Sparky the Weather Giraffe

Submitted photo


Washington-Kosciusko Elementary School Teacher Marjorie Van Cleave reads to her class, with Sparky the Giraffe in the background at left.

Marjorie Van Cleave is celebrating her 35th year as a teacher in Winona Area Public Schools, but there is someone in her classroom who has been educating and inspiring students even longer than that. 

Meet Sparky the Weather Giraffe. After two years away, due to COVID-19 protocols, Sparky was back in Mrs. Van Cleave’s first grade classroom at Washington-Kosciusko Elementary, wearing a “Cat in the Hat” hat and an apron that said, “Keep Calm, Read Books.”

Mrs. Van Cleave first met Sparky when she was a first grader in Mrs. Bjorum’s classroom in Two Harbors, Minn. The class two years ahead of her made the giraffe, with help from Mrs. Bjorum’s husband. Mrs. Van Cleave said that her class made another animal friend — JoJo the Elephant. 

“When I became a first grade teacher, she told me that she wanted Sparky and JoJo back in the classroom,” Mrs. VanCleave said. “She gave them to me!”

Mrs. Van Cleave also still has JoJo the Elephant, but he needs a little work and won’t fit in her classroom. 

Mrs. VanCleave said that Sparky visited Mrs. Bjorum, then in assisted living, for her 89th birthday. 

“I told her that she had an old friend that wanted to be there for her birthday,” Mrs. VanCleave said. “She was delighted. She would always tell me that she knew my year would go ‘swimmingly.’ She was amazing.”