Trio of teachers honored with Crystal Apple award




Rod Willis has seen many changes in education.

"Things have changed, but kids have not," he said, accepting a Crystal Apple award Thursday night.

Willis was one of three Crystal Apple winners, along with Adam Cassellius, a social studies teacher at Garden City High School, and Andrea Baker, a teacher in the 4-year-old program at Garfield Early Childhood Center.

The teachers, all from USD 457, were presented their Crystal Apples in an awards banquet Thursday at the Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave.

Other finalists included Diane Smith, Buffalo Jones Elementary School; Emily Hamlin, Holcomb High School; and Debbie Adler, Jennie Barker Elementary School.

Willis, a math coach at Buffalo Jones Elementary School, has been in education for 45 years.

"I am blessed to have an occupation where everyone is happy to see me when I walk in the room," he said.

Cassellius thanked the district officials, fellow teachers, his principals and the GCHS staff.

He also thanked his parents, who were in town from Cassellius' hometown of Glenwood City, Wisc., to attend the event.

He also thanked his students.

"I have great kids in Garden City. They're energetic, curious — they do amazing things," he said.

Baker thanked God and her family, her fellow teachers and Garfield staff.

She also thanked her students and their parents.

"I'd like to thank the students and parents that I've had the privilege working with the past 13 years. Parents, thank you for entrusting your child with me for a few hours each day. You are your child's first teacher, and you've allowed me to partner with you to help build a foundation for your child's educational success," she said.

Willis moved to Garden City in 1968 and first started teaching sixth grade at Alta Brown Elementary School. He taught there for 16 years before getting a master's degree in counseling. He served as a school counselor for a year and then went back into the classroom as a sixth-grade teacher at Alta Brown. He then earned a second master's degree in administration and served as principal for six years. Willis lives in Garden City with his wife, Dorothy. They have two daughters, Dierdre Haupt, Scott City, and Emily Buller, Topeka.

Cassellius is a third-generation educator. He has been teaching in the district for seven years, and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He met his girlfriend, Briana Hilliker, an interventionist at Georgia Matthews Elementary School, at new teacher orientation. She also is from Wisconsin.

Baker is a graduate of Emporia State University. She taught preschool in Liberal for three years and is in her 11th year teaching preschool in Garden City. Baker and her husband, Will, live with their four children in Holcomb. Their children are Addisyn, 11, Ashlyn, 9, and 5-year-old twins Alodie and Weston.

The Crystal Apple Teacher Recognition Program was started by the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce in 1994 to honor outstanding teachers in Finney County. The first awards were presented in 1995.

The winners were presented with an engraved crystal apple, a laptop computer by Cox Communications and a $1,000 cash award. The three other finalists were given $250 each and a certificate of accomplishment.

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