Teachers receive a surprise grand farewell

  • Williamsburg School Board member Keira Durrett shares a hug with Johanna Korpita at the retirement ceremony for Korpita and five other teachers on Friday afternoon. FRAN RYAN

  • Retiring teachers appear with their "Academia Awards." From left: Amelia Wright, Susan Milsom, Nancy Forster, Nancy Millett, Mary Jane Long and Johanna Korpita. FRAN RYAN

  • Teachers board a float made in honor of their retirement for a celebratory tour around Williamsburg on Friday. FRAN RYAN

  • Anne T. Dunphy School second-grade teacher Johanna Korpita talks with Sarah Hultman, left, and Kaydence Braman during a "Living Museum" that her class put on in the cafeteria of the Williamsburg school, May 19, 2016. Korpita was one of six retiring teachers feted at the school on Friday. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Monday, June 19, 2017

WILLIAMSBURG — Staff and faculty at the Anne T. Dunphy School threw a surprise celebration Friday for six longtime teachers who are retiring this month.

The retirees, thinking they were attending a simple retirement ceremony at the school, were taken completely off guard by the fanfare and pageantry that awaited them, along with parents, students, friends and town officials.

The event began with a celebratory ride through Williamsburg and Haydenville in the Fire Department’s new fire engine, followed by a well-attended program with awards, a video presentation, and songs from the students.

Yet that was not all. Before attending a reception in the school’s cafeteria, the teachers were brought outside where they were met with cheering crowds and a tropical-themed float made just for them.

Though the weather was rainy, the six women were presented with colorful umbrellas as they boarded the float, which brandished the phrase “Just Retired.”

Escorted by a police cruiser with flashing lights, blaring siren, and driven by Police Chief Denise Wickland, the float circled through Williamsburg as well-wishers cheered, blew horns and whistles, shook pom-poms and applauded the highly respected educators.

The retiring teachers included Johanna Korpita who had taught for 31 years at the Dunphy School; Mary Jane Long, 30 years; Nancy Millett, 32 years; Amelia Wright, 24 years; Nancy Forster, 18 years; and Susan Milsom, 17 years.

“These teachers had often teased that when they leave the school, they want to leave on a float, so we decided to grant them their wish,” Principal Stacey Jenkins said. “It was definitely a community effort and everyone pitched in. I think things went fabulously despite the rain.”

Some parents and grandparents came to the event with placards sporting slogans of good luck.

“This was fantastic!” said parent Eric Schmitt of Williamsburg whose son Nolan, 11, goes to the school, while son Caleb, 15, is a former student.

“This has always been a close community and the school is such a large part of that,” he said.

During the program, members of the School Committee presented the teachers with their own “Academia Awards” in categories such as Best Director, Best Supporting Teacher, and Best Supporting Player in Every Conceivable Role.

Each award came with its own golden Oscar-style statuette.

“This is just overwhelming and my heart is full of gratitude,” Wright said. “I have been so lucky to have worked here and I can’t think of anything that I would have rather done over these years. It has been very rewarding.”

Wright said she now hopes to spend more time with her family and friends and “go on new adventures like I did when I was 20!”

Long said she hadn’t really had time to think about how she was going to enjoy her retirement, but said she was exceedingly touched by the send-off.

“This was fabulous and it really let us know just how much the people of Williamsburg love all of us,” she said. “You don’t think about that on a day-to-day basis, but this said it all.”

Long, who has spent her entire career at Dunphy, described the school as a friendly and supportive environment.

“You walk into this school and no matter who you are, people are welcoming and willing to help you,” she said.

Unlike Long, Milsom said she had already started her list of what to do next, which included, swimming, dancing, playing piano, and boning up on her French and Italian.

“Williamsburg is a very special community. It has been a privilege to work here with these kids, the supportive families and great staff,” Milsom said.

Millett was also at the Dunphy School for her whole career. When asked what she would be doing with her free time, she flashed a big smile and said “Anything I want!”

“This is an unbelievable community to work in,” Millett said. “And that was quite a send-off. It was a big surprise to us and it’s very overwhelming,” she said adding that she will miss the children and her colleagues.

At the reception the women were surrounded by members of the community including many older children and adults who had attended the school and returned to wish their former teachers well.

“Sometimes I go to events in the Hilltowns and I realize that I taught 90 percent of the people there!” Korpita said as former students and parents came up to give her hugs.

Forster said she had enjoyed her time at the school, and like all of her colleagues, lauded the close-knit community and its support of the school.

With her newly gained free time, Forster said, she will be helping out a lot more on her family alpaca farm.

While the mood at the event was celebratory, people also felt the heartache of the bitter-sweet event.

Many eyes were filled with tears and some found it difficult to speak without getting choked up.

“These educators will be incredibly missed — they have had such an impact on this school,” said teacher Jennifer Black, fighting back tears. “They hold so much history, commitment, and so much heart, it is just really hard to talk about right now.”

Friday’s festive farewell was clearly a happy surprise for the retiring teachers, but it was also an example of the esteem in which the citizens of Williamsburg hold their educators.

“This is really amazing. This is what a small community is all about, everybody coming together to give them a send-off that they deserve,” Wickland said. “I know they will get more great teachers, but the school will not be the same without them.”