Glasses clinked, stories were shared and smiles ran abundant as more than 500 community members gathered to honor this year’s Papillion-La Vista School District Hall of Fame inductees at the Gala 2012 Saturday evening.
Six community members were celebrated for their achievements and commitment to the district, including alumni Don Bellino (Class of 1974), Michael Gaddis (‘74) and Merle Dandridge (‘93).
Legendary educator Bob Kremke and community booster Anita Kennedy were also inducted, and the elementary Parent Teacher Organizations were also honored collectively as among the community boosters.
Dandridge said she was taken aback for being selected as an inductee.
“When you’re home — the place the raised you, taught you what you know and the woman that you became — when they choose to honor you, it means more than you could possibly know,” she said.
The gala, she said, marks an critical part to the community’s success.
“When people do such an extraordinary job, I think it’s important to recognize that and I think it’s important to reinforce all the hard work that they do,” she said. “What these educators do day-in and day-out, I cannot even imagine. Knowing how much was poured into me as a kid growing up and how much love and care and nurturing on a daily basis ... that kind of fortitude needs to be honored.”
The evening’s event, while joyful, was not without a sense of sadness as guests mourned the absence of former journalism teacher Shirley Minton, who was inducted posthumously as a legendary educator.
Minton taught journalism at Papillion-La Vista High School for more than nine years before she lost her life in a car accident in March 1999.
Among the cocktail hour, silent auction and entertainment provided during the event, community members found a way to reflect upon and respect Minton’s memory.
John Minton — along with children Wes Minton and Mindy Podraza — accepted the award on his late wife’s behalf. After the family members accepted the award, they were presented with a heartwarming surprise.
Jim Frederick, a district alumnus, took the stage during the induction ceremony to announce the renewal of a memorial scholarship in Shirley Minton’s name to the district.
The memorial scholarship, which had ran out of funding, was re-established after Frederick reached out to alumni on Facebook and the group began accumulating donations once again.
Many of the donors and supported are former students of Minton, Frederick said, who began sharing memories and stories about the teacher as they passed the word along about the scholarship.
“She was probably one of those teachers and one of those people who comes into your life that you never forget,” he said. “She was just so generous in a lot of the thing she did. When we’re put in a more adult world, we’re hoping we could emulate some of the things she would do and be like her.”
Frederick said the revitalization of the scholarship is evidence of Minton’s strong impact on the community, a legacy that will last for years to come. He said he hopes the funds, now sitting around $2,000, can be maintained for as long as possible.
“She impacted a lot of people and it made a difference in a lot of people’s lives, whether they wanted to pursue journalism or not,” he said.
“She was more than just a teacher for many of us — she was there to challenge us and support us and guide us through many things. She felt like a mentor, a friend, someone for us to look up to and aspire to be.”
Podraza said her family is honored and amazed by the love the community has shown for her mother, a testimony she credits to how outstanding a teacher and person her mother was in general.
“It warms my heart and makes me so proud to be her daughter,” she said. “I’m a teacher myself, and it was 100 percent the reason I went into education. Any time a student can actually thank a teacher, it makes me proud.”
The family created the scholarship as a way to use the outpouring of financial donations that they received after Minton’s death. After a few years, the funding ran dry.
Thanks to the support Frederick and others have shown, Podraza said, her mother’s name will live on through students pursuing journalism.
“It was the most perfect way to honor who she was. I had it together the entire time, but when Jim got up there (on stage), I just lost it,” she said. “It’s been 13 years since she passed away, but her legacy and impact still lives on in their hearts.”