Cottonwood ‘stars’ say bittersweet goodbyes

Together, they have more than 100 years of experience in education.

Together, they have more than 100 years of experience in education.

And that’s why the Cottonwood Elementary staff rolled out the red carpet for three special retirees — Dorothy Coleman, Clare Maples and Patricia Ricard.

Principal Paul Nash called them “three fine individuals” as he began his speech at their retirement ceremony on Monday.

The three women — two teachers and one secretary — were welcomed by a sign surrounding their names in lights and a red construction paper “carpet” with the names of former Cottonwood retirees on stars.

Their own stars were glued at the end of the carpet, situated at the entrance of a room filled with friends and co-workers ready to say goodbye.

“We’re all so sad,” said Annette Allen, one of the ceremony’s coordinators. “We’re having such a hard time. When you think of Cottonwood, you think of them — they’re the heart and soul. They have done so much and do so much.”

Throughout the ceremony, the three women shared hugs with former principals they had worked with and co-workers they’d spent countless hours around.

Each woman was given several gifts, including a sentimental “yearbook” filled with photos of their time at Cottonwood and scrawled with shared memories and private jokes.

Coleman spent 34 years with the district, serving her last year as a sixth grade teacher. Looking around at those in attendance, Coleman was all smiles.

“It’s so wonderful to see people from all the different times,” she said of the guests. “It’s really a celebration of relationships with people.”

Maples, who spent 32 years in the district, often listened to others and shared her opinion. Nash noted that Maples “was not afraid to tell you what she thought” and knew he would always get a straight answer when he spoke to the secretary.

For Maples, her co-workers have been “like family” as she dealt with health issues of loved ones over the last few years.

In January, Maples concluded her career at Cottonwood Elementary as the office manager.

“Every one of these people has a story,” said Maples, who had tears in her eyes for most of the event. “It’s a very happy, celebratory feeling, but it’s breaking my heart.”

Ricard spent seven years teaching at Jackson Park Elementary before moving to Cottonwood as a fifth grade teacher. At her 10 year mark, she took on the role of learning specialist.

As thirty-six years of memories came flooding back, Ricard thought about the people surrounding her and what it meant.

“It means a lot. It’s a good example of the community we have,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed, really. These people are wonderful people.”

Like many others in attendance, fellow educator Gail Smith remarked that the three women’s absences next year will be noticeable. Smith noted that some of those in attendance were people who had come back to the school just to say goodbye to the retirees.

“These are top-notch people,” she said. “They’ll be dearly missed.”