Hilda Karp adds energy, wisdom to Language Lab

The Newtonite

[media-credit name=”Maliha Ali” align=”alignright” width=”300″]“I loved when students came up years later after they were in college. I could see that this school had given them such a good background in life,” said Language Lab coordinator Hilda Karp. [/media-credit]

“I loved when students came up years later after they were in college. I could see that this school had given them such a good background in life,” said Language Lab coordinator Hilda Karp.

by Malini Gandhi
Rarely is one both a bold, constantly moving firecracker and a person of quiet kindness, but long-time Language Lab coordinator Hilda Karp is an exception, according to world language department head Nancy Marrinucci.
On the one hand, Karp is a “thinker,” a “fighter” and a “bundle of energy and personality,” a woman who proudly and meticulously managed the Language Lab for decades with a steel back and spunk, according to Marrinucci.
Yet in addition to her fiery personality, Marrinucci said that Karp, with her treasure trove of Yiddish sayings and wisdom, has a quiet way of listening and a deep awareness of people that is humble and honest.
“She would look you in the eyes when you talked to her,” said French teacher Suzanne Putzeys.
“I think I will remember that about her most of all. She was always there, always paying attention, a constant presence that listened and thought everything through as if what you were saying was all that mattered.”
Karp—the listener and the fighter—retired in October after seeing three different school buildings and after over 30 years of work in this school’s Language Lab.
Karp grew up in Brooklyn, New York in a family of all boys. She said that from an early age, she knew that she wanted to go into teaching.
“I had a feel for teaching, even in high school. My classes were rigorous, and my teachers were wonderful, and I always believed in academics,” Karp said. “In my day girls didn’t go to college, but I had very supportive parents, and they gave me the same opportunities as all of my brothers.”
And so, after graduating from James Madison High School in 1942, Karp did what few girls in that era did—she traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts and began studying at Radcliffe College. She then transferred to Sargant College at Boston University and graduated in 1945.
After completing college, Karp returned to New York where she got a job teaching in the science department at her high school and went to Columbia at night for her Masters in Education.
“I seemed to fall right into teaching. I’d always loved learning,” Karp said.
After marrying, Karp travelled to Massachusetts, and was hired in 1974 to run the brand-new Language Lab.
Karp said she “immediately fell in love with the students and faculty at North.”
“I looked forward to every day,” Karp said.
“I loved the wonderful atmosphere of the faculty, and I loved when students came up years later after they were in college. I could see that this school had given them such a good background in their life, and I loved that.”
Karp described her role in the Language Lab with a string of short, automatic sentences, as if the protocol was second-nature.
“In the Language Lab, learning was number one. No fooling around. No gum chewing. Respect the room. My job was all just making sure everything was clean and running smoothly.”
But while Karp’s description of her job was modest, sparse and matter-of-fact, her colleagues’ descriptions of her role in the Language Lab were far from emotionless.
“Hilda was extremely educated, bright, strong—and that Language Lab was her turf. It was the oldest running lab in the country, and she was the only one who knew how to run it,” Putzeys laughed.
According to Marrinucci, Karp’s dedication and diligence to her job were astounding.
“Ms. Karp took care of the lab from the day it opened, and thirty years later, all of the equipment was still working.
“She took care of it conscientiously, meticulously. I used to say the lab was held together by duct tape and paper clips, because the equipment had lasted for so long,” Marinucci said.
“Students sometimes complained that she had a very strict protocol, but I remember my predecessor telling me before I became department head, ‘You will never have to worry about the Language Lab—Hilda will take care of it.’ And she did.”
Even with the switch to the new building, when the Lab was refurbished with speedy, high-tech equipment, Karp maintained eagerness and determination, Marrinucci said.
“Here she was, in her mid- 80s and not a tech person, but bustling from place to place and learning how to work all the new technology with her characteristic fiery energy,” Marrinucci remembered.
According to French teacher Alieu Jobe, Karp’s firm, fiery spirit was coupled with a comforting kindness and wisdom.
“I learned life lessons from Ms. Karp. I learned patience, I learned love for my job. Often if I was upset, Hildy would look at me and ask, ‘Why worry?’” Jobe said.
In the drawer of Jobe’s desk, he keeps a tattered yellow sticky note with words reading: “Hilda Karp, 05/03/06: Every day there’s something to be sorry about. So let it go.”
Smiling and touching the sticky note fondly, Jobe remembered, “I wrote this down years ago, and recently, I showed it to her.
“Her eyes widened and she waggled her finger at me, and I remember she said, ‘Oh my god, you kept it. Oh you.’ But really, she has guided me in my life. Whenever I’m in a mess, I think of Hildy, and how she always said ‘let it go.’ I think that Hildy would see the positive.”
Jobe said that the entire department will “miss Hildy immensely.”
“She was diligent, strong, wise and comforting, all at the same time. Today. I go to the Lab, and it’s like she’s still there, somehow. Hildy is here. Hildy is there. Hildy is the Lab.”