SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Some people leave their mark on places, long after they leave. That was Abraham “Gabe” Gabriel, who worked in the Syracuse City School District for decades. He died of COVID-19 back in February and now, his friends and former coworkers are doing what they can to honor his memory.
They all came up with the idea of getting a plaque, which now sits outside of his old social studies room at Grant Middle School. He taught there for more than 30 years. He was also a gymnastics coach, a Marine, and a major Syracuse Univesity fan, which was his alma mater. His friends say he often sat in on practices for the basketball team and had a front-row seat at all of their games.
“He just kind of had this synergy, that just, his spirit was always in the community, no matter where you were,” said Annie Cox-Smith, a former student of Gabe’s who is now an art teacher at Grant Middle School.
Cox-Smith and her former teachers, Larry Maxwell and Tom Gardner, met NewsChannel 9’s Julia LeBlanc at Grant Middle to see the plaque. They all shared memories of the atmosphere Gabe created in and out of school.
Gardner joined the Grant Middle team after teaching at Corcoran High School for a couple of years. By the time he got to Grant, Gabe had already been there for a while. The two were on the same teacher team.
“I fell in love with the place and just, didn’t want to go anywhere. It was my home. And Gabe helped make that happen,” Gardner said.
Gardner ended up leaving Grant Middle School just six months after Gabe retired in 2006. It wasn’t the same without him. Larry Maxwell had a similar experience, teaching in the same building as Gabe for a number of years.
“He was a different kind of teacher than you’d normally meet, or a different kind of person,” Maxwell said. “You know like, in the old Reader’s Digest, they would have, ‘My most unforgettable character.’ He’d be up there on the list for the most unforgettable character.”
This is why, when they learned Gabe died of COVID, they had to do something to honor him. At 84-years-old, Gabe battled the virus for more than a month at the Syracuse VA Medical Center before the virus took his life.
“When I think of it, it bothers me, and I couldn’t get to him, ” Gardner said. “When he was in the hospital, I couldn’t get to him, because I kept trying to call and I couldn’t get to him.”
The plaque will now sit outside of Gabe’s classroom to mark the spot as his name. Though he left more than ten years ago, he would still meet his former coworkers at Stella’s Diner every other week.
“I’d get to sit next to him a lot and sometimes, he’d just look at the group and almost get misty-eyed and say, ‘What a great family.’ That’s the way we all felt about each other and about him,” Maxwell said.
The group of current and retired teachers also plan on putting a memorial for Gabe in the garden on the school grounds. Once it’s safer to do so, they hope to meet at Stella’s Diner once again.