BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Sixteen faculty and staff from the Niskayuna School District received a grateful send-off at the yearly retiree recognition night Tuesday, June 9.
As friends, family and colleagues watched, administrators warmly thanked each retiree in turn. They told amusing stories, recalled professional highlights and wondered how they’d ever get by without the people they’d come to rely on.
“This is an incredibly talented group of educators we have to say goodbye to tonight,” Rosendale Elementary School Principal Jean Winkler said before reading the remarks she had prepared.
Throughout the ceremony, when each retiree signed the district’s register and was offered a red rose, hugs and handshakes, longtime Niskayuna employees were recognized not just for the children they helped, but for the professional and personal achievements they reached.
“I’ve admired your career for a long time,” Niskayuna High School principal John Rickert told special education teacher Donna Baumgartner, who will depart the district after 23 years of work.
“You are tremendous at your craft,” he told Niskayuna High School teacher Patricia Black, whose career with Niskayuna has stretched 20 years.
Karen Rion, a teacher at Craig Elementary School, was lauded not just for her 28 years of service to the district, but for coming back over and over after taking time off periodically to care for her family.
The retirees honored at the ceremony supported struggling students, pushed the academically strong, kept track of every administrative detail, inspired seniors to pursue careers in art and the sciences, beautified the grounds and sports fields, and much more. But as the retirees snacked on pastries in the Van Antwerp Middle School lobby after the ceremony, their perspective was forward-facing.
“I’m ready,” said Black, in her last few days as a biology teacher.
“It’s bittersweet,” she added. “I’ll miss the kids, but I won’t miss the grading.”
Black said she planned to travel, relax, and visit her grandchildren in Pittsburgh.
Deborah Houlihan, who is moving on from the school district after 32 years as executive secretary, reflected on the things that had changed since she first took the job.
“If you think back 32 years ago, it was hard for a woman to get a job, a single mother,” she said. “When I came here, our machine did one copy at a time.” She recalled starting her electric typewriter 45 minutes before the school day started, so it could warm up.
Houlihan also grew up in Niskayuna, and her interviewer when she started working for the district was her former school principal.
“I’ll miss getting up and coming to work and greeting everybody,” said Houlihan, who Assistant Superintendent Lauren Gemmell referred to as an “unsung hero” in her speech.
But she, too, was looking to the future, especially spending time with her friends and her two dogs, terrier mixes Franklin and Willie.
“All the secretaries that are retired, they luncheon monthly,” Houlihan said. “Now I’ll be able to join them.”