A Sunday afternoon, an elementary school cafeteria/gymnasium that hadn't changed much in 50 years, adults reaching deep into their minds for memories of their early childhood.

A Sunday afternoon, an elementary school cafeteria/gymnasium that hadn't changed much in 50 years, adults reaching deep into their minds for memories of their early childhood.
That was the scene at Mark Twain Elementary School on Sept. 17 as a packed house gathered to celebrate the school's centennial birthday, and honor Laurel Rosenthal who has been the face of the school for half its existence.
As much as Mark Twain's principal and the first kindergarten teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School liked to say the event wasn't about her, Rosenthal was the person almost everyone wanted to see and speak to on this special day.

Student to teacher
“I'm here to see my kindergarten teacher from 1969-1970,” said Jeff Turner, a special education teacher from Louisburg, Kansas, who traveled two hours to be at the event. “I've read about this and been looking forward to this day for quite some time. I brought some pictures of Mrs. Rosenthal from my birthday party on Nov. 6, 1969 and my day is complete.”
Turner said he only spent one year in the Carthage school system before his family moved to Nevada, Mo., but that year had an impact that has lasted a lifetime.
“You just care about the kids,” he said. “I got that from Mrs. Rosenthal. She cared about us. Teaching is not a job, it's a profession, and that's how she feels. That's how I feel.”
It was like that for Rosenthal throughout the afternoon on Sunday — students from her 20 years as a kindergarten, teachers who were co-workers or taught after she started her 31 years as principal, even the superintendent who hired her to become the first kindergarten teacher in the Carthage School District came to the long-planned event.

A big hire
“She came in my first year and I knew her before then,” said Dr. Charles Johnson, Carthage R-9 Superintendent from 1967 to 1994. “She taught kindergarten in the upstairs room for 18 years, then she came in one day and asked for an appointment. She wanted to talk to me about something.
“I said Laurel what can I do for you. She said our principal is retiring. I said yes, we're going to look for a real good principal to take his place. She said that's what I want to talk to you about, I want that job. I said Laurel, do you understand what it's like to be a principal, she said I think I do, I like everybody and I know everybody. She said I think I would make a good principal. I said Laurel, I think you would.”
Johnson said Rosenthal's love for the children of Carthage is one of many qualities that makes her stand out.
“This community is totally blessed to have her,” he said.

The first class
Nancy Hutchins and Amy Griffiths were in Rosenthal's first kindergarten class in 1967.
Griffiths said the things she learned in kindergarten formed the foundation of her educational career.
“We were the first kindergarten class in Carthage and her first class,” Griffiths said. “I guess I got the basis for my educational experience from here. It started out with a good teacher.”
Hutchins said Rosenthal taught her students to love school.
“I think she gave us an awareness and taught us to anticipate it, that school was going to be a good thing,” Hutchins said. “I think she helped us be friends with each other and learn how to come together.”
“And we're still friends today,” Griffiths added. “That a lot of us came back, I think that says a lot and it's a good thing.”

A child's perspective
Brian Rosenthal, Laurel Rosenthal's youngest son, was also a student in that first kindergarten class of 1967.
He said Sunday's event was “overwhelming” for the entire family.
“We're so grateful to the community, to the school board, for the support we've seen,” Brian Rosenthal said. “She's the same when you see here here, she's the same in private. She loves this place, and she's given it her heart, but she didn't want this day to be about her, she wanted it to be about the school.”
Brian Rosenthal said he learned to love school children from his mother.
“It was a great experience for me, being in her class,” he said. “She's dedicated and I got to see all of that from several perspectives. I've always been comfortable around school children because that's all I've been around. People say now, your mother calls, she's at school, that's all I've ever known.”