Sometimes the best Christmas gift someone can receive is one they give.
Rainsboro Elementary Principal Quincey Gray says that’s how her students and staff felt this week after visiting a longtime teacher who can no longer be with the kids she loves.
Lois Peabody McDorman went back to school when she was 45 and earned her teaching degree.
“She has always wanted to be a teacher. It was the only thing I remember her telling me she ever wanted to do,” said McDorman’s granddaughter, Erica Fudge, who was raised in Rainsboro and now lives in Wilmington.
McDorman started teaching at Rainsboro sometime in the mid to late 1980s, Gray said, and continued to substitute the last six to seven years after she retired. But she was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that forced her to quit teaching earlier this school year.
“She is someone all our kids know. She has been a substitute teacher in every classroom here and in other buildings in the district, her grandson attends here, and we wanted to be able to give her a good Christmas present,” Gray said.
It all started when the Rainsboro Elementary staff started making meals for McDorman and her husband one day a week. When Gray’s turn to take a meal to the McDormans rolled around, the principal said that at the end of the visit McDorman expressed how much she missed the school, the staff and the kids. Those expressions touched Gray, so she decided to do something about it.
“When I left, my first thought was that we could make a video, but that just didn’t seem personal enough,” Gray said.
So she approached superintendent Joe Wills, contacted transportation supervisor Bradley George, then consulted with music teacher Vicki Mikkelson. During parent/teacher conferences Gray explained the idea to the staff, the staff relayed the plan to the students, then letters were sent out to parents.
What developed was a plan for nearly 200 students in grades K-5, plus staff, to visit McDorman’s home to give her a special Christmas present.
This Monday, four busloads of kids, staff and even former staff members from as far away as Indiana pulled into McDorman’s driveway on U.S. Route 50.
“She was just completely overwhelmed, obviously in a good way. Just the fact that so many cared so much to make something like what occurred happen. They showered her with so much kindness,” said Fudge, who was on hand for the occasion with other members of her family – all who had kept the surprise a secret. “When she saw those buses pull into the driveway she just broke down. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience for our entire family, friends that were there, the teachers and the students that were involved. Everyone was just moved to tears.
“I told her, ‘Grandma, this is the legacy you have built.’”
Mickkelson created song books for the students and staff and the group sang seven Christmas carols for McDorman. The staff made baked goods and a large fruit basket for the family, the students wrote letters and gave McDorman photos, and one group of girls created a very large card that was signed by all the Rainsboro students and staff.
Gray said that since none of the students or staff wanted to miss the occasion, Wills handled office duties for the hour or so they were all gone.
“This is the best Christmas present she could have experienced during this time,” Fudge said.
But Gray said it was her students and staff who were blessed.
“It was a way to show the kids what a simple act of kindness can do for someone,” Gray said. “One of the staff members said, ‘We gave Lois a great Christmas gift.’ But I said, ‘Really, we all got a gift that day.’ Because it’s very rewarding to be able to touch someone’s life like that. To see some kids shed tears and the others’ reactions, what a wonderful life lesson for kids.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.