Past and present families, teachers and staff of James Gray Kindergarten gathered to farewell head teacher Eleanor Wilder last Friday 23 April, sharing many hugs, tears and fond memories.
Eleanor has retired after 22 years in her role but will continue working as a reliever.
She was gifted a korowai (cloak) lined with fundraising teatowels and adorned with feathers and leaves crafted by her students.
Former students Olivia Brienne and Anna and Max Crouchman thanked Eleanor for the difference she had made to their lives before teacher Jen Franklin and teacher aide Aimee McBean added collegial perspectives.
Jen shared memories and praise from Eleanor’s former colleagues, who remembered her “guitar, artistic flair, love of nature, great sense of humour and so much more” and sent warm wishes for her retirement.
Aimee said Eleanor had given 36,960 hours to the kindergarten, but that was just the paid time.
“When you start to add up the countless unpaid hours, you start to get a feel for what this woman has done for our children and our community,” she said.
Addressing Eleanor, she said: “Your old-fashioned work ethic and high expectations have been sometimes exhausting, but this place would not be what it is without them. We cannot thank you enough for your warmth, love and dedication to this role.”
Waikato Kindergarten Association CEO Maree Stewart acknowledged Eleanor on behalf of her organisation, highlighting the infrastructure improvements that had been made at James Gray thanks to the “countless hours” she had put in.
Among the day’s guests were Sabine Lang and her daughter Hannah, who started James Gray in 2007.
“We had just arrived from Germany and Eleanor welcomed us so warmly it made us just feel at home to a point where we decided to look for a house here in Cambridge, not in Hamilton,” Sabine said.
Hannah, now 18, said Eleanor had made a big impact on her and her sister’s lives.
“She’s just a very special character and she always put all her creativity into making our time here as nice as possible,” she said.
Phoebe Gerritsen seemed to sum up the feeling amongst the gathered guests about her former teacher.
“She’s the best!” she said.