CHAMPAIGN — One Champaign parent remembers the late Kenwood Elementary teacher Paula Gaddis in a rocking chair in her classroom, surrounded by students.
She never stopped them as they scooted closer, Terra Larsen said.
"By the time she was done reading the book, they were all touching her," Larsen said. "You know she was in a job she was meant for because she just did it so well."
Teachers, staff members and parents at Kenwood Elementary this week are taking donations in memory of Mrs. Gaddis, who died Sept. 23, at age 34.
She's survived by a husband, a son, a stepdaughter and 2-year-old twins.
Those from Kenwood will serve lunch after the funeral Tuesday, but parents and staff members wanted to do more for Mrs. Gaddis' family, said Larsen, who is also PTA president.
So, the PTA is collecting donations with hopes of paying the family's housing expenses through the end of the year.
The PTA and staff members will also dedicate a courtyard at the school to Mrs. Gaddis after the school is renovated next year.
Larsen said Mrs. Gaddis was a compassionate teacher, one who understood that children learn differently.
"It was hard not to become friends with her," Larsen said, as three of Larsen's children had Gaddis as a teacher.
"Every child seemed to be hers," she said. "If you were in her class, you were her kid. She treated you just as she did her own kids."
Kenwood Principal Lisa Geren said Mrs. Gaddis' death was a surprise, and a blow to the Kenwood faculty, staff, parents and students that form what Geren calls "a close-knit family."
"Losing Paula is more than just losing a first-grade teacher," Geren said.
Geren called Mrs. Gaddis "friendly, appreciative and very nurturing."
Geren said grief counselors have already been at the school to meet with students and parents, and teachers will also meet together again before school starts next week.
The school is on a balanced-calendar and so Kenwood is in the middle of three weeks off, called its fall intersession.
"People have kicked into action to support the family and each other and our children," Geren said. "We're really worried about our children. We want to make sure they have the support we need."
Geren said she knew Mrs. Gaddis before either of them worked at Kenwood and said Mrs. Gaddis was one of her first hires when Geren became the school's principal and just after Mrs. Gaddis had earned her degree.
"I scooped her up in a heartbeat," Geren said. "I knew what kind of person I wanted in that position. It was just the right decision."
Geren said Mrs. Gaddis had "a lot on her plate," but was the kind of person who focused completely on whomever she was talking to. Geren said she's talked to many people in the last week who remember Mrs. Gaddis thanking them for something the last time they talked.
"It was all about giving," Geren said. "It was never about her, it was always about how could she help or serve.
"It's a huge loss," she said. "It's more than losing a first-grade teacher. It's just a huge gap in our hearts."
How to donate
In memory of late Kenwood Elementary first-grade teacher Paula Gaddis, the school's PTA is collecting donations to pay her family's housing expenses.
The PTA will also dedicate a courtyard to Mrs. Gaddis after the school is remodeled next year.
To donate, you can send a check made out to the Kenwood PTA to the school at 1001 Stratford Drive, Champaign, IL 61821.
Those with questions about donating can contact PTA President Terra Larsen at 217-621-9727 or email@example.com.