.
Sixty years have passed since Mr. Carlo Sparti entered Gardner Street Elementary School and opened a new world for more than a dozen wide-eyed sixth graders.
Alumni, now grand- and great-grandparents, reunite to celebrate the man who has connected their lives.
"Mr. Sparti is the only teacher in my education that left a real impression," Fred Ashley said.
"We were all very impressed again because he was the first male teacher," said Pete Ireland.
The reunions began when the class of nine boys and seven girls entered middle school. But with each passing grade, the meetings waned, until 1999 when members of the class found each other and a new generation of "Sparti Parties" was underway.
"It brings back a lot of memories to us," Ireland said.
They make the trip to Sparti's Santa Monica home from as far as Canada, upstate New York and Arkansas.
"This is something we are not going to miss," Ashley said.
The "kids" are now 71 and 72 years old. The group reunites every three to four years.
"I like being there because I'm the big shot," Sparti said.
Sitting in his painting studio, the 88-year old Sicilian talks about the three plus decades he spent as an educator and school administrator. He humbly describes his 27-year-old rookie self, entering his first classroom at Gardner Street in Hollywood in 1952.
"I didn't know what the hell I was doing," he said with a laugh. "That's a heck of a responsibility. I wanted them to learn. I wanted them to learn their reading and arithmetic.”
If you ask the group, he did much more. One of those students, Roma Dehr, then Roma Famulero, describes a lecture he once gave about types of volcanoes.
"Mr. Sparti said memorize Shield, Stratocone, and Pyroclastic. He says nobody in this school knows those words, not even the principal," Dehr said.
"My parents didn't know those words and that made us feel important and that's what Mr. Sparti did, he made us feel important.”
During the visit, Mr. Sparti played his violin, which he often did for his students in class.
"He would bring that and play often and made us appreciate the music," Ashley said.
"I ended up playing the cello also partly because of Mr. Sparti. I enjoyed his violin playing," said Ira Cooperman, another one of Sparti's former students.
While watching Super 8 film, now dubbed to VHS video, and looking at old pictures, Dehr called her former sixth grade teacher "handsome" and a hit with the girls in class.
However to her, he was not only "dreamy" for his good looks but his ability to inspire.
"It's really nice to be with Mr. Sparti and to thank him over and over again because he set down a lot of tracks for a lot of people," Dehr said, adding her friend in that class and still today, Christie, became a geologist after the volcano lecture.
There's Fred, the Boy Scout turned corporate vice president, and Ira, the serious kid who became a journalist.
"I wrote in his autograph book, because every day he used to come in with a current event from the newspaper and so when he left, I said some day you are going to be a reporter," Sparti said.
Then there's Roma, reading the inscription to Mr. Sparti from her latest book: "For Mr. Sparti, my beloved teacher. Love Roma."
She became a published author and is one of many who also followed in Mr. Sparti's teaching footsteps.
Keeping their lives connected has been as important to him as it has to the kids. Sparti kept all of his original attendance cards from that first class, and he said, year after year, the keepsakes will continue to hang in his home.
"I feel 12 again," Dehr said with a giggle during the visit with Sparti.
The “Sparti Parties” are opportunities to come back to their childhood and honor the man who helped shape them and keep their indelible bond.
Another reunion is already planned for the next few years.
"We are all pretty healthy and I thanked god that we are able to get together, but we take it sort of one year at a time," Cooperman said.
"I'm in pretty good shape,” Sparti said. “I can make it.”