Style. Grace. Love. Beauty. She made us all better people.
I got the unexpected news on Monday, January 7 that my dear friend and longtime Del Campo colleague, Jerry Enroth, had died.
Her light may be extinguished, but her influence will forever be with me and all who knew her.
“Death lies on her like an untimely frost.
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, scene 5, 31-32
In my heart I couldn’t have been totally surprised. I knew she had been struggling and was no longer her strong, indomitable self. Sadly, unthinkably, she had grown tired of life.
Christine and I had been talking about needing to see her all fall. (We even made a sticky note and posted it on our kitchen cabinets.) But with great regrets, we just never made the call to make it happen though those closest to her in the last weeks said that she probably wouldn’t have taken our call.
She arrived at Del Campo High School sometime in the fall of 1984. Sheri Reagan one of the English teachers in the department, had unexpectedly decided to start a new life with her two girls in Ireland, and we needed to replace her immediately.
Sheri was the consummate teacher – meticulously prepared, incredibly smart, loved all kids, funny, sassy. Everyone loved Sheri and couldn’t wait to be in her class. As the young teacher, I always I wanted to be her. The point is – a teacher of her caliber would be next to impossible to replace.
Enter Jerry Piper.
She was in her final semester of student teaching and we snatched her away before she could finish. She had to get some kind of an emergence credential. Jerry had been the wife of a doctor and she had decided she wanted something more I suppose, and she embarked on the journey to get her Masters degree and teach. How or why she decided to start at the high school level, I have long forgotten.
That first year was rough. It’s impossible to follow a legend. But she made an impression. As I recall she introduced them to Hemingway that year and as a survival gift, they all chipped in and bought her a bottle of Chateau Margeaux.
As the years went on the legend grew. She was always larger than life. Hamlet. Madame Bovary. Joyce. Lucia. Turandot. She knew the things you wished you knew, read the things you wished you had read, and had been to all the places you wanted to travel. She could cook. She knew grand opera. She love a glass of great wine. She dressed to perfection. Oh, those scarves! She had style. She embodied grace. She was a gentle soul, a larger than life persona that we all strived to be.
Sometime in the 80s during her time at Sac State or as Jerry always called it “The University” she connected with the love of her life, Dr. Clyde Enroth, a true English professor in the grandest sense. They eventually married and spent the next 20+ years squeezing all they could out of the precious time they had together. Weeks at the Bencista. Summers in Todi. Firenze.
In the fall of 1990 she was telling me about seeing Derek Jacobi in LA in a one-man show called “Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know” about the life of Lord Byron. In the playbill was an article about American ex-pat Sam Wanamaker and his quest to rebuild the Globe Theatre on its original site in London.
I had been hearing way too much about schools that were raising money primarily for their sports programs with rock-a-thons, jog-a-thons, swim-a-thons and thought wouldn’t it be fun to raise money by doing something more academic?
Why not help raise money for this Globe Theatre project by doing a Shakespeare marathon? Could we read ALL of Shakespeare’s works in a 24 hour period? We could raise money doing it!
Let’s do it!
So we drafted a letter to Sam Wanamaker himself telling him of our plan. Cheeky little English teachers we were.
And then HE WROTE US BACK offering his full support. “Could he come and visit Del Campo?” he generously offered. It looked like the Del Campo High School Shakespeare Marathon was actually going to happen, and it did. April 1990.
Sam came along with UC Berkeley Shakespeare scholar Hugh Richmond, and we had a huge kick off celebration in Bernard Cody’s old DC Theatre. All the English classes were there. The Sacramento news media even covered the event. We picked him up at the Sacramento Airport and had lunch afterwards at The Slocum House.
The actual marathon took place a few weeks later and we DID read EVERY word Shakespeare wrote. Students banded into groups of fouror 45 with 6 or 7 groups reading simultaneously. We started at noon and by noon on Saturday we had done it. The groups got extra credit and we raised over $7000 for the Globe.
The Shakespeare Marathon was a gift that just kept on giving. Together we led eight of these marathons and raised over $20,000 for the Globe. Through this connection we got to have a private audience with Derek Jacobi after his performance of the opera Christophe Colombe with the San Francisco Opera in 1992. What a treat to have a private audience with Sir Derek the next day.
In early 1994 Jerry and I even got to speak at Sam Wanamaker’s US memorial service in Pasadena. Roger Rees and Charlton Heston were there and so were we. We were invited to the world premiere of Mel Gibson’s Hamlet in 1991. We met Mel and Glenn Close and stood in the line for drinks with Patrick Swayze and Helena Bonham Carter. One huge highlight was having our photo taken with Patrick Stewart.
In the summer of 1997 we were invited to the grand opening of the Globe Theatre and we organized our Del Campo entourage of 37 to be there in London! Along with Stan and Lynn Zumbiel and Christine we were there for the first official performance – Henry V starring the artistic director Mark Rylance.
My fondest memory of the trip was the day we first saw the Globe. We had spent the morning at the British Museum and then herded our throng along the Thames down from Southwark. Our pilgrimage. The moment Jerry saw the Globe she burst into tears. Nothing could have filled me with more joy.
In 1994 I somehow talked her into being the WASC Self Study Coordinator with me. Can’t even imagine that now. I think it meant we talked about literature and the arts for an hour every day as we worked to prepare the report.
Back in the 1990s our drama teacher and English department colleague Bernard Cody took yearly trips with bus loads of students to see a matinee performance of the San Francisco Opera. Sitting next to Jerry I found opera. I remember my first trip and we were seeing Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. In the second act I fell in love with the beauty of opera and was blown away by the six person ensemble that sang together. Jerry taught me that that was the famous sextet. Then she launched int to the story when she and Clyde had seen Lucia together in Rome at the Baths of Caracalla in the middle of a lightening storm.
In the fall of 2017 Jerry was raving about a new production of Turandot at the SF Opera and how the sets by David Hockney were so exquisitely beautiful that she had seen with Linda Elliot. Of course we immediately bought tickets planned our trip to SF. As soon as the production was over we called her from the theatre to thank her and compare notes. As always, she was so right.
The last times we spent together were special. We would see a movie or an opera together and them have lunch. We went to a Metropolitan Opera rebroadcast of Mozart’s The Magic Flute together. Then we saw the movie about the creation of Lincoln Center.
After our trip to New York in March of 2018, we had to get together to discuss going to see Madama Butterfly at the Met and also seeing and meeting Mark Rylance. This was lunch at Il Forno Classico. We shared a great bottle of Chianti Classico and a wonderful Italian meal.
We spoke on last time in the summer when I informed her that Beatrice at the Bencista had cancer and dinners were no longer being served and she was no longer running the pensione day to day. Jerry had me email Beatrice for her. That was the last time I spoke with her. It was on that sticky note for me to call her and set up lunch. But it never happened.
It would be the last time we saw her.
When it appeared that no one was putting on any kind of a formal memorial service for her, Stan and Lynn Zumbiel and I decided we had to do something. So on Thursday, January 24 we honored our dear friend with a great party. Wine. Good food. Milton. Joyce. Friends. Storytelling. We will never forget you dear friend.
Notes from former students and friends posted on Facebook
“I am so sorry to hear this news. Mrs. Enroth really encouraged and supported me with my creative writing in a way that I will never forget. She had a wonderful quality that made everyone feel comfortable with being adventurous and taking chances. Her contribution across thousands of students cannot be easily quantified. But speaking for myself, I will forever be grateful to have her as a teacher.” Mark Malovos
“I had Mrs. Enroth the first year she was at DC, my senior year. She took over for Ms. Reagan, who left rather suddenly for Ireland. The students loved Ms. Regan so much that her departure left most somewhere between disappointed and resentful, and they weren’t especially nice to Mrs. Enroth as if somehow she was responsible. I invited her as my guest to the National Merit awards ceremony, hoping to make her feel appreciated during what was presumably a challenging time. She was gracious and lovely. She even gave me a gift–appropriately, a nice, fat, hardcover dictionary. I knew her for such a short time, but I remember her fondly, and I’m so gratified to see she was indeed appreciated and beloved as she deserved.” Chris Irvine Hoelter, ’85
“I’m sitting here trying to wrap my head around it. I was her assistant through college after having her class for two years in a row at DC. Everything I know about teaching I learned from Jerry. I am so heartbroken that I didn’t get to say goodbye. The most beautiful light has gone out for me.” Teresa Castillo Sanchez,
“I recall Mrs. Enroth putting forth a great amount of effort to infuse genuine passion into an AP English class that had a severe case of senior-itis. Little did I know back then that she was modeling a leadership lesson on how to inspire strong performers who’ve gone sideways. Thank you Mrs. Enroth for the life lessons.” Lyn Elam
“Sitting on the patio at the Bencista overlooking the roofs of Florence—a little Milton, a little Shakespeare, a little Garcia Marquez, a little Joyce—a glass of wine. Addio, cara amica.” Stan Zumbiel
“I will always remember my favorite English teacher. An absolutely inspirational educator and part of the reason I’ve been a reading/language arts teacher for the past 22 years. She blessed so many of us with her smile, patience, and support….even though there were still a few who I remember sleeping through each period. Fond memories.” Lisa Lendenman Rust