No. 5: The death of longtime educator Sitts at 97
Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram staff.
BY RACHAEL GRAY
Longtime volunteer, educator and community member Bernadine Sitts died earlier this year at the age of 97.
Sitts died Oct. 6, 2011, just weeks shy of her 98th birthday.
A resident of Garden City since 1948, Sitts had been a longtime educator for the Garden City School District, retiring in 1982.
During the 1996-97 school year, USD 457 opened its two fifth/sixth-grade centers and named one after Sitts.
Sitts remained heavily involved in the school district after her retirement, and had been active in the community. She remained involved with the intermediate center that bears her name, including returning every year for the students and staff of the school to celebrate her birthday.
Sitts spent 47 years at the head of the classroom, and 34 of those were at Garden City High School.
Sitts didn't marry and never had children, but she said in past interviews with The Telegram that she treated each student like her own child.
"I tried to be a mother to all the kids," she said. "I just tried to treat all of them alike and be kind to them, and give them what I felt like they needed."
Her fellow educators remembered her as an encouraging teacher who was devoted to her students.
Charles Stones, another longtime Garden City educator and the namesake for USD 457's other intermediate center, said Sitts was a good friend.
"She always gave people information and encouragement," he said.
Stones said the two were longtime friends.
"She was a very fine teacher. She had an awful lot of activity in the community and school. She served her church and her school very well. She was one of those prize people," he said.
Florence Wilson, fellow educator, said she first met Sitts when Wilson's husband's brother had Sitts as a high school teacher.
"She was so loving and kind. She caused him to have great dreams," she said.
A celebration of life memorial service was held at the United Methodist Church, where Sitts was a longtime member.
Roy Cessna, USD 457 public information officer, said it was Sitts' wish to not interrupt school.
Father David Bell of United Methodist Church shared biographical information about Sitts.
Sitts, who was born on a farm outside McPherson in 1913, dedicated her life to educating and serving others. She earned her teaching certificate from Emporia State College, taught for two years and finished her bachelor's degree. She moved to Garden City in 1948 and taught English and Latin at GCHS. She became head of the English and foreign languages department, and also served as yearbook adviser for 30 years.
Sitts spent summers at Columbia University in New York and earned her master's degree in teaching. On a Fulbright Scholarship, Sitts was able to spend a summer in Rome, according to Bell.
Bell said Sitts won awards, volunteered in the community and spent countless hours at the church.
She wrote and directed the Living Christmas, the nativity story, which is performed in the church courtyard every year during the holidays. Bell said they stick to her original script.
She organized a committee to send cards to congregation members who were battling illnesses or mourning the death of loved ones.
Dr. George Hopkins, Sitts' eye doctor and friend, said Sitts was dedicated to making a difference, and not accomplishing success and fame.
Steve Karlin, USD 457 deputy superintendent, read a paper written by a high schooler in Sitts' class in the 1950s. The topic of the paper was what it would be like to lose a loved one. The student had written about Sitts. She kept the paper.
"Bernadine's life is beautiful. And she can never really die. Not so long as any of the people whom she has ever touched are around," Karlin read.
After the service, balloons were released into the sky in her remembrance.
Survivors include a brother, Ted Sitts of Holly, Colo.; and a sister, Doris Sloan of Hutchinson. She was preceded in death by her parents; a brother, Wilbur Sitts; and a sister, Evelyn Layman.