Try 1 month for 99¢
Sylvia Korbel Harney holds up a photo of the kindergarten class she taught at College View Elementary in 1946 that included Dick Cheney.

This is a story of a vice president and not one -but two - kindergarten teachers who helped launch his education.

In the fall of 1946, 5-year-old Richard B.Cheney embarked on his first year of kindergarten. He started at Randolph Elementary, with Mrs. Margaret Van Neste.

But later that fall, young Cheney transferred to his neighborhood school, Calvert Elementary. And there, he was taught by Miss Sylvia Korbel (who became Sylvia Harney in 1949).

On Friday, nearly 60 years later, Cheney will take time to pay tribute to the Lincoln women who gave him a solid beginning in school.

They will be guests of Cheney at a breakfast to campaign for Jeff Fortenberry, Republican candidate for the 1st District House seat.

And for both women, it is a humbling honor.

Last week, the Journal Star reported the story of 86-year-old Van Neste, who had received an invitation to the fund-raising breakfast. The invitation was due in part to a comment the vice president made to Lincoln's Phyllis Acklie last fall. He told Acklie one of his fondest Nebraska memories was attending kindergarten at Randolph Elementary School and being in Mrs. Van Neste's class.

Coincidentally, eight years after Cheney was in that room, Acklie, then a teaching assistant, worked under Van Neste's tutelage.

As it turns out, that was only part of the story - which was realized this week when friends and family of Sylvia Harney spoke out for the retired Lincoln teacher.

She, too, had Cheney in her kindergarten classroom. Not only does she have the class pictures to prove it, she remembers the little boy who was such a natural leader that he unofficially became her classroom assistant.

Upon learning that Cheney had two kindergarten teachers, the White House issued a belated breakfast invitation to Harney on Wednesday.

The fact that Cheney switched schools that year also answers several questions, including why Van Neste, who had 90 students in her two kindergarten classes that year, doesn't really remember the young vice-president-to-be.

But Harney remembers him vividly.

Sometime after the start of classes in 1946, a new student, Richard B. Cheney, was added to her class roster, giving her about 30 students.

"I know he came in late because I had his enrollment card in a separate place," Harney said.

From that first day, "he looked like he would be a real leader."

"He just took over," she said.

During an unplanned fire drill, "Dick ran right over and opened the door - and it wasn't even his day to be the helper. He just got everybody going and then stepped in line.

"When we came back to the room I didn't remember where I had stopped (in the book she was reading)," Harney said. "Dick opened the book and showed me exactly where to begin reading. - I think he could read, and we didn't teach reading in kindergarten then."

Cheney was also diplomatic.

"The children were building with blocks and it was either Billy or Bobby who had built something and someone had knocked it down. The boy looked like he was ready to cry," she said. "I remember Dick going over there and saying 'I'll help you fix it' and there were no ill feelings."

She also remembers other things about the boy who she believes may one day be president of the United States.

She remembers the blue satin, embroidered lingerie hanger Cheney's mother made for her the Christmas of 1946. Harney's daughter, Patti Harney Gregoline of Chicago, now has it.

She remembers attending, at Cheney's invitation, the February 1992 Statehood Day banquet where Cheney, then the secretary of defense, received the 1992 Distinguished Nebraskalander Award. A framed 8-by-10-inch picture of Sylvia and Herman Harney with Dick and Lynne Cheney holds a prominent spot in the Harney home. The Harney daughters each have Cheney's autograph, and a copy of a note written to daughter Kathy Harney:"Your mother was a great teacher - Dick Cheney, Feb. 29, 1992."

Harney also likes to tell the story of how in 2000, her granddaughter Emma Gregoline convinced her Chicago first-grade classmates to recast their votes from Al Gore/Joe Lieberman to George Bush/Dick Cheney because "my grandma taught Dick Cheney."

In the next class vote Bush/Cheney won by a landslide.

Harney isn't surprised he eventually won the real election.

"He is very smart," she says with teacher pride.

"He was just a model citizen in kindergarten and he appreciated everything."

And now it's Harney and Van Neste's turns to be appreciated by the former kindergartner who became the vice president of the United States.

Reach Erin Andersen at 473-7217 or eandersen@;

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments