More than 40 years later, an award-winning attorney reunited with the teacher who went above and beyond to help her overcome severe struggles during grade school in Kentucky.
Ana Reyes tells PEOPLE she has wanted to reach out to Pat Harkleroad over the decades after the former first-grade teacher at Wilder Elementary School in Louisville helped her learn English as a 6-year-old.
"It has always been with me that a teacher came to school early every morning to help me but I did not remember her name," says Reyes, 46. "I've thought about that countless times over the years and discussed it with many friends. I know I was incredibly lucky."
It wasn't until a recent encounter with a friend's daughter that Reyes decided to take action and reconnect with Harkleroad. And when the moment finally came on Friday, the two were overcome with emotion.
"Being able to say thank you to someone who changed my life felt so meaningful and uplifting," says Reyes. "And realizing that Mrs. Harkleroad is just as wonderful as I remembered her was very affirming. I know I will never forget the day."
Adds Harkleroad, 77: "I knew I had a job to do, and I wasn't gonna let this girl fall through the cracks. She was willing to work hard and do all the things that made her successful, and with her success, it made me also feel successful."