When something breaks at Bronx Dance Academy School, Anne Murray fixes it — be it a floor tile, light switch or faucet. The Bronx is a world apart from the dairy farm in Ireland she grew up on, but Murray enjoys interacting with the students more than the cows.
“I love chatting with them,” she says.
Murray, 51, of Yonkers, tries to get to know the students, who take some time getting used to her rapid-fire English steeped in a thick Irish brogue. Some ask if she’s speaking Gaelic, she says with a chuckle.
Murray’s father died when she was 20, and she ran the family farm for eight years. She handed it off to her brother in 1992 so she could come to the U.S. in search of stable employment. She had a sister in Queens, so she moved in and quickly found work as a home health aide for elderly patients. At 28, it was her first time away from home.
The job kept Murray preoccupied for the first two months, then homesickness set in. She started having nightmares, she remembered, and called home frequently. “I waited two years to go home for Christmas because I knew I wouldn’t come back,” Murray says.
Things changed when she joined a Gaelic football league. She made friends there, then moved into her own apartment in the Bronx and got a job as a school handyperson at P.S. 95. She learned all her skills as she worked. Murray was at the elementary school for 10 years before she came to Bronx Dance Academy, a middle school, three years ago. She’s still friends with the principal and staff at P.S. 95, which she visits regularly.
Murray’s work hasn’t changed much — she still hates fixing door locks, which can take her three hours to take apart and put back together — but she likes that the students are older. She’s also found a new community of friends in the staff at her current building. She does a boot-camp-style fitness program in Yonkers with one teacher several nights per week, and goes out for drinks with others on occasion.
Murray makes it back to Ireland once or twice a year to visit her 86-year-old mother in County Clare, where she sees all her childhood neighbors wherever she goes. Everybody knows each other there. “That’s the one thing I miss here,” Murray says, and noted her disdain for trips into Manhattan. “Too many people.”
Whenever she returns from one of her three-week vacations, her colleagues and the students have to adjust to her accent again, Murray says: “My brogue gets t’icker.”