Photo of late teacher receives ‘double trip’-to Alaska and Italy

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A photo of Bea Poole, a teacher at Webster Elementary School, who died last November. Bea's husband, Bill, stamped and readied 64 letters with a photo of Bea for mushers to carry on the Iditarod race in Alaska, one of which was lost, found and returned by a man from Italy.

A letter with a photo of late teacher Bea Poole is found on the Alaskan Iditarod trail by an Italian man, who returns the photo to its owner.

By Betty Bailey/Special to The Malibu Times

Since March, Malibu High School woodshop teacher Bill Poole has received 51 letters postmarked from Alaska, each signed by a musher who had run the 2003 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, from Anchorage to Nome. Each letter was enclosed with a photograph of Poole’s late wife, Bea, and had been carried some 1,150 miles through rough terrain and freezing temperatures.

Bea Poole loved the Iditarod and used it as a teaching tool for most of her 17 years at Webster Elementary School. Each year, she would work Iditarod studies into her fourth and fifth grade curriculums for math, science and social studies. Bea had gone to Alaska to watch the Iditarod in 2000 and had hopes of bringing her students with her in future years. When Bea died from lung cancer last November, Susan Cooley, her teacher’s aide of 13 years, led a group of their students and parents to Alaska to see, firsthand, what the Iditarod was all about.

Bill Poole decided to ask the mushers to carry Bea’s photo on their sleds, to symbolize her last trip to Nome.

“I was sitting at the table and I looked at the photo she had given me and wondered if they would carry it,” Poole said. “She’d been so eager to teach this program. I thought they might sign them, knowing that she wanted to be there.”

Poole stamped and readied 64 letters which his neighbor, musher Brian Gabbard, delivered to their carriers. By summer, Poole had received 51 signed cachets back from the trail. He said he figured that was all that would come in. “Then, all of a sudden one afternoon in the mail, another one showed up with a strange stamp on there,” Poole said.

The stamp was from Italy. When Poole opened the letter, he found Bea’s photograph with a note, written in broken English, from a man who found one of Bea’s photographs along the trail.

“Somebody evidently dropped it,” Poole said. “When they’re moving at night and things fall off the sled, they would have no way to know.”

The letter read as follows:

My name is Alex Bellini, from Italy. Two months ago, I was in Alaska and while I was running the Iditarod (by foot!) I found this envelope on the ground in a “no peoples” (sic) zone. I carried it on till Nome, where I had wanted to send it back somewhere. By now, long time later, I am glad to give it to the peoples belongs to. I don’t know anything about Bea but looking at her face I can see a grate (sic) person. I keep this picture in my pocket along the race, that’s why it isn’t in a good shape.

Best regards,

A. Bellini

Poole said he was touched by Bellini’s thoughtfulness.

“I was quite surprised that someone who did not know Bea would make it his responsibility to carry on the task. It was a fumble and he carried it to a touchdown,” Poole said.

Poole said he has written Bellini a “thank you” letter but has not heard back. “I’ve never met the man. I’ve never personally talked to him but this will be one of the highlights for me,” he said. “He not only took her to Nome, he took her to Italy. She got a double trip.”

Poole says not a day goes by when a Malibu High student doesn’t come up to him and tell him what a wonderful teacher his wife was and what a profound impact she had on the student’s life. “That helps a lot,” Poole said.

Bea Poole was revered as a teacher and cherished as a very special person. Even though Bellini had never met her, somehow, he must have known that, too.