10 students read letters to educators that had an impact on them during the 26th annual educator's banquet. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
10 students read letters to educators that had an impact on them during the 26th annual educator's banquet. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Wednesday evening, students and educators from Van Wert City Schools gathered at Willow Bend Country Club to honor teachers who had a special impact on students and those who will be retiring this school year.

“We look forward to this evening of wonderful tributes to our educators,” said Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Mark Bagley. “Educators past and present with the Van Wert City Schools are recognized and appreciated for what they do to prepare the youth for the journey they are about to take.”

During the 26th annual Van Wert City Endowment Fund for Educators banquet, 10 students read letters to teachers that had an impact on them.

Five of the 10 students were chosen because they are at the top of their class, with a 4.0 GPA. The other five students were selected by a committee to share their letters.

The top five students included Jamie Burenga who read a letter to Mary Kramer, Isabella Carr who read a letter to Matt Krites, Elizabeth Rutkowski who read a letter to Jeff Kallas, Sophie Rutkowski who read a letter to Khandiss Klinger, and Rachel Spath who read a letter to Robert Sloan.

The five students selected by the committee were Grace Doctor who read a letter to Michelle Hoffman, Autumn Howell who read a letter to Doug Grooms, Dru Johnson who read a letter to Sarah White, Zach Mason who read a letter to Rachel Gehrlich, and Allison Schaufelberger who read a letter to Julie Bloomfield.

Students spoke about how their teachers had a lasting impact on them. Many pointed to life lessons they taught them or how they supported them through hard times. One story, in particular, especially touched listeners.

Autumn Howell, who read her letter to Doug Grooms, thanked Grooms for saving her father's life by donating a kidney to him.

“My father will watch me graduate this year because you made the decision 10 years ago to give away one of your kidneys to help him receive another chance at life,” Howell explained. “Your choice allowed me to grow up with my father and have a normal childhood. You changed our life for the better and I know no words to express how grateful I am that you stepped into our life.”

High School Principal Bob Priest noted that each senior student writes a letter to a teacher at the end of their high school career, and that, as an educator, receiving the letters is special.

“Although not every educator has the opportunity to be recognized tonight, they will all receive those letters and it certainly has the same impact as what you heard tonight,” said Priest. “To have the privilege to read through those is an honor and talk about feeling so proud to be a part of Van Wert City Schools. We really do have a remarkable set of educators and teammates, and kudos to our students too.”

Several teachers and staff members were honored for their years of service to Van Wert City Schools.

Bagley closed by thanking everyone and noting that the evening was different thanks to COVID, but still very enjoyable.

“The three things we should do every day, I think it happened tonight,” he said. “You should laugh, you should cry, you should think, and I think that probably happened for most of you tonight.”