CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — Before his passing, Richard Mumau made it his aim to instill the virtues of hard work, fair play and respect for your fellow man into generations of Cambridge Springs children.
On Monday, the current generation got a chance to say thanks.
The students and faculty of Cambridge Springs Elementary School, the place where Mumau spent most of his career, gathered in the school’s gymnasium and, with Mumau’s family as witnesses, they paid tribute to their beloved mentor and colleague.
“He would have been astounded,” said Sandy Mumau, Rich’s wife of 31
years. “He would never have expected this. If he could peek down, he would say, ‘What’s
going on?’ He’d never know it was for him.”
It was an emotional event, both for the Mumaus and for
those that worked alongside Richard. Speeches were made, a slide presentation was shown, poems, songs and remembrances were performed by the students.
Also during the ceremony, representatives from Erie’s WJET-TV and Edinboro University of Pennsylvania — including Jeremy Brown, Edinboro’s president — surprised the Mumaus with the posthumous presentation of the Golden Apple Award.
The weekly honor is given to a northwestern Pennsylva-nia school teacher who has had a strong impact in their students’ lives.
“This is a bittersweet day,” said Lou Baxter, news director for WJET-TV and a personal friend of Rich Mumau. “But we felt it was so deserving for Rich to have this award. We felt that nobody better exemplifies what this award is all about better than Rich Mumau.”
WJET will broadcast parts of the Mumau ceremony during its 6 p.m. newscast on Wednesday.
“This world is so much better off because more than three decades ago, Mr. Mumau decided to be a teacher,” Baxter added.
On Feb. 7, Richard Mumau passed suddenly at the age of 58. Up until that day he had spent more than 35 years as an educator in the PENNCREST School District. The bulk of that tenure was spent as physical education teacher at Cambridge Elementary.
“He was the heart and soul of the building,” said Patty Fiely, the school’s principal. “He knew everybody; he knew their families for generations.”
Rich Mumau started his career as a substitute teacher at Cambridge Springs High School. And recently, he taught the grandchildren of some of the students he originally taught there more than three decades ago.
“He was actually getting onto his third generation,” said Mumau’s youngest son, Joshua. “He did reach his third. It was actually a couple years ago. He was very excited about it.”
The true depth of Rich Mumau’s influence, the years and years of molding young minds, was illustrated vividly for the family in the days following his death.
“We had calling hours Sunday and they were supposed to be from 7 to 9 (p.m.),” said Heidi Mumau, Richard’s daughter. “We had people come from 6:30 to 11. And that Monday we were supposed to have them from 2 to 4 and from 7 to 9. And people came from 2 and it went straight through until midnight.
“I don’t know how many peoples’ hands we shook or how many people I hugged. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I knew my dad was liked and respected by a lot of people. But it was something to see as many people as it was.”
It wasn’t solely the length of Richard Mumau’s teaching career that caused the three- to four-hour lines at his funeral. It was the way he did his teaching.
“He’s had hundreds and thousands of students, and everyone loved gym class,” said Ryan Mumau, Richard’s oldest son. “He was a great teacher and a great dad. Everyone loved him.”
According to Cambridge fifth-grader Nathan Love, “Even for those kids that were, you know, picked last, he made them feel good still.”
At Monday’s ceremony, Love read the letter he sent WJET that nominated Mr. Mumau for the Golden Apple Award.
“He makes you feel like a star athlete,” the letter said. “I love having Mr. Mumau as a gym teacher, and so does all of Cambridge Elementary.”
Another letter, written by a class of sixth-graders, stated that, “Mr. Mumau never excluded anyone in any way. ... He made everyone in the school happy by treating everyone with respect and as an individual. ... He was a caring and gentle man. ... In our minds, he was the best gym teacher around.”
The students had begun the letter-writing campaign when they learned that Mr. Mumau was planning to retire at the end of the school year. This was weeks before his death.
“Unfortunately, the letters weren’t finished before his passing,” said Fiely. “And it was after he passed that we got them submitted.”
“We were inundated with letters from this school,” said WJET representative Mike Gallagher. “And the letters wanted Mr. Mumau recognized as the JET-TV, Edinboro Golden Apple Award winner. And when we learned his story, it was certainly going to happen.”
“He would never have expected this,” Sandy Mumau said after Monday’s event, which, she admits, was as emotionally trying as it was heartwarming.
“Well, yeah,” she said, “but they’re tears of joy, you know?”
Pete Chiodo can be reached at 724-6370 ext. 275 or by e-mail at email@example.com.