Joseph Spero remembers the first time he interacted with Arthur Gugick, the beloved math teacher at Beachwood High School, who was killed in a March 30, 2019, car crash.
Joseph, now 18 and a senior, was a freshman at the time. He described himself as small, and often changed clothes for cross-country practice in his locker.
As he stepped from his locker one day, Gugick happened to be in the hallway, carrying his bag and preparing to leave the building.
“He looked at me with this face and he was shocked,” Joseph said. “And he was like, I’m going to write about this in my blog.”
Gugick apparently had a knack for making people feel seen – and appreciated. And Joseph, like others, felt that impact, deciding, for example, to take statistics his senior year because Gugick would have been his teacher, if he had lived.
Gugick, 59, and his girlfriend, Barbara Fried Becker, 52, were killed on their way home from the Cleveland International Film Festival and had taken a ride from Uber driver David Caraballo.
Joseph was one of the speakers at the memorial service. He reached out to Gugick’s son, Benjamin, and to his ex-wife, Michelle, and her husband and befriended them, he said.
On Feb. 23, he had a chance to meet Michelle and Benjamin at Beachwood Schools Foundation’s half-day event devoted to Gugick’s memory and to his legacy of LEGO building at Beachwood High School.
Some of Gugick’s 3D creations were on display – the leaning Tower of Pisa and Big Ben among them – as were some of his mosaics. Photographs showed others. Other LEGO artists displayed their works as well, and E.J. Bocon worked with more than 150 people to create a LEGO mosaic portrait of Gugick and his interests.
Bocon, who lives in Kent, designed the image and had people help fill in squares for the mosaic.
“It all ties into things that made Arthur who he was,” said Bocon, who helped found the Northeast Ohio LEGO User Group with Gugick and others.
The mosaic includes images of Cleveland’s Key Bank and the Statue of Liberty, signifying Gugick’s native New York City. Across the top, there is an image portraying the ratios represented by the Fibonacci sequence as a symbol of his field of mathematics as well as an image of the globe, a reference to his travels.
Down the side are flowers, a reference to Gugick’s interest in wildflowers. At the bottom is a bear, the logo of his beloved Grateful Dead; and the Beachwood High School Bison mascot. A ribbon of music references his son Jason, who is studying electronic music production at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and a video camera signifies his son, Benjamin, who has studied video production and marketing.
The mosaic will travel to different Beachwood schools as a way for students to remember Gugick and his contributions and creations.
In the cafeteria, children and their parents sat on the floor building LEGO. Some students sat at a table creating LEGO bracelets. And there were LEGO-shaped cookies to be decorated.
Benjamin Gugick, 22, a senior at the The Ohio State University in Columbus, said it was an honor to have a scholarship named for his father and that he would have appreciated the decision to name a scholarship in his memory. He also said he enjoyed working with two teachers, who had worked closely with his father, to develop criteria for the scholarship winner.
“Our idea was to have it (go to) a kid who is obviously going above and beyond in some way, shape or form that’s creative somehow,” he said. “So my dad built LEGOs. … It was something he was legitimately invested in. It’s also having bigger effects on the community. It’s reaching people. He was passionate about it. That’s the sort of kid – whatever that creative endeavor might be.”
Gugick recalled his father’s first adult LEGO endeavor, a miniature replica of the Highland Heights house, where the family lived. While his father expressed enthusiasm for the project in its early phases, Benjamin remembers that other family members wrote it off.
“That’s probably one of the most impressive things he’s actually made,” Gugick said, “We still have it. That was the only model where he built the entire inside. … The cool thing is, since it was a model of the house that he was building this house in, inside the model, there is a little mini house on the table.”
Gugick said he was pleased to meet LEGO artist Wayne Peltz of Broadview Heights.
Peltz first met Gugick at MOCA Cleveland.
Gugick was displaying his works.
“So we drive out there and look at his stuff, and my mind is blown because he builds in a way where it’s not necessarily all flat,” Peltz said. “It is flat, but it’s got things that protrude. It uses different pieces than I ever thought about using. My mind was racing just thinking of ideas about what I could do next.”
He conversed with Gugick, who recognized Peltz from a story about him in The Plain Dealer.
Gugick became a mentor, Peltz said, helping him with pricing and building design.
“My favorite thing about him was he called me an artist well before I ever called myself an artist,” Peltz said, adding that he was saddened to learn of Gugick's death.
Sanford D. Doss Jr. pleaded no contest in August on multiple charges related to the crash and was sentenced up to 19½ years in prison. Doss was accused of running a red light and driving while intoxicated after his rented Chevrolet Silverado collided with Caraballo’s Nissan Altima at the intersection of Warrensville Center and South Woodland roads. Doss has filed an appeal in the case.
Funds from the Feb. 23 event will support overhead costs of the Beachwood Schools Foundation, which administers more than 26 scholarships.
Alec Isaacson, a Beachwood city councilman who is president of Beachwood Schools Foundation, donned a brightly colored tie with a geometric pattern for the occasion.
“We’ve had a great outpouring of support from the community,” he said. “We’ve raised close to $16,000 for the Gugick Scholarship over the last year and that’s fantastic, and couldn’t have done it without the cooperation of the family, the cooperation of the community and the cooperation of all of our sponsors.”
Spero said Gugick’s impact has been lasting for him.
“I think it’s the best thing ever – that the teachers that aren’t in your main subject are the teachers that have the biggest impact on you,” he said.
He’s decided to teach social studies and is heading to West Virginia State University in Morgantown to study education.
In Beachwood High School’s main hallway, there is a LEGO model of the campus Gugick created.
“I just think that’s so cool,” Spero said. “I see that every day when I walk into school, a constant reminder of the person that he was.”