In Memory

Helen Burr

Helen Burr

Helen Burr

April 9, 1911 - June 13, 2001

Senorita Burr was a well-known Spanish teacher at SPHS from 1950 to 1971. She was also a graduate of SPHS, Class of 1929.


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03/21/10 06:32 PM #5    

Jerry Huot (1957)

This is the first teacher I found in this section. I took three years of spanish from her. All I know is that after that experience I went a number of places where spanish was essential. I didn't take more instruction in college became a biology teacher and coach for thirty four years and still consider her one of my best teachers. She definitely demanded you work at learning the language. I know many students took spanish from the other teacher (who shall remain unnamed) she told good jokes I understand but they didn't really become proficient in the basics of spanish. I know her personality limited her ability to relate in personal ways to her students and I consider that her loss but she was an incredible teacher of her subject matter.

04/18/10 06:30 PM #6    

Kristy Jones (Cole) (1971)

Miss Burr was a tough teacher. She demanded a lot and she got it! I think she was a much better Spanish teacher than the ones my children have had. My daughter marvels at my wonderful accent. Remember those scripts we had to memorize? El senor Gonzales! She would record us and then go over the recording so that she could show us how to correctly pronounce the words. I went on to major in Spanish at UCLA and it always comes in handy, living in California and also travelling.

06/01/10 06:21 PM #7    

Linda Johnson (Hernandez) (1963)

I think Miss Burr proved the old adage: "A teacher never knows where his or her influence may end." Looking at the above posts, students still have vivid memories of her from 40-50 years ago. She definitely changed my life, as she was the first teacher who really made me work. I had a natural affinity for language, but that only made her suspicious that someone in my home spoke Spanish. (Ha!) She thought learning a language should be hard work and always resented that people assumed she had learned Spanish "the easy way" due to her dark complexion. I don't know what her ethnic background was, but I heard her family was the Burr in Burr Pharmacy. Due to my facility with Spanish, she would enter me in contests and her demanding teaching made it possible for me to win a Rotary Exchange Trip to Guaymas, Mexico with Bill Courtice, also Class of 1963. I also won a Scholarship to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, thanks to her effective instruction, where I took my first year of college classes in Spanish with students from all over Latin America. This was a JFK Alliance for Progress Program. She was extremely old-fashioned in her approach and I had no doubt that the paddle hanging from her classroom wall could and would be used. The "A" students sat in the first row, and when my grade fell on one test, I still feel the humiliation of having to move to the "B" row. Everything we know about language learning now says it should be relaxed and natural, but no one told her that. I still remember her groundbreaking and somewhat terrifying Language Lab where she would break in on a fake conversation with "Paco" or "María" to berate us if we made an error. After all of the above is said and done, I must add that she is the teacher who changed my life, inspired me to become a bilingual teacher and administrator and made it possible for me to meet my Colombian husband of 44 years (along with countless other Spanish-speaking friends from all over Latin America and Spain). Also, when reprimanding a student as a teacher or administrator, I tried to remember to hold off a little, lest I be too intimidating as she could be. I would be interested in any information about her after I left SPHS in 1963. I heard that she had been in a serious accident and that other sad things happened in her personal and/or professional life. Please write me your memories of my longtime mentor and nemesis, Señorita Elena Burr.

With Overall Fond Memories and Respect,

Linda (Johnson) Hernandez - Class of 1963




01/24/11 04:13 PM #8    

Sheelah Stern (Chatman) (1957)

Helen Burr was the first of my teachers to demand my full attention.  I remember the light in her eyes when she first realized she had awakened my interest and my intention to succeed. I do still speak Spanish at 72 and I remember her with fondness and great respect.

03/22/12 02:02 PM #9    

Beverly Ann Jones (Nuwer) (1969)

I am grateful to have had a teacher like Ms. Burr.  The Spanish I learned has taken me through my life.  I was the only nurse on the night shift at UCLA hospital who spoke any Spanish.  We had a patient who became critical and I was able to understand & speak enough Spanish to save her life.  Over the years I have need to speak Spanish as a nurse, housewife, mother and to gardeners and such.  So thank you, Ms. Burr.  I do remember something funny she taugh us.  I don't know if anyone else remember the mantra for pronouncing r's: erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril, rapido corren los carros, los carros de ferro carille!  Cheers to all the alumni reading these memorials.  Beverly Jones Nuwer

05/25/12 08:13 AM #10    

William E 'Bill' Meals (1954)

Miss Burr had to have been a better teacher than I realized when I was in her Spanish class.  As poor and non carring student that I was I retained enough of her beating some education into me that I would not stave to death in Mexico.  She sure could roll those r's.

03/19/13 12:22 PM #11    

Nathaniel Hummel (1961)

I didn't know that Miss Burr, as she liked to be addressed, had passed away. While she was tough, committed and could be a little harsh at times, she was also deeply involved in trying to get the best out of her students. A few memories of her that I have:

O She did have a temper. Once during a test she saw  a student was "cheating" on a test, looking at another person's answers, and she took a hold of the back of the chair/desk and literally dragged it, with him in it in one great arc, and swung it in front of everyone else's desks and said, "If you're not embarassed to death, you ought to be."

O She loved the language and the culture. She spoke glowingly of going to Spain during the summer break. You could feel the passion in her as she recounted  of her experiences.

O She had a great "verb sheet" and frankly I wished I had saved at least one of them. There were "boxes" on the sheet were you were expected to fill in the different conjugations and tenses of the verb. Yes, it was tough but a great learning tool. Did I mention I wished I still had one?

O Perhaps one of the best lessons she taught was that if you didn't quite know how to say something, then:

"Si no puedes subir la montana, entonces viaje alrededor la montana. "  (Sorry about no accent marks, Ms. Burr, but this site doesn't seem so produce them.)

O I also remember the book "Rodeo Gramatical" that we used, and I found one in a used book store section... and I still use it from time to time. Just one more thing I learned in Miss Burr's class.

In closing I'll share something else I learned back in Ms. Burr's class, from the same book. A short poem that when recited to Latinos, always makes them laugh as it teaches one of societies' truths.  (it doesn't rhyme quite right in English, but it does in Spanish... and again pardon the lack of accent marks.) As I learned it in Ms. Burr's class, it only seems right that I share it with you. Every time I recite it, it establishes an instand bond with the person. At a local restaurant, after sharing it with the Spanish speaking help, they would greet me with friendly smiles on their faces as, "Tomas, no mas" every time I came in for about a month's time.


Cuando yo tenia dinero,

Me llamabam Don Tomas.

Pero, ahora que no tengo dinero,

Me llamen Tomas, no mas.


(Approximate translation in English)

When I had money,

They called me Don Tomas (the Don is a sign of respect)

But now that I have no money,

They call me Tomas, 'only Tomas'

(no mas literally means 'no more' but it means kind of figurately, in this case, 'only Tomas' and as it rhymes in Spanish it seems to tickle Latino ears.


Well, after all this circumlocution what can I say about Ms. Burr other than I learned a lot, she had her own style, like it or hate it... it worked and somehow it seems to continue working. For those who didn't like her style, try to admire the effect she had on student learning. And, isn't that what a good teacher should ultimately do?


Nathaniel Hummel


09/07/18 03:49 PM #12    

Nathaniel Hummel (1961)

Well, here's kind of an interesting vinette that I thought  any former student of "Senorita Burr" might enjoy. I had "discovered" the original, small, Acapulco restaurant in East Pasadena around 1959 or so.By the early to mid 70's the owner, Ray Marshall, had first expanded his small restaurant 3 times or so, and then purchased more locations, establishing a string of Acapulcos. (OK, I'm actually getting to Helen Burr (or Burrrrrrrrrr as she demanded we roll our 'rs when we said her name.") She was a strict teacher and a kinda crabby person at times. In January of 1975 he asked me to come aboard as a manager trainee, and within 2 months I was managing his Pasadena restaurant and honing my Spansh skills. One afternoon who walks into the restaurant, with 2 Latina women guests, apparently visiting the U.S., but Ms. Burrrrr.  Her mouth almost dropped when she saw me and physically cowered at the table when I came over. Loss of control anxiety and crabiness-guilt, I guess.  Anyway I started speaking in Spanish to her and her Latina guests, fluently and frankly with a better accent that she ever had. She appeared deadly afraid I was going to embarass her in front of her Latina guests by mentioning her temper or strictness or whatever. Instead I was pleasant and told her guests, in Spanish of course, how well she taught her students and that I owed my ability to speak Spanish to her. Oh, and I made a point of going back to their table a time or two more to "make sure all was well with the food and service. Each time she bodily cringed. I had the ability to "comp" someone if I wanted and I made a point of telling them that there was no charge as I was thanking "Senorita Burr" for her excellent teaching. Thus, this also short-circuited her ability to take credit for hosting their meal. As her guests left I thanked them, and they thanked me for the meal... kinda instead of Miss Burrrrr.

This was the only time I "ran into" Ms. Burrrrr.  (Oh, and I just had to add all those extra rrrrr's.)  :-)

05/16/19 09:34 AM #13    

James Tomlin (1961)

I remember Miss Burr as the best teacher. I only realize later that she was hard on us because she really cared. Her strategies demanded your best efforts. The taxpayers had charged her with teaching us Spanish and she wasn't going to cheat them of even a nickel.

Twice in my life I have re­ally needed to be able to speak Spanish, and when I reached back for it, there it was. I once asked her if there were just some people that couldn't learn Span­ish. She replied "Fortunately, none of them are born in Spain." They were lucky they never had, to pay her by the hour.

11/08/20 10:05 AM #14    

Jeremy Durfee (1963)

Miss Burr was in many ways the best teacher I ever had in any grade in SoPas.  She was the best one at getting my lazy brain to actually work and learn the subject.  For most classes I just coasted along, picking up the lessons if and when I was interested in them.  For Miss Burr I actually worked on all lessons ... even the endless verb sheets.  She demanded a lot from her students, and in return she helped so many of us learn, understand, and retain the Spanish.  I taught for 35 or 36 yearsmyself, and found that based quite a bit on her model, I pushed for higher levels of learning from all of my students.  I wish she was still around to thank for all that I learned from her.

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