By Dermot Connolly
Schools are finding interesting ways to honor retiring staff as well as graduating students during this pandemic that has made traditional celebrations impossible.
Therese Wittenmeier of Palos Park retired this year after 22 years as a health aide at Jacqueline B. Kennedy School in Burbank, and her colleagues did not want to let the occasion pass quietly. So last Thursday, May 21, dozens of her co-workers traveled in a caravan of cars from Burbank to her home in the Mill Creek subdivision to show her how much she will be missed.
“She is a class act and so loved and we are excited to honor her,” said Catherine Papadakis, a teacher at the elementary school at 7644 S. Central Ave.
After waiting for her son, Charlie, his wife, Staci, and her three grandchildren to arrive, they piled out of their cars with balloons and gifts. They rang the doorbell and gave her a standing ovation as soon as she raised the garage door to see what the fuss was about.
Her husband, Fred, who had just found out about the plan that morning, quickly hung a “Happy Retirement” sign on the front door, and put out a cooler full of refreshments for her co-workers.
“What a surprise. I am so happy to see all of you,” said Wittenmeier, who seemed a bit overcome by the celebration. Most of the faculty and staff had not seen each other in person since schools closed in mid-March and switched to remote learning.
“It wasn’t work. It was so much fun to go to work, and the conversations we had in my office. I am going to miss that. I really am,” said Wittenmeier, standing beside a sign announcing her retirement that her colleagues had planted in her lawn. Just about everyone was wearing masks, and they all stood apart from each other and her.
“It is good to be able to celebrate her. We wanted to have a party but we couldn’t do it. We are all . She always took such good care of our students, and ourselves, really,” said kindergarten teacher Sarah Neshci.
Urszula Kublik, a language teacher at Kennedy, said Wittenmeier was “a joy” to work with for the past 15 years. “She is just a great person.”
Kennedy School Principal Dr. JR Entsminger, as well as former colleagues, including retired teacher’s aide Suad Hanania, also came to wish her well.
“I’m retired, but when I heard about this, I just had to come,” said Hanania. “Therese was a lot of fun to work with and I wanted to see her.”
Wittenmeier said she has no immediate plans for going on any trips, which she said is just as well, considering the current situation.
“I’ll just be at home, hopefully relaxing,” she said.
“I am very happy for her. She deserves it. But nothing changes for me. I will still be working. Maybe that is good,” joked her husband, Fred.