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Henry Braun, after whom a Regina elementary school was named in 1986, was honoured during a socially distanced 90th birthday party.

My favourite principal has long been a combination of brains and Braun.

Henry Braun — in whose honour a Regina public elementary school was named in 1986 — was a principal and vice-principal when I attended Massey School, where I began my first year of kindergarten in 1969.

Even as a sapling of five years old, I realized that Mr. Braun was a kind and intelligent man. He wasn’t solely an authority figure, but a gracious gentleman who was a friend to all — students, staff, parents and custodians.

Nothing has changed. He remains a beloved figure in an elementary-school setting, as evidenced by the events of last week.

Mr. Braun turned 90 on Thursday. Everyone at Henry Braun School saw fit to commemorate the milestone, and to celebrate this great man, by holding a birthday party.

Ideally, the ceremonies would have taken place at the school — his school. COVID-19 rendered that impossible.

Even so, principal Rhonda Haus followed through with plans to mark No. 90 in grand style. Tara Lazurko, who teaches Grades 5 and 6, offered the suggestion of conducting the birthday bash via Zoom. Sold!

The next step was to ensure that technology was in place to allow everyone to interact with Mr. Braun — to this day, I cannot refer to him as “Henry” or “Braun” — by linking the school and his residence at Wintergreene Estates.Jolene Caswell took charge of the logistics at the south Regina retirement residence. Meanwhile, preparations continued at the school. Cards were being written. Drawings were being done. Balloons were being inflated.

Then came Thursday at 11 a.m. There was Mr. Braun, his dignified image beamed into all 17 classrooms — incorporating a total of 410 students — and my cluttered home office.

Each class wished him a happy birthday. A few students and teachers spoke individually, gratefully.

“All of our Grade 8s have cherished your stories over nine years,” one graduating student said, “and all of us are sad that we won’t be able to hear your stories next year because of COVID-19 and because we’ll be going into high school.”

Mr. Braun has remained a principal figure at the school — someone with whom most students are familiar. He has been a regular attendee at events such as assemblies as long as the school has carried his good name.

“He’s just an awesome man,” Haus says. “We all appreciate his genuine kindness, his caring attitude, and the way he connects with people.”

“He’s a pretty special guy.”

Hence the special occasion, which included the delivery of a large shopping bag full of birthday cards — more than 300 in total — to Wintergreene.

“I know he will read them all and cherish them all,” Haus says. “In many classes, every single student drew him a picture or made him a card.” Over the years, the school also embraced Mr. Braun’s wife, Helen. The couple, who met in high school, was married Aug. 26, 1952 in Hepburn. She died on April 21, at age 88.

During functions at Henry Braun School, “big, comfy chairs”— in the words of Lazurko — were set up in the gym whenever the first couple would pay a visit.

On Thursday, the visit took place despite a separation of 14 kilometres. After all the congratulatory messages had been delivered, the last word, appropriately, belonged to Mr. Braun.

“The best thing that you can do, and you’ve done that for me today, is appreciate others,” he said. “You have shown your care for us.

“I want to say that Mrs. Braun, before she passed on, enjoyed coming to the school so much. She liked to see the students coming into the classroom and into the gym and waving at her. Now she is seeing you and seeing your classroom from a different dimension. She is very appreciative of everything you have done for her and for me.”

True to form, every word — every syllable — was perfectly chosen and articulated.

Such was the norm at Massey School a half-century ago. As a result, his socially distanced birthday party was an experience that all of his students — ranging in age from five to, in this case, 56 — could treasure.

On a day when Mr. Braun received so many well-deserved accolades and gifts, his birthday presence was a blessing to all of us.

Read the full article by Rob Vanstone.

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