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McDonald Green dedicates outdoor reading classroom to Kathy Emory

By Greg Summers

    The teacher who had a special love for reading now has a special place in her honor at the school she loved.

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In May, members of the late Kathy Emory’s family, colleagues and friends dedicated the Miss Kathy Emory Outdoor Reading Classroom at McDonald Green Elementary School.

Emory died Dec. 24, 2010, after battling colon cancer for more than two years. She was 52. 

Emory served on the McDonald Green staff for more than 30 years as a fourth grade teacher and media specialist. 

Her dad, Eldridge Emory, said education was the driving force in her life. 

“Her students were her children,” Eldridge said. “She loved each of them as her own, keeping up with them as they grew up. She kept scrapbooks filled with pictures of her students and their accomplishments year after year.”   

One of those former fourth-grade students happens to be McDonald Green Principal Michelle Crosby. Crosby said there was no doubt that Kathy had a special love for her students.

“One of her scrapbooks holds my high school graduation picture and even my wedding announcement that was in the newspaper,” Crosby said.

Kathy was also an avid Atlanta Braves fan who attended more a dozen games each summer with her sister, Christi Emory Brewer.  

But Kathy’s first love was always books, which dated back to childhood when her dad read to her every night.  

Her mom, Perry Lee Emory, said at a young age, Kathy aspired to have a real classroom of her own one day.

By the time she was 6 and reading on her own, Kathy started “teaching” her dolls and stuffed animals to read. 

“She practically lived at the library growing up,” Perry Lee said. “She and Christi stayed in book stores for hours picking out the best books. Many of them were for her classroom.”

This love of books and introducing them to students led her to pursue a master’s degree to become a media specialist. 

It was in this role that Kathy was able to pass along her love of the written word to McDonald Green’s students. She created programs such as a living museum where students would select a well-known person, research them, write an essay about them and then dress as they did to present their character to the classroom.  

Kathy’s living museum received national acclaim and resulted in McDonald Green earning a Scholastic Award for Reading. 

Kathy won $1,000 and reinvested those earnings into the book collection at McDonald Green’s library.

Cancer diagnosis  

 

Kathy was diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2008, but stayed on the job a long as she could. She underwent 16 months of  chemotherapy, which shrunk the tumor in half.

While this was good news for the cancer, her kidneys were irreparably damaged. Stents were inserted three times in an effort to keep her renal system functioning.   

Eldridge said Kathy kept fighting because she was determined to return to the job she loved. Throughout her illness, Perry Lee said the students and staff of McDonald Green kept in touch through cards and notes.  

Her mother said Dr. Gene Moore, superintendent of Lancaster County School District, was especially supportive with hospital visits and phone calls. 

Perry Lee said those connections meant the world to her daughter.

In November 2010, Kathy seemed stronger and managed to walk to the mail box a few times.  

However, that was only temporary and Kathy soon grew weaker.  

She was hospitalized again in mid-December 2010, but made it home for her 52nd birthday on Dec. 23. 

With Christmas being her favorite holiday, her parents were glad Kathy could come home to enjoy the holiday lights and decorations. 

She died quietly on the following day, Christmas Eve.

A family effort

After her death, the McDonald Green staff searched for a way to honor Kathy’s dedication to the school’s students. 

A committee, led by school counselor Shandra Hall, came with a way to make Kathy’s love of reading a permanent fixture at the school by creating an outdoor reading classroom, along with a memorial garden.  

The committee got the entire staff, students and their families involved in the fundraising effort. 

After realizing they didn’t have enough donations to cover the project cost, they contacted Bruce Brumfield, president and CEO of Founders Federal Credit Union.   

The Emory family has a special connection to the credit union. Eldridge, now retired, and a former state representative, served as a Founders vice president before retiring.

Brumfield said he thought the outdoor classroom was a great way to honor Kathy Emory. 

Once Brumfield reviewed the estimates, he said he called Chad Catledge of Perception Builders to see if they could take on the classroom project. 

Catledge not only agreed, but offered his company’s services for only the cost of the materials. 

“After talking with Chad, I decided we (Founders) would fund the entire cost of the construction,” Brumfield said. “This would leave the money they had previously raised to be used toward the memorial garden or any other way they chose.”   

Crosby said the McDonald Green family was elated. No time was wasted and construction started almost immediately.  

While the outdoor classroom was being build, the staff and students designed and planted a memorial garden in the courtyard outside the library. Many flowers were donated.

All this activity was kept secret from the Emory family until the May 25 dedication ceremony when her parents – along with Brumfield, Catledge, Crosby and student library workers Makaylen Crosby, Amber Mungo, Taylor Terry, and Jacob Tillman – officially cut the ribbon. McDonald Green students  Amiya McKinney and Gabriella Waldrop performed a duet and the fifth grade steel drum ensemble played Amazing Grace.  

Teacher Ann Tillman read a special poem she had written in honor of Kathy. McDonald Green Assistant Principal Alysia Joyce, teacher Greta Hough and Stacy Pittman, a media center assistant, presented a memorial plaque to the Emorys.  

“We were so happy to be able to honor Miss Kathy in this way,” Crosby said. “She was part of our family, and this is just what families do.”