In 1927, Morrie Seigal enrolled as a first-grade student in Cary Elementary School.
So began a relationship with the Chelsea public schools that spanned 84 years, from student to teacher and administrator to the School Committee.
Now 90, he has finally brought that relationship to a close, choosing not to run for reelection last November after serving 28 years on the school board.
“Like the old song goes, you have to know when to hold them and when to fold them,’’ Seigal said. “I just felt it was time to fold them.’’
Eight years from 1938 to 1946 - while he was in college and the Army - marked the only period since he started school that Seigal had not been part of the Chelsea system prior to last week, when the new committee’s terms began. He recently received the Robert Dwyer Sr. Award for Meritorious Service, presented annually by the Dwyer family to those who have made significant contributions to Chelsea.
“It’s a tremendous loss to the city of Chelsea and the students of Chelsea public schools,’’ said Rosemarie Carlisle, a longtime School Committee colleague and friend.
“For more than half a century, Morrie has dedicated his life and love to Chelsea’s school kids,’’ said City Manager Jay Ash in a statement. “Chelsea has known no bigger educational advocate. I’ve known and admired Morrie for almost my entire life. He’s been a role model and mentor to many of us, showing us what it means to be committed to public service, to family, and to community.’’
Seigal first ran for School Committee in 1983 - a year after his retirement as a principal.
“There were a lot of things I was unhappy with,’’ he said. “It was an opportunity to fulfill some of my dreams for the kids that went to those schools.’’
Carlisle said she thinks Seigal, who does not drive a car, owes his electoral success in part to the fact that he walked all over the city.
“He got to know people,’’ she said. “One of the things he has the ability to do is to go out and meet people and talk to people.’’
She also noted the many people who remember him fondly from his days as a teacher and principal.
“No matter where we were, there were always people coming up and saying, ‘Morrie, I had you as a teacher in the public schools and I’ll always remember it being the greatest classroom there ever was,’ ’’ she said.
As a School Committee member, Seigal said he takes satisfaction in the role he played in replacing and upgrading the city’s antiquated school buildings. His first motion on the committee was to start the overhaul.
“It was a long process. . . . but thank God we did it because it’s made a tremendous difference for our kids,’’ he said.
Seigal also said he is proud to have been a key proponent of the partnership that Chelsea forged with Boston University when BU managed the city’s schools from 1989 to 2009.
Prior to BU’s arrival, Seigal said, the Chelsea school system “was the laughingstock of the state. We were last in every category.’’
The partnership built a bridge for students to learn beyond their years in Chelsea.
“Any kid who wants to work has an ability to get an education in Chelsea today that will permit him or her to enter any college in the country,’’ Seigal said.
With Marion, his wife of 63 years, Seigal has three children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. His son Jay is head of physical education for the Chelsea schools and the high school’s boys’ basketball coach.
Seigal was one of four sons of the late Annie and Max Seigal. Both his father, a truck driver, and his mother were born in Latvia when it was part of Russia.
A 1938 graduate of Chelsea High School, Seigal earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Salem State College in 1942.
Following graduation, he joined the Army and was assigned to the 81st Infantry Division, where his job was to encode and decode messages. His Army service included 18 months of combat duty in the South Pacific during World War II, where he took part in the US invasion of Angaur in 1944.
“The toughest three years of my life was spent in the service, but they were the most rewarding years because I had the opportunity to actively defend this country of ours along with millions of others,’’ he said.
After returning to Chelsea, Seigal began working as a substitute teacher in 1946 and the following year was hired as a full-time teacher.
Seigal spent 31 years at the Williams School, most as a teacher, and for part of the time as assistant principal at the elementary and junior high levels. He then was principal of the Mary C. Burke School from 1978 until he retired in 1982. During a portion of his time as a teacher, he was president of the Chelsea teachers’ union.
Despite the struggles of the school system during those years, Seigal said he enjoyed “every day of my teaching and administrative career. It was a labor of love for me.’’
Seigal leaves public service with a lasting legacy: “In some small way, however small that might be, I had an effect on kids attaining their goals in life. That makes me feel good.’’