NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ — Leonard Blessing is a man with plenty of life experience. The 99-year-old, who celebrates his birthday next week was a teacher at Millburn High School for decades, and had plenty of other stories to share.
Blessing recently sat down with TAPinto for an interview at his home in New Providence, where he talked about Millburn and several other topics about his life.
Blessing started his career with 10 years working at Prudential, bisected by a stint in the army and marriage to his wife Francis, with whom he later had two children, Lynn and Leslie. And as he explained, being an educator was at that point the farthest thing from his mind.
"I hadn't even thought about being a school teacher," Blessing said. "But I was out with a group of young boys...that I was an adviser to. And we were putting together a newspaper that we published about three times a year.
"And one of the boys said out of the clear blue sky, 'Leonard, we all understand that you're going to become a high school teacher.' And I said, laughingly, 'Where'd you get that stupid idea from?'"
Blessing heard the boy out, who explained why he thought that way.
"He said 'You get along so well with us, you ought to be a high school teacher.' Well I dropped a couple of them off on the way back to home, and when I got back, I told my wife the story, and I said, what would you think if I quit my job in Prudential and went to school to become a school teacher?"
According to Blessing, after a momentary hesitation, his wife said that if it was what he wanted to do with his life, she would support him. Using the GI Bill, Blessing turned in his resignation from Prudential and went to Montclair State to pick up his degree, graduating in 1950. Upon graduating, he started not in Millburn, but in Wayne.
"I did my student teaching in Wayne High School, which was brand new," Blessing said. "It only had tenth grade at the time, going one year at a time. And i thought, 'Gee, what a good opportunity for me to make my mark here in the formative stages.'"
After two years at Wayne, an associate of his suggested he come to Millburn. He aced the interview, and took the job. Once he came to Millburn, Blessing stayed for several decades.
According to Blessing's daughter Leslie, during his time in Millburn, he laid the groundwork and developed the Millburn Science program into what would become a world-class K-12 Science program. He encouraged the development of a science curricula that not only included the “required” Science courses, but offered a wide array of Science electives.
Additionally, he was one of the first science educators to emphasize conservation and ecology, introduced new technology like electron microscopes and computers ahead of the curve Mr. and was the driver behind the early introduction of AP courses in the High School.
Blessing also served as coach of the chess team, track and field team and assistant coach for the basketball team.
Upon retirement, Blessing played bridge in Scotch Plains, helping out with club organizational work along the way. And when he looks back on all the things he accomplished, what stands out most to him is all the students he helped along the way.
"When they would come to me and say that they went into such an endeavor, and it had something to do with what they learned from me...well that's the big oy of my school teaching career," Blessing said. "It really is.
"If you look at my heart, you'll see Millburn School District," he added. "And that's the way I felt, because I was in love with Millburn School district."
Blessing will turn 99 on Oct. 16. To this day, according to Leslie, he remains happy with life, with what he does, and enjoys every day to the fullest.