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Leila G. Davis Elementary students keep up with 97-year-old mentor

Morris Gutterman, a.k.a. Mr. G, helps third-grader Carlie Fancil, 8, solve problems as she works on a project with Lego bricks. Gutterman, 97, has volunteered at Leila G. Davis Elementary School in Clearwater for 25 years.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Morris Gutterman, a.k.a. Mr. G, helps third-grader Carlie Fancil, 8, solve problems as she works on a project with Lego bricks. Gutterman, 97, has volunteered at Leila G. Davis Elementary School in Clearwater for 25 years.

CLEARWATER

Morris Gutterman is 97 years old and says that, in all that time, he has done nothing extraordinary. Spencer Yates is just 9 years old. He has a distinctly different opinion of the man who mentors gifted children at an elementary school. Spencer calls him a "superhero."

"He was alive in World War I, served in World War II, he lost his wife and broke his hip, and he still takes on 8- and 9-year-olds who can be crazy and wild," said Spencer, who calls his elderly friend "Mr. G.''

Gutterman, who lives in the Hampton at Clearwater, an independent living facility, has been volunteering at Leila G. Davis Elementary in Clearwater for 25 years.

"I'm no superhero, just an ordinary guy," he said. "I do this because I do love the children."

He works with pupils in small groups, teaching them critical thinking skills and engineering principles using Legos, those popular toy bricks.

"He's always punctual and keeps meticulous records as the children advance through progressively difficult building challenges," said third-grade teacher Dianne Fix.

Gutterman's lessons extend beyond the obvious.

Recently, he was overheard stressing the importance of precision.

"Everything must be done precisely as planned," he said. "If you build a bridge or something that runs on electricity, it won't work if it's done incorrectly."

Along the way, he shares other life lessons: Don't rush, plan ahead and make sure to put things away in their proper place.

"I'm sure they follow through in regular life," he said.

The past year hasn't been the easiest for the tenacious tutor.

In 2009, he fell and broke his hip. Now he gets around with a walker.

Gutterman lost his wife, Rebecca, on Dec. 26. They'd been married for 68 years and have two children, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild. The couple owned an apparel store in Ravenna, Ohio, for 40 years.

"I still love her and miss her," he said.

He developed his work ethic at a very young age. When he was 8, he cleaned shoe boxes for a dollar a week in Youngstown, Ohio.

He doesn't remember too much about what he did in World War II except that he was a rifleman in the infantry and served in England.

When Gutterman gave up driving at age 95, he worried he'd have to retire from his volunteer work, but caregivers now take him to school, where he serves three or four afternoons a week.

"It's what keeps him alive and keeps him going," said Chris Pontikos, one of his aides.

Third-graders in Fix's class described him as inspiring, hardworking, joyful, supportive, one-of-a-kind, creative and fantastic.

Duncan Elliott, 9, of Safety Harbor said Gutterman has helped him make a bridge, bicycle and swing. Now he uses his camera to make animated movies with his Lego battlefields.

"He's taught me a lot," he said. "Most people his age would be home in bed resting with somebody taking care of them."

Not Mr. G.

"I hate being in bed," Gutterman said. "I've been active all my life."

Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at treeves@tampabay.rr.com

Leila G. Davis Elementary students keep up with 97-year-old mentor 02/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 20, 2010 1:38pm]
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