The Lasting Legacy of an Indomitable Teacher

By Norma Richman, Beth Auer, and Tomi Okuno

“Only Sandi would decide to teach calligraphy using permanent India ink to 270 students, including kindergarteners!”—Beth Auer

Sandi Brune sang with an angelic voice as she led her students in musical traditions, but she also had a boisterous laugh that would reverberate throughout the entire building when something struck her as funny. She often commandeered the faculty kitchen, pots and pans everywhere, to cook something special for the teachers, most notably tureens of soup and the biggest baked potatoes you ever saw when St. Patrick’s Day rolled around. And Sandi’s colorful personality was matched only by the vibrant t-shirts and sweatshirts—all of them, hand painted—that she sported to mark the holidays. That was the spirit of Sandi Brune.

Sandi in her art room. Picture courtesy of Beth Auer.

My thoughts as a long-time parent at High Point drift toward those iconic art projects, the personal American Gothic versions that my own two children created in her classes, and those musicals at the church—the pre-digital photos, yellowed now—of my son Jason as Tiny Tim, not to mention the slightly dog-eared art masterpieces that my daughter Debbie stashed in my closet when she went off to college. As a sixth-grade teacher, I watched my students year after year, for more than twenty years, revel in the special Halloween tradition of singing at the costume parade. Who could imagine that the song “Witches’ Brew” would have such staying power?

When it came to art, Beth Auer was one of my go-to people for all things Sandi. Beth was her long-time sidekick in the art room and a forever friend:

“I first met Sandi Brune in 1998 when my son John started kindergarten at High Point Academy. . . Like so many parents, I got to know her when I volunteered in the art room. When the newly-created position of Art Aide was advertised, I applied and started in the Fall of 2002, working two days a week with Sandi. This came to be a highlight of my week for the next 16 years since I got to see hundreds of students grow up and spend time with a wonderful, fun-loving, multi-talented, and beloved educator. Sandi made everything fun and colorful; she wanted the art room to be a sanctuary for all and a free space to create art and express oneself. She would spend hours during school vacations painting the huge sliding glass doors with a new scene spotlighting one of the artists or genres being studied . . . This was always a labor of love for her.”

Beth added:

“I once calculated that a student going to High Point for nine years would study at least 30 different artists. Only Sandi would decide to teach calligraphy using permanent India ink to 270 students, including kindergarteners! It sounds like it would be a disaster, but The Getty Museum was so impressed with her Illuminated Manuscript project with young children that they asked for some of them to keep. My favorite memories of her were when she would “become” the artist and visit the children [in authentic wig and costume].”

Sandi as Van Gogh. Picture courtesy of Beth Auer.

Tomi Okuno, who works at High Point as an associate teacher now, has a unique perspective to offer regarding Sandi Brune; they forged a life-long relationship as student and mentor:

“Mrs. Brune was my teacher from kindergarten through 8th grade, as well as my piano teacher for over 4 years. Her art history program made a huge impact on me. I loved learning about how the lives of significant artists influenced their signature styles. She portrayed each artist and musician with reverence and enthusiasm, deepening our cultural literacy and respect for the arts.”

Tomi seconds Beth’s description of the art room.

The art room itself stands out in my memory as a manifestation of Mrs. Brune. The immersive decor would change from unit to unit, always bursting with vibrant energy and things to look at. I remember during Thanksgiving she would arrange a huge spread of fall inspired still life objects in the center of the room for us to paint. I also remember her “Under the Sea” themed open house—hundreds of colorful student art pieces strung across the room without a patch of wall exposed. It was an immense labor of love and an art piece in itself.” 

Sandi Brune’s lasting gift to all of us is simple: the many treasured moments, snippets of songs that come to mind at Christmas or Halloween or memories when looking at a Monet masterpiece are indelibly etched in the minds of all of us. But a hand-painted tile mural that greets students and teachers alike as they hurry about the campus remains a very tangible legacy, as well. We all saw it going up on the wall outside the art room, but Beth was lucky enough to participate in its creation. She writes, “At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, Sandi wanted to plan something huge for the upcoming HPA 50th anniversary and thus was born the Tile Mural . . .[the idea] grew into a colorful 5’ x 8’ mural comprised of 360  hand-painted tiles.”

Tomi is another legacy of Sandi’s. “I stayed in touch with Mrs. Brune as I continued on my path to study art at Rhode Island School of Design. She continued to mentor me after college as I explored teaching, even passing along a great amount of her teaching materials and art books. To me, Mrs. Brune is an inspiration for her rare faithfulness to create culture and champion joy for an entire community. “

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