SUMNER — Thea Palanza-Parker loves seeing the joy and sense of adventure her kindergartners bring to her class.
“It’s their naturalness and enthusiasm. It’s just precious,” said Palanza-Parker, 59, a resident of nearby Buckfield.
After 34 years in the classroom, with most of those teaching kindergarten or the early grades at Hartford-Sumner Elementary School, she’ll be leaving for retirement, and a whole new life.
During April vacation, she and longtime friend, Phillip Hanood, married. His job has taken him to Virginia and it will take Palanza-Parker there, too.
“It was a big decision to retire,” she said. “But I hope to work in a school (in Virginia) as a substitute or volunteer.”
Palanza-Parker graduated from Deering High School in Portland, and from the University of Maine at Gorham, then earned her master’s degree from Utah State University. She also taught in several schools in the Portland school district before coming to Sumner.
Becoming a teacher was natural for her. She was a Big Sister in college, and worked at summer camps for years.
“There was no question what I was going to do,” she said.
Over the years, she has taught the early grades individually as well multi-grades. For several years, she had a classroom with children in grades 1, 2 and 3. She loved it. And now, years later, one of her former students returns as often as she can to volunteer.
Her enthusiasm for kindergartners is palpable.
“You get them from the beginning. They have an eagerness to learn that is infectious. My one regret is that I didn’t write down all the funny little comments they made,” she said. “And we should believe only 50 percent of what they say.”
Such as the time a child told her that his father had to sleep on the couch the night before. Turns out he had a bad cold and the couch was better for him.
She does have tentative plans to write a book or two once she gets settled. Her collection of ABC books over the years has inspired her to write children’s picture books about the harvesting of crops, such as pumpkins, apples and potatoes, all vegetables grown in the Sumner region. One of her sons is a photographer, so he would supply the graphics.
But this plan is tentative.
She and her husband, who has two years until retirement, want to finish climbing the Appalachian Trail, and to travel. She also hopes to plant more vegetables and flowers.
And she will not cut her Maine connection. She’ll be at the couple’s camp on Worthley Pond, and three of their children live in Maine.
When she cleans out her classroom next month, all the colorful educational materials she has created and collected over the years will remain for the next teacher.
Palanzo-Parker and her husband have a combined family of four adults and three grandchildren.