“Happiness is being your own best friend.”
My name is David Mielke, and I was the producer/director of the Cozy Grammar series.
As a child I was fortunate enough to have Marie as my favorite teacher, and as an adult I was even more fortunate to have her as my favorite friend.
I’d like to tell you some things about her.
Marie Sophia Rackham was born in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on September 16, 1934.
Marie at age 4.
Her parents were Florence and Archie Rundgren.
Marie with her parents in 1942.
Marie at age 16.
She earned degrees in English and Geography from the University of British Columbia.
Marie at age 24.
She married Robert Rackham in 1957.
Together they led a Cub Scout troop that achieved national recognition.
In 1966 she moved to Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, to teach at Willow Point Elementary, and eventually Southgate Secondary and Phoenix Middle School.
Marie in her Willow Point classroom, circa 1971.
Marie and her seventh grade class at Willow Point Elementary, 1976.
Marie in her Phoenix Middle School classroom, circa 1994,
with her shelves full of gifts from her students.
Marie worked as a public school teacher for thirty-four years, teaching at all levels from kindergarten to grade twelve, and taught piano and theory privately in her own studio for fourteen years.
During her time as an elementary classroom teacher, Marie conducted choral groups, recorder bands, and string ensembles.
She guided her students to top honors in the Provincial Music Festivals, and directed student productions of Cool In The Furnace, Julius Caesar, The Mikado, and Taming Of The Shrew.
The music curriculum she developed inspired the creation of a district-wide elementary music program.
At the high school level she produced productions of The Wizard of Oz, Grease, Oklahoma!, Guys and Dolls, Separate Tables, South Pacific, and Broadway musical reviews.
Marie preparing for a Broadway musical review, 1981.
Although Marie was very strict and organized, she created a classroom where everyone felt safe and could flourish as themselves.
And even have fun!
Many past students claim her as their favorite teacher of all time.
A renowned English teacher, Marie worked with remedial, regular, and honor students. Over her many years of teaching language arts, she developed her own curriculum for teaching basic grammar and punctuation.
When Marie retired, her curriculum was published through the local Teacher's Resource Center and made available to all the schools in the district as a self-contained workbook.
This workbook became the framework for the Cozy Grammar series of videos produced by Splashes From the River Multimedia Entertainment, featuring Marie herself.
Behind the Scenes
On location at the beach cottage used as Marie's house during the filming of the Cozy Grammar and Punctuation episodes.
Those are the biographical facts. The facts, however, don’t tell the whole story. Often the soulful bits get left out of biographies. In the case of Marie and the Cozy Grammar series, I’d like to remedy that. You see, during the production of the videos, Marie knew she had terminal cancer.
She'd been given six months to a year to live.
When I first learned about her terminal diagnosis, I asked her, “What can I do to help?” and she said, “I just want to be where cancer isn’t.”
I took that to mean she wanted something other than cancer to think about for the time she had left—something fun and challenging. After living in Los Angeles for a number of years, I’d been looking for a project to produce, and remembering what a phenomenal English teacher Marie was, I had an idea.
“How would you like to star in your own language arts series? We’ll film it in beautiful locations around Campbell River with a hand-picked crew of special people. We can even go into the recording studio to have you perform a classical piano soundtrack. We can incorporate the way you used to want to take grammar out of the classroom and into every day life. We'll arrange the shooting schedule around your various treatments. We'll use your grammar book the district published as the basis for the script. What do you think?”
Without hesitation she said, “Yes, yes, yes!” and with both feet jumped joyfully into the opportunity to use whatever time she had left to create an educational and life-affirming video legacy.
Where cancer isn't.
Marie's least favorite part of filming:
the hair and makeup room.
She lived four years beyond her original prognosis.
It was difficult at times, but with the help of doctors, humor, wigs and makeup, and her hard-earned sense of deep personal peace, she was able to complete 114 episodes for five distinct courses: The Basic Cozy Grammar Course, The Basic Cozy Punctuation Course, The Basic Cozy Essay Course, The Intermediate Cozy Grammar Course—Level One, and The Intermediate Cozy Grammar Course—Level Two.
Marie was always looking forward to getting back on the Cozy Grammar set and to being where cancer wasn’t. Until finally she couldn’t anymore.
She died quietly in my arms on February 9, 2005.
Marie and I on location for the filming of the Intermediate Cozy Grammar Course in 2004, taking a cuddle break.
The Basic Cozy Life Course
Sometimes I wish we had also produced a series called The Basic Cozy Life Course.
It would have just been Marie sharing what she’d learned over the years, and how she had chosen to find a way to take the manure that circumstances had dumped on her and transform it into fertilizer to help others grow.
Although we never got to make that series, I’m comforted by knowing that some of the essence of Marie—her love of simple pleasures and the everyday joys and delights of life, the happiness of being your own best friend—live on in the Cozy Grammar series.