27 May 2009

From high school hallway-sailing "early bird" to distinguished alumna: Beverly Eckert, SHA '69

This was supposed to be a very special year in Beverly Eckert's long relationship with her high school alma mater, Buffalo's Sacred Heart Academy. She had been busy helping to organize her Class of 1969's fortieth reunion, planned for June. And on top of that, in the winter of 2008, she learned that she was selected to receive Sacred Heart's highest alumna honor at a fundraising dinner in May. The announcement appeared in the winter issue of the school's alumni magazine, the Cordecho.

But in her typically low-key and selfless manner, Beverly did not crow about the award. Instead, she talked with friends at Christmastime about paying for several tables at the dinner so she could have friends and family surrounding her, and at the same time offer support to SHA financially. Her friend, Kathleen DeLaney, said Beverly "just thought going to the fundraiser would be the thing to do," and that she "really wanted to have all of us there for a great time." It was only later, while they were discussing reunion plans one evening, that Beverly mentioned the award to Kathleen in passing.

But the fiery crash of Flight 3407 on a cold February night changed everything.

Beverly did indeed come back to Sacred Heart in 2009, but not to receive an award or to gladly greet reunion attendees. Instead, she was carried back to a reception at her old school after a memorial service in the hearts of her friends and family and classmates after the memorial service. She came back to those long hallways in yearbook photos and in the deeply felt words of her poems. She hovered over an alma mater washed in grief at her loss and basking in gratitude for her kind, ebullient and generous life.

Kathleen DeLaney brought Beverly back, too, in a wonderful reminiscence in the spring 2009 Cordecho, published on the occasion of Beverly's award. In the article we are treated to the vivid vision of a teenage Beverly, always one of the "early-birds" at school, "sailing through the side door of SHA," her arms flailing and then skidding to a stop near the top of the stairs as she yells to Kathleen: "DeLaney. Hey, Delaney! I'm fifteen today. I can date!" And there is bighearted Beverly, being "an equaly opportunity friend" in a girls' school where exclusive cliques were often the rule. Or Beverly's early plunge into politics, pushing classmate Gay Gambin to run for class president, and then running her campaign, complete with "strategically located tape recorders around the school playing, Vote for Gay, Vote for Gay on a constant, subliminal loop."

And so of course Beverly was there, at the Transit Valley Country Club on May 14, at the "Spirit of Sacred Heart Academy" Awards Dinner. Her friends and relatives had gathered once again, to share memories and honor her many achievments. Kathleen remembered Beverly as she examined her "giant glass of Pinot Noir" for "tell-tale dishwashing spots...something Beverly always did... (always the waitress!)" 

When Beverly's sisters, Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque, went to the lectern to receive the award on Beverly's behalf, there was a standing ovation. Beverly's brother Ray was there as well, and their cousin Clem Eckert also received an award. Speaking to a reporter, Karen recalled how Beverly wanted to make sure that her departed classmate were remembered during the planned reunion of the Class of '69 with a white rose. At the June event, there will be a white rose for Beverly, too. Susan said "We're carrying on her legacy. It was all about making a difference. We hope we can fill her shoes. We hope everyone takes from her those lessons that an ordinary person can really make a difference."

A short video clip from WIVB appears here.

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