AUBURN — Dorothy Darling Gatchell will forever be loved and remembered by her family and friends. But it’s likely the littlest people in the Twin Cities will miss the 74-year-old retired Auburn schoolteacher, as well.
What kid wouldn’t miss Mother Goose?
“She was such a delight. The kids were just plain enchanted by her,” said Deb Cleveland, children’s librarian at the Auburn Public Library. “She always made you smile. You always knew it was going to be a fun visit when she came into the children’s library.”
Gatchell is probably best known for entertaining thousands of youngsters over the years dressed as Mother Goose, telling stories in public libraries and classrooms throughout the area. The Auburn woman died Tuesday at Central Maine Medical Center following a sudden illness.
The storyteller spent much of her career as a teacher in Auburn public schools. During her time there she taught kindergarten, pre-kindergarten and the former transitional class that served as a bridge between the two. She also worked at the district’s central office where she helped develop the school system’s early childhood education program. She was an instrumental part of Auburn’s former Annie Woodbury School, which took a more hands-on approach to education.
“Dorothy was always an outreach person. She was always out to help people,” said Barbara Hardison, former principal of East Auburn Elementary School, the school where Gatchell spent her last years teaching. “She always had children in mind. She had an edge as an educator.”
Gatchell’s “edge” empowered her to connect with students in ways that were amazing, said Ruth Farnsworth, another friend and fellow teacher. The draw for kids, she said, was the way Gatchell brought her teaching style right down to her students’ level by talking with them and joking with them.
Farnsworth said Gatchell finding her “Mother Goose” following retirement came as no surprise. She said her friend and former colleague loved impersonating people as much as she loved the holidays. Farnsworth said one of her favorite stories about Gatchell was the time she came to school dressed as a witch for Halloween.
“She was dressed up like a witch and had the (dry) ice steaming and the kindergartners went into her room to look and were scared to death,” Farnsworth said, laughing as she recalled her fondest memory of Gatchell. “But she took the whole costume off and put it back on again to let the kids know she was a real person.”
That sense of connection with children was something that extended far beyond the classroom. Farnsworth said she would forever remember the way Gatchell would sit on the floor, face to face with her grandson, and hold the boy’s attention for hours with stories and facts.
One of Gatchell’s oldest friends and former teaching colleague, Marilyn Logan, said she, too, was amazed by the way her childhood friend connected with children.
“I was most fascinated watching her with children,” Logan said. “The manner in which she talked to children — she never talked down to them.”
Gatchell’s son, Mark McGowan, said his mother loved to socialize and get involved in her community. For him, one of the qualities he’ll miss the most about his mother is her honesty.
“She was direct, but not in a heavy-handed way,” McGowan said. “She was very honest about her opinions — especially those she was passionate about — and that’s a pretty valuable trait.”