Bernadine Sitts was a legend in her field.

The longtime educator had such a career that Garden City school officials saw fit to name a school in her honor.

Sitts, who died Thursday at 97, will long be remembered for her contributions and not just during the time she was on a school district payroll.

For even after she retired in 1982 after nearly 50 years of teaching, Sitts never was far from education.

She always wanted to know what was happening in schools, and followed the lives of former students she knew from her classroom.

Each year on her Oct. 24 birthday, students and staff at Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center threw a party in her honor, finding a different way to bring her to the festivities. From horse-drawn carriage to helicopter, Sitts always arrived in style on her special day and seemed humbled by all of the attention.

An award-winning teacher honored with the Kansas Master Teacher Award and a place in the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame, Sitts wasn't in education for the praise and accolades.

Nor was she in it for the pay. After all, Sitts once graded papers for teachers for a measly 25 cents an hour.

Her teaching career began in 1933 in McPherson County. She later taught in Lincoln, then arrived in Garden City in 1948 and taught Latin, English and physical education. She also logged 30 years as yearbook adviser.

Sitts' biography at her namesake school touches on her legacy: "She has spent her lifetime helping students, giving her the distinction of 'mothering' generations of Garden City children. Her list of former students who still reside in Garden City ranges from city commissioners to medical doctors, dentists, farmers, architects, bankers, lawyers, teachers and more. Mick Gibson, the architect who helped design the school, is one of Bernadine's former students."

Like so many outstanding teachers, Sitts had a far-reaching, long-lasting impact on her community, which was evident in a letter to the editor she submitted after her 97th birthday celebration:

To my friends of the community:

I do not know how to say "thank you" for all that has been done for my 97th birthday.

First, our newspaper published an article, in advance, telling of the plans of our school to help us to observe the day.

On the special day, at our school, there were many acts of kindness; the music by various music groups of the high school was special, as was the music by the morning choir of our school.

The newspaper, radio and television all did their part to provide information.

On Sunday the friends of my church were so kind to me in so many special ways; during the afternoon, friends of my home, Homestead, expressed special kindness.

And, it surely is not possible to recognize all of those who have sent cards, not only those who live in Garden City, but those former students of the 1940s and after, who now live in Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, Indiana, California, Virginia and Montana.

And then, there were flowers which came from a former student who now lives in Colorado, as well as those which came from friends, here in Garden City.

Thank you, friends in Garden City, for a very special, special 97th birthday.

With deep gratitude,

BERNADINE SITTS

As eager as she was to offer her thanks, a community that still benefits from Sitts' contributions will long owe her a debt of gratitude.

Of course, only a select few teachers will ever see their name on a school.

Yet so many make a difference in young lives. We too often fail to give teachers credit for educating the next generation a job that hasn't become any easier over the years.

We can and should honor educators in many ways. Volunteering at a local school, attending a school board meeting to show support for classroom improvements or directing elected representatives to ensure sufficient funding for schools are but a few ways to do so.

Wonderful teachers like Bernadine Sitts, after all, need more than our thanks. They also need our support.

Email Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.