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Former teacher recalls visit 40 years ago by actor Tom Hanks

93-year-old hopes to see actor again
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Posted at 9:07 PM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 23:07:13-04

With just days to go before the Cleveland Guardians Home Opener and Tom Hanks scheduled to throw out the first pitch, one retired teacher is hoping to attract the attention of the Academy Award-winning actor, who spoke to her class 40 years ago.

The residents at Independence Village Avon Lake recently posted a viral TikTok, featuring staff and residents doing their best impressions from the movie “Castaway,” urging Hanks to visit.

@ivseniorliving Help us, #TomHanks 🌊 We have a resident with a big dream…to reconnect with #TomHanks when he is in town next week for the #clevelandguardians home opener! Enjoy their re-creation of #castaway and help us tag Tom and the Guardians in the comments below! #independencevillageofavonlake #seniorliving ♬ Ocean Sounds - Ocean Sounds & Ocean Waves For Sleep & BodyHI

Jane Barthles, 93, described how when Hanks was just starting out at Great Lakes Theater, the actor visited the 9th-grade class she taught at Learwood Junior High School, now known as Learwood Middle School, in Avon Lake.

“He came to my classes and stayed all day,” she reminisced. “It was a great experience for my students and he had a ball.”

Barthles said the encounter happened by accident, with the director at the time at Great Lakes Theater reserving an actor to visit her class, but then ran into a problem.

“[She said] all I have left are a couple beginners, and one of them is named Tom Hanks,” Barthles said.

It was all part of a program that began right around the same time as Hanks arrived in Cleveland in the late 1970s and at the Great Lakes Theater.

Tom Hanks Backstage - Courtesy of Great Lakes Theater.jpg

Organizers said that the outreach initiative, which helps bridge the gap between students and the stage, continues today and has grown quite a bit.

“That’s what they remember out of high school,” Lisa Ortenzi, director of Educational Programming at Great Lakes Theater, said. “When they think about English class and Romeo and Juliet class or a Shakespeare piece, they remember us coming in with swords or blood and performing for the students.”

Tom Hanks - The Two Gentlemen of Verona - Courtesy of Great Lakes Theater.jpg

Inside the Hanna Theater, patrons will instantly notice Hanks’ name on the bar that greets them upon entering the theater.

“It’s pretty exciting to claim Tom Hanks as a possible former actor/teacher and company member,” Kelly Schaffer Florian, director of Educational Services at Great Lakes Theater said. “These are stories that touch people and bring them closer to literature and change their lives.”

Hanks narrated the announcement video last year when the Cleveland Guardians announced their new name.

Looking back on Hanks’ career, which includes two Academy Awards, Barthles said she’s excited to see the actor return to Cleveland next week, and wanted to share a message.

“I would love to tell him the same thing I told him then: It has been such a pleasure to see what you have accomplished,” she said. “I thank you so much that you came to my classroom because you left an impression and it has stayed forever.”

The Guardians Home Opener is scheduled for April 15.

This story was originally published by Clay LePard of WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio.