Everything was purple at LeConte Elementary School Friday.
Hues of purple greeted a community who had come to honor Berkeley High Vice Principal denise brown in the place where she had first started off as an educator. (She preferred to spell her name in lowercase letters.)
Brown, who died in February following knee surgery, had sent both her children to LeConte and later went on to teach kindergarten, first and fourth grades there. Purple was her favorite color.
“It was Denise who breathed life into this stage,” said LeConte instructional assistant Rita Petitt, looking around the auditorium Friday. “She brought drama to life and reality. She was not just a parent, a teacher and a friend, but also a magician. She pulled back these curtains for so many people.”
Hundreds came by with flowers, photos, candles and memories to take part in the plaque dedication for Brown on Friday.
A plaque was installed in the auditorium with the words: “As we walk through these doors, we recognize the contribution of denise brown.”
“What Denise did here was create theater, create drama,” said LeConte first-grade teacher Debbie Barer. “This is her neighborhood. Everybody here knows her. This is why it continues to be such a wonderful place for community building. We want to carry on the legacy that she left behind.”
A generation of LeConte alumni who had grown up taking part in Brown’s Performing Arts Program reminisced about their favorite teacher.
“She’s the reason we are all friends,” said Shelly Gleason, an eighth-grader at Willard, as she rehearsed scenes from Brown’s skit “I Wanna Be” with her classmates for the event. “We all met while rehearsing for ‘I Wanna Be’ at LeConte. I have such wonderful memories. Ms. Brown was simply amazing with us kids. The one thing I remember is the way she would always ask us ‘why’ when something was weird. She had to get to the bottom of everything.”
Brown, during her tenure as drama teacher at LeConte, produced numerous plays and musicals, each with a message to explore, such as war, violence and homelessness.
She taught her students to have fun too, as was portrayed by the characters Carob Cookie and the Pixy Stick Twins in the play “The Wizard of Berkeley.”
In a video that chronicled some of the best moments of all these performances, Brown said: “My inspiration for these stories came from none other than the children themselves. I have observed their behavior closely and watched the way they chisel away at each other with insults and putdowns. I see how they swallow and take it sometimes or lash out in anger ... The kids have developed these characters themselves. I just took them and put them in a script.”
Excerpts from the video show Brown tying students’ shoelaces, arranging their clothes and hugging them in between scenes during the performances.
Hilary Mitchell, a student teacher under Brown, described her as the “most loving person ever.”
“She took everybody under her wing,” said Mitchell, who now teaches fifth grade at Washington Elementary School. “She taught me to advocate for my minority students and to teach everyone positive traits. There are certain things I do in my class that reminds me of denise every day. She helped me become a better person.”