This vivacious group of retired Woodlands Elementary educators and staff never stops sharing in fellowship and friendship
The dining room of Peggy Robison’s Sanford home swells with joy as retired Woodlands Elementary teachers and staff gather for their monthly lunch group.
There was much to talk about, and this intimate circle of ladies was buzzing to share during their most recent luncheon. Peggy, unanimously hailed as the group’s leader, sat at the head of the table ready to get things rolling. She opened with a daily devotion, Ruth 4:15: He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age, a wink-and-a-nod to the ladies’ impressive longevity. Most of them retired from their careers at Woodlands Elementary School decades ago. Peggy then followed up with a hilarious yet revelatory story she found about a senior tennis match.
“It was a dark day when I arrived at my first senior tennis match, yes senior, as in over 55. The two gals my partner and I were playing sure didn’t look like seniors,” Peggy read with gusto, pausing at all the right moments. “They looked like hard-bodied, uber-energetic 30-year-olds who’d forgotten their moisturizer that morning. Until you got up close enough to see a few crow’s feet, you’d never know these trim, ponytail, cellulite-free gals had passed their potty training years.”
The ladies all laughed in sync.
It was this combination of Peggy’s teacher-like, storytelling delivery and the group’s shared sense of humor that made it obvious how special this group is, and how much everyone loved each other.
On the first Monday of every month for the last 15 years, this small cadre has gathered and made it a point to remain friends forever. The group consists of former teachers, administrators, a food services manager, and longtime substitutes with almost 500 years of combined experience at Woodlands. They’re an inclusive bunch that’s open to welcoming all former Woodlands employees.
“We all met at Woodlands, and it was like a moment in time when we all became family,” says Peggy, who former students and colleagues will remember as Peggy Ellingsworth. “It’s as if something was in the air at Woodlands that made it a happy place to work. When people started retiring, we made a promise to get together more often and make time for each other.”
A promise that, to this day, has yet to be broken. Peggy has never cancelled a meeting. Even if she was lying sick in bed or not home, the group still convened at Peggy’s house.
“If we stop, we’ll lose our momentum, and the group knows you dare not make an appointment on the first Monday of the month!” Peggy jokes. “In life after retirement, we’re busier than we’ve ever been. We sometimes wonder how we had time to work.”
Over the years, the group has made lasting memories celebrating everything from weddings, birthdays, children, successes, grandbabies, and great grandbabies to celebrating the life of friends loved and lost. The monthly gathering’s roundtable format ensures that every member has a chance to share, unburden, tell a joke, or go down memory lane. Good, bad, or indifferent, nothing goes unheard.
One member shared about her husband’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease and thanked Peggy for keeping the group going. Another member, Ailene Turner, gave updates on her children and grandchildren. Denise Contino couldn’t believe her son was turning 40. Sandi Homan shared about her husband’s battle with cancer and their upcoming 50th wedding anniversary. Through the ups and downs, the group has never failed to be a consistent support system.
“When the chips are down, this group comes through,” says Norma Colandreo, who started as a frequent substitute teacher at Woodlands and went on to be on staff with Exceptional Support Services with Seminole County Public Schools. “If you need prayers, they’re going to pray. They will always be there for support.”
What makes this group of educators so unique is that many of them have swapped students, or even taught each other’s children. They’ve witnessed multiple generations develop right before their eyes.
“Sometimes it’s like... I taught your kid and you taught mine, or I taught your grandkid,” says Linda Henderson. “It’s very neat. We also love that the profession comes full circle when running into former students or having the pleasure of teaching with a former student. It’s a triumph.”
With such a longstanding passion for education, it’s hard to ever truly stop teaching. A handful of the ladies continue to substitute or volunteer at local schools.
“Sometimes I’m talking to my husband and he says, ‘You’re not in the classroom. I’m not one of your students,’” Peggy chuckles. “And I laugh, because I know this group gets it.”
Woodlands Elementary may look very different today compared to its humble beginnings, but its powerful hold on this group of retired educators is strong.
“The camaraderie we found at Woodlands has carried us through and kept us glued together,” says Peggy. “We made a special bond there and can share it through all the special times in our lives.”
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