Friday, August 13, 2021

Longtime Windham teacher honored by Community Service Award

Pat Wilson taught for 29 years at Manchester
School in Windham and in retirement has
spent years volunteering for non-profit
organizations in Westbrook. On Aug. 18, 
Wilson will be honored with the 2021
Highland Grange Award at the Highland
Lake Community Center. 
By Collette Hayes

Former Windham teacher Pat Wilson has devoted her life to the service of others and for her efforts in making a difference for so many, the Highland Lake Grange is recognizing her with the 2021 Highland Grange Award.

The honor is given to Westbrook residents who have made a significant difference in the lives of others through community service. To celebrate her accomplishments, grange members present her the award at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 18 at the Highland Lake Community Center.

According to Larry Levesque, a Highland Lake Grange member, the Grange Service Award salutes an individual who makes a significant difference in the lives of others, and he said Wilson fits that description perfectly.

Levesque said that Wilson has devoted a lifetime to the service of family, friends and the Windham and Westbrook communities. Over the last several years she has donated many hours-of-service volunteering one day a week at the Westbrook Community Center in Cornelia’s Closet, the thrift store in Westbrook and after seeing a need for volunteers at the Westbrook Community Center’s food pantry, she started volunteering there one day a week as well.

Just the other day, sitting next to the large windows in her kitchen during an afternoon thundershower, she talked of just that. She had spent the last few months collecting bundles of clothes that were now piling up to overflowing in her closet.

“I wanted to take the bags of clothes over to the thrift store today,” she said, “but with this unexpected rain, I will have to put it off until another day. For the last several years, I have taken my personal jewelry over as well. I love to see how happy it makes the customers at the thrift store to receive something so beautiful.”

Her sense of goodness draws many to her which is evident when she talks of how the customers at the food pantry invite her to attend their luncheons and are anxious to sit and talk for a while whenever she is volunteering at the pantry.

Her former students at Manchester Elementary, where she taught for 29 years, feel the same way. Today they have grown to adults, and many follow her on Facebook.

She said that she set high expectations for each one of her students and tried to individualize instruction to meet their specific needs.

“When I was teaching, every day I would try to find something fun and interesting to include in my lesson plans, something to be sure each student would learn and grow.”

Now many years later, she still tries to meet those individual needs of her former students by posting things she thinks they might be interested in learning mixed with a lot of humor. 

“They need humor to survive in this challenging world,” she said, as a beautiful smile lightened her face. Looking out the window to the rain, which now had turned to a heavy downpour, she reflected on one of her only regrets as a teacher. “I wish I would have had more time to get to know a lot more about each one of my students so I could have better prepared them to meet their life challenges.”

In 1998, Wilson retired from teaching to take care of her husband who had suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. Her husband enjoyed traveling, and Pat was by his side each step of the way helping him to enjoy the things he loved to do.

Her daughter, Kathleen Burkhart, shared insight into how much Pat loved her dad and her dedication to him.

“Mum’s time was dedicated to Dad and his needs and the groups he belonged to,” Burkhart said. “She was a fantastic caregiver for 29 years. Yes, 29 years with him in a wheelchair.”

Burkhart also spoke of ways that her mother has served in the community.

“Many years ago, Mum started the Westbrook Festival of Trees in my grandmother’s name, Beatrice Elwell, because gram loved Christmas so much,” she said. “The charities that were recipients of the donations have been Westbrook Police, Tots for Tots, Mission Possible, Animal Refuge League, camperships for Pilgrim Lodge and Westbrook Warren Congregational Church.”

After retiring from teaching, her mother volunteered with the Cumberland County Retired Educators Association writing the newsletter and working to help get better benefits for teachers and retirees,” Burkhart said.

Following her mother’s death, Wilson volunteered at the hospital where her mother spent the last weeks of her life. She has been a member of the Westbrook Warren Congregational Church since she was 11 years old and has served on the Christian Education Board and the Deacons Committee at the church for many years.

About five years ago, Wilson worked with a local, young Somalian man to help get his family to the United States. She started by paying him to do odd jobs and eventually made a large donation to his cause.

Even though on a Friday afternoon, many years ago, Wilson closed the door for the last time in her fifth-grade classroom at Manchester School, she still continues to inspire us through the example of the often-forgotten principles of empathy, compassion and service. <

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