Lee Elementary rolls out red carpet for Rosalie McCollum

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PHOTOS | Rolling out the red carpet for Rosalie McCollum

LEE — Rosalie McCollum isn't a movie star, but she was treated like one on her last day at Lee Elementary School.

McCollum arrived Hollywood style on Thursday morning accompanied by three long-time friends. Hundreds of students and staff wildly cheered as she stepped out of the stretch limousine and onto a red carpet rolled out by brothers, 1st-grader Darren and 2nd-grader Mitchell Keenan.

Her adoring fans started chanting, "Rose-a- lie, Rose-a-lie."

McCollum worked her way through the crowd to the main office, finally seated at her desk for the final time after greeting children, teachers and visitors for four decades.

A bit overwhelmed by the surprise welcome, the school's secretary wiped away the tears of joy knowing she still had a job to do.

"I don't want the kids to see me cry," she said. "I feel I need to do a few minutes of work."

After 42 years of writing up late passes for students, tracking down substitute teachers and generally making sure things ran smoothly each school day, McCollum has retired leaving behind a legacy of warmth, giving and compassion that can't be replicated.

"Her job, any one will learn it, but she treats the kids like no other," said Pat Consolati, McCollum's friend since they were eight years old.

Thursday's day-long celebration included constant visits from students, staff and friends dropping off cards, flowers and gifts throughout the morning. Faculty and staff hosted a luncheon for McCollum in the teachers lounge, followed by a school-wide assembly in the gymnasium featuring a slide-show of what life was like when the town's newest retiree was hired in October of 1974.

McCollum earned $2.65 per hour.

Bell bottom pants were in vogue.

Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You" was the #1 song in America.

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As the pay scale rose and clothing styles and music tastes changed, McCollum was the constant, always caring about the children by giving them snacks if they forgot to bring some or simply lending an attentive ear.

Eight-year-old Elliot Garofoli will miss his visit with Miss Rosalie.

"She laughs at my jokes," said the second-grader.

McCollum's kindness has left a lasting impression on the children, such as 12-year-old Maguire Roosa.

"When I was really young, she gave me a toy car. I still have it," said the sixth-grader.

McCollum also made new teachers and incoming administrators feel welcome. When Lee Elementary School teacher Kate Retzel was promoted to school principal seven years ago, McCollum helped make the transition a smooth one.

"She's been a godsend for me," Retzel said. "When I was learning the job of principal, she took care of everything else."

McCollum's affect on the school was such that organizers of "Rosalie Day" had 27 volunteers help plan the event.

"I ran out of jobs," said physical education teacher Janet Warner.

"We also had a separate retirement party for Rosalie ... I had to turn people away. That's how special she is to everybody," Warner said.

McCollum will still keep her part-time job at Country Curtains, spend more time with family and friends and continue her giving ways as she's involved in the local holiday charity, "Dreams of Joy."

McCollum briefly had second thoughts about retiring after Thursday's outpouring of love and affection, but said it's time to leave a place she'll always hold dear to her heart.

"You can feel the love [here,]" she said. "Bottom line, it's all about the kids."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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