Michele Alberry, 46, passed away Jan. 25, 2015, in her sleep at her home in The Dalles, Ore. She was born the older of two daughters on May 6, 1968, in Manhassett, N.Y., to Nancy and George Garland.
Michele grew up in West Hempstead, N.Y., and would be the first to tell you she was a Long Island girl at heart. A happy child from the day she was born, her mother fondly recalls she always slept through the night and was a delightful child who grew up to be her best friend. Michele was cherished by her mother, grandmother and grandfather. When Michele was 5 her mother was pregnant with her second child. Michele asked for a girl, who after her wish was granted, she mothered as her own every day thereafter.
Michele was not your typical student. She played drums in the school band, threw shot put and discus, and excelled in academics effortlessly. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma at the age of 16, she spent most of junior year tutored at home. She graduated, cancer-free, from West Hempstead High School in 1987.
After high school, Michele enrolled in college at SUNY New Paltz. She majored in cultivating friendships and minored in celebrating a cancer-free life. Friends remember her spending more time helping them with their assignments than her own. When reminded of that Michele would just smile and say “It’s easier doing things for other people.”
Two years shy of her degree, she moved back to Long Island and worked at Avis Rent-a-Car in the payroll department. A gifted writer and voracious reader, Michele was more comfortable with the written word than numbers. However, she worked hard and won over the whole office with her humor and warmth to create a whole new circle of friends.
It was while visiting her sister at her AmeriCorps job placement at Mosier Elementary School Michele realized her calling. After being a natural teacher to others her whole life she returned home and told her mother, “I know what I want to do.” Michele courageously decided to go back to SUNY New Paltz, finish her degree and embark on a career in teaching.
Three years later, she completed her BA in education and took her first full-time teaching position at the Kindergarten Center in Lynbrook, N.Y. In 2005 she also completed her MA in education. Kindergartners, she quickly learned, were “her people.” For 13 years she touched the life of every child and family in her classroom. She embraced a philosophy of “compassionate teaching” and actively worked to make every child feel special. She reveled in creating themed lessons and a nurturing environment. She fostered a love of reading with a Magic Tree House literacy unit. She stayed in touch with students encouraging them to embrace learning and curiosity. She cared so much for her students, it was not uncommon for her to leave the classroom at 11 p.m. and prepare lessons with her mother on the weekends. Meanwhile, she survived two episodes of breast cancer surrounded by the love and support of her extended family at the Kindergarten Center.
While teaching in Lynbrook, “Buzz,” an old crush, came back into her life. She originally met Buzz while visiting her sister who was studying abroad in England. Buzz never forgot Michele and spent the next 10 years staying in touch. They bonded over Star Wars trivia, arcane rock music, travel stories and sharing movie lines verbatim over long distance. After her breast cancer diagnosis he moved to America to be with her. They were married on a fall day in 2007 hosted and surrounded by family and friends in her beloved New Paltz.
Almost two years ago Michele and her mother drove cross-country to join her husband at his new job in The Dalles and be near her sister and nephew in Hood River. Michele approached her new life with boundless energy and joy. Michele and her husband planted a vegetable garden and started renovating their new home. She and her mother embarked on field trips all over Oregon. Michele took her nephew on special outings. And finally, after a year of substitute teaching, she was offered a teaching position at Chenoweth Elementary School. She fell in love with and began nurturing another classroom of kindergarteners.
Michele found a way to connect with everyone and thank them for being a part of her life; by taking delight in finding the perfect present, sharing inside jokes, using sweet nicknames, sending hand-written notes, acknowledging birthdays, doling out hugs and traveling anywhere to share time with those she loved. Just last October she flew back to New York to cheer on her best friend running the NYC Marathon.
Michele is survived by; her husband, Darin “Buzz” Alberry, of The Dalles, Ore.; mother, Nancy Garland, of Hood River, Ore.; sister Patty Garland, of Hood River; brother-in-law, Gary Johnson, of Hood River; nephew, Rafael ‘Rafi’ Villegas, of Hood River; best friend Jennifer Springer, of Charlottesville, Va.; and every one of her dear friends who were blessed by her kindness and love over the years.
Michele is preceded in death by her father, George Garland; her grandfather, Francis McNulty; her uncle Michael McNulty; and her grandmother, Madeline McNulty.
A celebration of Michele’s life was held Saturday, Jan. 24, at Spencer, Libby & Powell Funeral Home, 1100 Kelly Ave., The Dalles, OR 97058. In lieu of flowers please consider contributing to a fund set up in Michele's name to continue serving the children she put first: North Wasco Education, ATTN: CES Michele Alberry Fund, 3420 W. 10th St., The Dalles, OR 97058.
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