Every year, graduates leave the halls of Stafford high schools to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," diplomas in their hands and confetti in their hair.
But a much smaller class "graduates" quietly from local schools each summer, with a lot less fanfare.
Forty teachers and other school staff members, with a combined 885 years of service to Stafford County and 1,079 years in Virginia schools, retired at the end of this school year. They were honored by the Stafford County School Board last month.
Some plan to continue to work. Others, like Donna Moore, a first-grade teacher at Falmouth Elementary School, plan to travel or spend more time with family.
Moore became a grandmother on July 4 with the birth of her first grandson. She is looking forward to spending lots of time with him. And her youngest daughter lives in California, so Moore would like to visit the West Coast.
"And that honey-do list is just so long," Moore joked. Her husband, Bob Moore, is a 36-year teacher and coach in Prince William county.
Moore graduated from East Carolina College back when women had fewer career options, she said. They were generally nurses, secretaries or teachers. She had friends who were studying to teach, so she decided to give it a try. "The first couple of years, it was a job. Then it was a dedication," Moore said.
Somewhere along the line, she picked up a rubber stamp in the shape of lips. Lips stamped at the bottom of notes and on graded papers became her signature. She met frightened first-graders at the bus ramp the first week of school with directions to her classroom, "Honey, just look for the room with the lips." The lips and the teacher made them smile.
At Winding Creek Elementary School, Ann Smith also provided comfort and reassurance to anxious children, but in a different capacity. Smith retired this year after four years as the school nurse at Winding Creek. She attended to the medical needs of students at Stafford Elementary for four years before that. She began working in Stafford County as a long-term substitute school nurse at Ferry Farm and Widewater elementary schools. Smith worked as a school nurse for six years in Chesapeake before she and her husband, Martin, now retired from the Marine Corps, moved to Stafford.
When Winding Creek opened four years ago, Smith interviewed with principal Bill Kennedy. Kennedy had been at Ferry Farm while Smith worked there. She knew she wanted to work with him again. "I laughed every day when I was at Ferry Farm, and I wanted to do that again," she said.
Her cheerful attitude has served the children who come to her clinic well. "I know I have been a light in the lives of some people," she said. She still becomes a little emotional at the memories of children like one little boy who visited the clinic everyday with one complaint or another. Finally, the little boy confided to Smith that he wasn't really sick at all. He just wanted to talk.
"Every person and every child has a need," Smith said. "People don't understand that school nursing is as complex as it is."
But now, Smith said, it is time for her to move on to other things. Smith plans to continue to teach CPR at Mary Washington Hospital, and she wants to be more available for her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's. She wants to take a class in stained-glass making and possibly a computer class in the fall.
No matter how she fills her days now, Smith is grateful for the experience and education she has had as a school nurse. "It has been a blessing, being a school nurse in the state of Virginia," Smith said.
Having more time to spend with family members is an important part of retirement for Don Siegmund. "I want to have more time with our children," said Siegmund, a veteran of 30 years in Stafford County high schools. His children are 5 and 10 years old. "I don't see any problem filling up my time," said Siegmund, who adds antiques, pottery, plants and cooking to the list of things he wants to explore in his free time. He is also exploring the option of continuing to teach on a part-time basis.
Although Siegmund spent all 30 years of his teaching career in Stafford, he has never been stuck in a rut. He taught at three of the county's four high schools. He was there when Stafford High School opened its doors. His wife, Winona, teaches in the Governor's School program there now. He transferred to North Stafford later, then moved to Colonial Forge when that school opened.
The range of teaching experiences didn't stop there. "I got a little variety into my career by teaching different subjects," he said. The classes Siegmund taught--physics, geometry and English--reflected his own eclectic education. Siegmund attended college at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He studied physics for four years, while majoring in math. His senior year, Siegmund said, he became disenchanted and switched his major to English. He obtained a master's degree in English at the University of Virginia.
He recalls team teaching a class on film at a time when Stafford was allowing students to choose some elective English courses. Neither he nor the other teacher knew anything about film when the course started, Siegmund admits now, but by the time the class was over, he felt it was one of the most valuable classes he has taught because so much of the information students receive is visual.
Another unexpected surprise in Siegmund's career came when he was asked to teach an advanced placement English class at Stafford High School in 1979-1980. It was the first class of that kind. Siegmund said he did not want to teach the class because he didn't believe that Stafford students at that time were capable of doing the required work. But he found that they could.
The academic successes that Stafford students have enjoyed over the years are due, in part, to the talented and dedicated professionals who work in the Stafford School system.
The list of those who, like Siegmund, Smith and Moore, have retired and were recognized by the county at the end of the 2000-2001 school year, also includes: Fred Jacobs, general maintenance, five years; Ken Britton, H.H. Poole Middle, assistant principal, 10 years; Marsha Ponnwitz, A.G. Wright Middle, nurse, 10 years; Paula Jones, H.H. Poole Middle, paraprofessional, 11 years; Don Waldron, North Stafford High, guidance counselor, 11 years; Patricia Lawrence, Colonial Forge High, guidance counselor, 13 years; Patricia Smith, Rockhill Elementary, fifth grade, 14 years; Reginald Bullock, Hartwood Elementary, head custodian, 14 years, recipient of the 2001 Service Excellence Award; Jane Conner, Falmouth Elementary, kindergarten, 16 years; Margaret Akers, Colonial Forge High, account clerk, 16 years; Sharon Qualls, Hampton Oaks Elementary, guidance counselor, 16 years; Caledonia Moore, North Stafford High, biology, 16 years; Delores Zborill, North Stafford High, French, 16 years; Patricia Scherer, Stafford Middle, sixth grade, 20 years; Sandra Louden, Stafford High, account clerk, 21 years; Julie Bove, Stafford High, secretary, 22 years; Theresa Valente, Stafford High, focus, 22 years, coordinator of all of Stafford's Odyssey of the Mind teams and regional OM co-director; Tom Bernardo, Brooke Point High, guidance counselor, 23 years; Susan Morin, Grafton Village Elementary, music, 23 years; Carol Reilly, A.G. Wright Middle, seventh grade, 23 years; Florence VanBuren, North Stafford High, chorus, 23 years; Phyllis Russell, Widewater Elementary, nurse, 25 years; Sarah "Jo" Embrey, Brooke Point High, P.E., 26 years; Betty Simms, Stafford Elementary, paraprofessional, 26 years; Linda Warshaw, Stafford Middle, art and drama, 26 years; Ruth Anne Delaney, Widewater Elementary, first grade, 27 years; Lynn Epes, Gayle Middle, reading specialist, 27 years; Wendell Latham, director of vocational education, 28 years; Frances Pape, Moncure Elementary, cafeteria, 30 years; Bobbie Blalock, Stafford High, English, 33 years; Shirley Sorrentino, Drew Middle, seventh grade, 31 years; Carolyn Young, Falmouth Elementary, fourth grade, 31 years; Ron Beverly, Stafford High, masonry instructor, 32 years; Betty Dameron, Stafford High, French, 32 years; Alice Coates, Stafford Middle, seventh grade, 35 years, Stafford Middle School's Teacher of the Year, 1992-1993; Judith Surles, Stafford Middle, work and family studies, 35 years; and Rose Greco, Ferry Farm Elementary, second grade, 36 years, twice named Ferry Farm's Teacher of the Year.
Staff writer Kim Anderson contributed to this story.