November 13, 2016
I am glad Eli Kaplan lived two days past Election Day. That way, he got to–undoubtedly–shake his snowy head at the national results, but also celebrate the slate of Democrat and union-endorsed Minneapolis school board candidates who won their own competitive races on Tuesday.
On Thursday, November 10, Eli died unexpectedly, of a heart attack. He was 84. Today, I will spend part of this sunny day at his funeral service, celebrating the life of a man who, in the last few years, became a friend, donor and supporter. Eli was a long-time Minneapolis resident and fellow frequenter of school board meetings (believe me, we are a small and select group). His obituary makes it clear: “He was devoted to the Minneapolis Public Schools.”
I don’t know how we first met. Maybe it was at a school board meeting. Maybe it was at a Parents United legislative summit on education–the kind we both turned up at, on Saturday mornings, to sip some coffee, eat a grocery store doughnut, and nod along to the deliciously detailed presentations of Mary Cecconi, director of the now departed Parents United. Mostly, wherever I went in recent years to get a dose of education policy, Eli was there. I picture him in a flannel shirt, with a white beard and hearing aid, and a knowing, “I’ve seen this before” smile on his face.
Eli’s kids went to a public, progressive school in Minneapolis. Eventually, that program morphed into Barton Open School, which my kids have attended. As a longtime champion of progressive ed, he was part of the Barton parent group on Facebook (before it was taken down and rebuilt, but that’s another story). Once in a while, as the school moved through one difficult transition after another, Eli would pop in with a helpful, historical clarification about some aspect of our school, Barton Open. He believed in budgets, and had participated in a citizen review of the Minneapolis Public Schools budget for years. They don’t do that anymore, he’d often lament.
Eli had a wry smile and was quick to get a joke. Those two attributes are high on my personal survival list, as we move through the days ahead. I didn’t know Eli outside of education-related events; I have never met his family. But, from our conversations, I know he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather with a soft spot for helping others. He died of a sudden heart attack, the way my own father did. I miss him. I will miss Eli, too.