Ms. Dyer and her 1963-64 Madison Meadows Elementary School fourth grade class (photo courtesy of Gloria McDonald).

It was the fall of 1963 when, unbeknownst to them, a group of top-of-their-class fourth-graders from Madison Meadows Elementary School were about to embark on a 60-year (and counting) relationship. The school was K-8 back then, and former student Barbara Lewkowitz introduced their story at a March 26 Madison District Governing Board meeting.

“When we entered fourth grade and went into our classroom, we knew it was going to be something really special,” Lewkowitz recalled, “because we had this incredibly vivacious, wonderful and really beautiful young woman as our teacher. And I think that every boy fell in love with her, and I can vouch for the fact that every young woman in that classroom looked up to her. And I’m sorry, I just can’t call her Joy, I have to call her Ms. Dyer.”

Joy Dyer was born in 1934 in Illinois. Her family moved to Arizona and Dyer graduated from North High School in 1952, and then graduated from Arizona Teacher’s College (now Arizona State University) in 1957. She first taught in Pomona and San Diego but then applied to the Department of Defense to teach on a base in Heilbronn, Germany. She was newly arrived back in the U.S. when she landed the job at Madison Meadows in 1963.

Another former student, Gloria McDonald, picked up the story in April.

“We were her first fourth grade class at Madison Meadows,” McDonald said. “There were a total of 35 students. Many of us had tracked together since kindergarten at Meadows. Most of us continued on to Central High School, Xavier and Phoenix Christian High School.

“A growing Madison Elementary School District changed Meadows to fifth to eighth grades, and Madison Simis became a K-4. Dyer moved to teach third grade at Simis and retired from teaching fourth grade there in 1994.”

A surprise retirement party was held at Simis, with many of her 1963 fourth grade class in attendance, and they have kept in touch with each other and with their teacher over the years.

“Each birthday and Mother’s Day, we send well-wishes to Joy Dyer,” McDonald said. “She is, after all, a second mother to many of us.”

Joy Dyer (front, right) was joined by many of her original Madison Meadows fourth-grade class in March as they celebrated her 90th birthday and their 60th anniversary reunion (photo courtesy of Gloria McDonald).

The class, which includes artists, professional musicians, attorneys, doctors, scientists, teachers, librarians, contractors and business professionals, held major reunions in 2007 and 2014, and on March 19 of this year, 21 of them came together to celebrate their 60th anniversary class reunion and their beloved Ms. Dyer’s 90th birthday.

When McDonald reached out to former classmates asking them to talk about how Dyer impacted their lives, it was clear that the teacher’s positive influence has stayed with the students these past six decades. The accolades were many, the inspiration and love evident.

As the teacher was recognized by her former students and the governing board on March 26, Madison Superintendent Kimberly Guerin said, “Joy Dyer’s years of service and continued impact on the lives of her students is a shining example of the care and dedication Madison staff have for our students.”

For her part, Dyer was astounded by how her students have remained connected.

“I can’t believe, after all these years, that these are still my kids,” she told the gathering. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful experience for a teacher to have — from 1963 to 2024…to still be connected.

“They were really tied together. They played together at school; they played together after school in their own neighborhoods, and they were my kids. They were my kids from the get-go, and they are my kids today. And it’s an honor, ladies and gentlemen, to be in this circle with people who are interested in education and connecting with these darling children that we love so much, protect so much and want the best for.”


Joy Dyer

Former students share fond memories

“Our group includes artists, professional musicians, attorneys, doctors, scientists, teachers, librarians, contractors, and business professionals,” Gloria McDonald told us. “We wish each other congratulations on birthdays and other life events. We gathered to mourn the loss of a few classmates.

“We have had major reunions in 2007, 2014 and 2024.  Those in attendance would stand for a photo in the original positions we stood for our class photo in 1963. For this latest reunion in March 2024 observing Joy Dyer’s 90th birthday, 21 of the original students came together at a classmate’s home in Scottsdale — 13 came from out of state, one was present over FaceTime, six couldn’t attend, four have died, and four have not been located … yet.”

McDonald collected memories from her fellow classmates, and this is what they had to say about Ms. Dyer:

“I started my musical journey in fourth grade.  Ms. Dyer instilled the belief in each one of us that we could dream and become something special.  If I could inspire my students in that way, I would consider my life an amazing success.  We are forever grateful to Joy!”  —Steven Tenenbom

“Miss Dyer had a wide collection of wonderful qualities as my fourth grade teacher. She was kind; she was fair; she was firm. Joy stressed the importance of us working hard and learning as her students, of treating each other with kindness and respect at all times; of the importance of discipline, rules, and following them, and the understanding of consequences for our actions, words, and thoughts: both in positive and negative ways. Miss Dyer is one of the biggest and most influential people of my life.” —Steve Adams

“Our class was Ms. Dyer’s first at Madison Meadows and that may partially account for our unique and special relationships. She was an incredibly caring teacher and shepherded us through the emotional impact of President Kennedy’s assassination. She impacted us so much that many of us stayed in contact with her over the years, even those who moved far away from Arizona. Despite our many differences, the respect our class has for her has influenced us to be respectful of each other.” —Holly Dodge

Joy Dyer’s class of 1963-64 gathered for a reunion in 2007 (photo courtesy of Gloria McDonald).

“From kindergarten to fourth grade, our class was made up of essentially the same kids. As a result, we were already a tight-knit group by the time we were in fourth grade, and Miss Dyer was fit right in. Perhaps this closeness also occurred because we experienced the President Kennedy’s assignation together. But whatever the reason, the school administration decided that we were too connected and split our class up the next year. But apparently it made no difference in the end because here we are celebrating Miss Dyer’s 90th birthday with yet another reunion.”  —Kelly Sifferman

“Joy Dyer made a significant impact in my life. Although in grade school I played all sports, I was really bad at it. Joy recognized my artistic abilities and allowed me to stand out in a positive and unique way of which I could be proud. Up until then my design talents hadn’t been recognized.  Although I’m sure I would have inevitably leaned towards art and design later in life, Joy allowed me an early start to build upon, along with the self-esteem, which came with that recognition. She helped me to see that uniqueness could be a plus. I went on in life to become a recognized design executive in New York City, but the seeds of it started in 4Z with Joy.”   —Dennis Decker

“Joy was an extraordinary teacher who knew how to motivate us with such a positive attitude. She supported each one of us and made certain that we supported each other. It was as if we were family and when we see each other after so long a period of time has lapsed, it still feels as though we are family. And she still makes you feel special whenever you see her. Long live Miss Dyer.” —John Hamman

Joy Dyer and her former students have kept in touch over the years (submitted photo).

“To me, I think the class was very special because Ms. Dyer had such an infectious enthusiasm and love for teaching in general and was so inspiring to each student in the class. She made us feel special as we were her first class at Madison Meadows and at the same time, she was keenly aware of the importance of student socialization and set up activities to encourage this which followed us into adulthood. A few classmates tracked most of the class down many years ago and began email chains and scheduled gatherings and the rest is history.” —Linda Deaktor

“It was a special and more simple time when we were at Meadows. With no cell phones to distract us and being around the same classmates for most of our time in grade school, we formed really strong bonds. Miss Dyer (still hard to call her Joy) was the young, no-nonsense teacher that helped us get through some tough times…specifically the assassination of a president for one, and then served as the magnet to draw us all back together again so many years later. It’s been a wonderful experience to be a part of this special group.” —Kim Rogers

“It is rare, indeed, when one person can have such a positive impact on so many young lives.  Ms. Dyer left an indelible mark on each of our lives, and we all feel united as one family.  She motivated and inspired each of us to be the very best we could be, and for that I am forever grateful!  She truly brings us Joy as we gather in her honor!” —Tony Hancock

“Miss Dyer, beyond being a genuinely gifted and kind teacher, treated each of us as individuals — she took us seriously and we felt seen and heard!  We love her and she loves us.”  —Laurel Fisher

Joy Dyer and her former students have kept in touch over the years (submitted photo).

“In the intervening 60 years, I’ve never met another person as genuinely positive and motivating as our fourth grade teacher, Ms. Dyer.  She has had such a positive impact on so many young students starting off their lives, as witnessed by our 1964 class, who still come together from all across the country to celebrate her life and our enduring friendships. As so many of us say, her parents were prescient when they named her ‘Joy.’ We will all love her forever.” —Dr. Wayne Rosen

“Paraphrasing a Biblical verse: ‘We love our teacher, Joy Dyer, because she first loved us.’” —Bryce Rasmussen

“I entered Madison Meadows in first grade when my working-class family moved into the district from an inner city school, and always felt like an outsider until entering Miss Dyer’s class. She taught us the importance and value of cooperative collaborative learning, and me to set and pursue personal goals independent of what others thought — forever grateful!”  —Daniel Lawrence MD, retired family medicine


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