The brown envelope arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. The return address showed that whatever was in it was from Simon Korczowski, and that name provoked a lot of wonderful memories. If you're very lucky in this life, you might have a teacher like him.

Inside the envelope was a beige booklet and stapled to it was this photocopied message:

"With compliments from a former teacher who believed that no student should leave his class without having been thoroughly familiarized with one of the most important documents in our American history -- the Constitution of the United States.

"So, during this bicentennial celebration of the writing of this great document, please accept this copy of The Constitution of the Unites States of America. Again, with my compliments.

"Mr. Korczowski."

Simon Korczowski taught American history at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County for 30 years, before retiring in 1981. In the late 1950s, as the United States tried to respond to the perceived educational superiority of the Soviet Union, he was selected to teach the experimental advanced placement history course at the school, then widely recognized as one of the best public high schools in the country. Those early courses were limited to 15 juniors. We used college texts and were taught at that level. The attrition rate was high, but those of us who made it through never forgot the class or the teacher. And he did not forget us. He was at our 20th reunion, a strong, very kindly man who had held his own against time.

He now has leukemia and has been in Georgetown University Hospital for the past five weeks. His wife, Marian, who taught nutrition at Georgetown's school of nursing for 30 years, also has been very ill. Yet Korczowski is sending out copies of the Constitution.

"That's my contribution to the bicentennial," he said during an interview from the hospital. "I must have sent about 250 of them out. The response has been beautiful. I sent them to former students that I could remember, family members, friends and I even sent them to small children to get them started. I don't know how many people at the hospital have gotten them.

"It's one of the three most important documents we have: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It's a guide as to how we should live. It's a written guide and it's there where we can go to it, read it and interpret it. It is such a profound piece of writing in such a small space. You don't have to wade and wade and wade through it. It's there.

"I always tried as best as I could to get my students to relate their own personal activities, their own personal living to the things they study and the things that they learn. I'm very much afraid that after September, {when the bicentennial takes place} that it's going to fade out of existence again and my idea was to get people to have something they could hang onto and read. Some of my friends said, 'I haven't read this thing for a long time and now every so often when I'm sitting around doing nothing, I pick it up and read it for a bit.' That's the idea.

"What was the big thing in 1976? The anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Do we ever think about it? What I'm trying to do is to make the memory of this bicentennial last a little bit longer. Maybe three or four years from now somebody will put out that copy and say, 'Here it is. Mr. Korczowski sent me this.' "

Korczowkski left the Army in 1945 and received a high school equivalency certificate while working in Akron, Ohio. He enrolled in Ohio State and got his master's in history in 1951. He heard through a friend that Arlington County was hiring teachers. He was hired and that summer he and his wife were married. "That's where we've been ever since."

The first essay question on every one of his final exams was this: State fully what Thomas Jefferson said about the nature of man, the nature of man's right and the nature of man's government.

"He said the nature of man is that man is created equal, that man was created with certain inalienable rights coming from his creator, and that governments are set up with the purpose of protecting those rights and get the power to protect those rights from the people. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of those rights, the people have the right and a duty to change or abolish that government and set up one that will do the job for them and use plain words."

Simon Korczowski loves his country, its history and what it stands for. He gave that to his students, and from one who was profoundly touched by him, in plain words, thank you.