Everywhere Irma Kass went, friends and former colleagues recognized her. Quick trips to the supermarket turned into hour-long conversations, her family fondly remembered. They were even stopped while on a vacation in Israel, far from their Bellmore home. Kass’s decades in education made her a known face in the community.
A professor of curriculum and teaching at Hofstra University for 47 years, Kass also volunteered as a trustee and president of both the North Bellmore and Central High School District Boards of Education between 1980 and 2004.
Kass died on Jan. 5, at age 88.
The family was overwhelmed by the positive response they received after her death, Kass’s daughter, Janie, 59, said. “We knew she had a great impact on others, but what we knew only skimmed the surface.”
After teaching at a nursery school in Brooklyn, Kass, her husband, Ira, and children, Susan, Kathy and Janie, moved to Bellmore in 1963. Her son, Scott, was born a few years later.
They started attending services at Temple Beth-El. Children flocked to Irma and her husband for the candy that Ira carried in his pocket.
In 1964, she began her career at Hofstra, mentoring aspiring elementary- school teachers. She trained and supervised students and helped place them in student-teaching positions, according to Janie, who explained that the job cultivated close, trusting relationships.
Kass won a seat on the North Bellmore Board of Education in 1980. She remained on the board for 14 years before also becoming a trustee of the Central District board. She remained a trustee of both until she retired in 2004.
“Instead of going downward, her roots extend upward and out, impacting many generations of students who are now parents or grandparents,” said North Bellmore Superintendent Marie Testa. “It did not stop when she retired.”
Kass mentored current board president Nina Lanci when she was a teacher in the district, said Testa, herself a teacher while Kass was president of the Board of Education.
That drive to volunteer in the community came from an inherent selflessness, Kass’s family explained. “She always put the needs of kids ahead of herself,” Scott, 50, said. “She would hardly ever spend money on herself, and sometimes even went without things herself for us.”
Kathy noted that her mother only wore one shade of lipstick, while her daughters owned 15 varieties. “She was very humble,” Kathy said. “She didn’t seek attention.”
Kass resisted at first any requests she received to present diplomas or to speak at Mepham High School commencements. “She didn’t want to. It wasn’t about her,” Janie said. “Eventually we convinced her.”
Janie also recalled a neighbor’s sudden death from cancer. Kass made herself available to comfort the woman’s children, Mindy and Robert Schacter, who were the same age as Janie. “It was a complicated situation, but she would talk to them for hours,” Janie said.
“I will always think of Mrs. Kass as a very kind and concerned friend,” Robert Schacter said in a Facebook message. “With her motherly instincts and sharp mind, she remains a part of me. If you had ever had the pleasure of having a neighbor that let you know that you mattered to them, I had that with Mrs. Kass.”
Kass and Ira had been married for 68 years when she died. “We would hold hands at night and go to bed holding hands, every single night,” Ira, 91, said. “We used that time to address any questions or problems between us. No problem lasted more than 24 hours because of it. It’s why we were able to stay together for as long as we did.”
Kass also enjoyed the candy that Ira brought for the children at temple. Tootsie Rolls were her favorite. “I still had one last Tootsie Roll in my pocket during her last day in the hospital,” Ira said. “She took it and chewed it while I held her hand. It was her last bit of food, and the last thing we did was hold hands.”
To honor Kass’s Bellmore legacy, the family hopes to establish a scholarship at the high school level in the Central District. The arrangement is currently under discussion, Testa said.