A Life Remembered | Laura Girton: 'An amazing person, an amazing principal'

A Life Remembered | Laura Girton: 'An amazing person, an amazing principal'

OAKWOOD — Some of Laura Girton's best friends all described her the same way — classy.

"She was pure class," said Kerry Hall, a good friend and staff member at Bismarck-Henning Elementary, where Mrs. Girton was principal. "Laura was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside."

Her passing on Thursday affected two small towns in Vermilion County — Oakwood, where she lived, and Bismarck, where students, staff and parents had rallied behind her during a battle with cancer that took her away from school in late December.

"She was just super with the kids. The kids loved her. She worked her heart out for the district and for the kids," said Bismarck-Henning Junior High Principal Rusty Campbell. "She was an amazing person, an amazing principal."

Longtime Oakwood friend Brenda Ludwig said Mrs. Girton did everything with grace.

"She was a classy lady. Even through all of this, she's been a class act," said Ludwig, who owes their long friendship to her late husband, Gary Ludwig, who invited Mrs. Girton and her husband, Derek Girton, to a social event when the Girtons first moved to Oakwood more than 20 years ago.

Both communities came together in April to show their support for Mrs. Girton when hundreds attended a spaghetti dinner benefit for her in Bismarck. And this year, all six schools in the two communities sold and wore "Love for Laura" shirts that incorporated Oakwood purple and Bismarck blue.

"It was tremendous," Ludwig said of the outpouring of support.

Mrs. Girton wove herself into the fabric of the Oakwood community, where she and Derek raised their two boys, and she did the same in the Bismarck-Henning school district, where she was a teacher for 12 years before becoming elementary principal in 2006.

"It's always been my goal," she said of becoming an administrator in a 2006 News-Gazette story. "I'm excited to be working with everyone in this capacity."

And that excitement was evident to those around her.

Hall said Mrs. Girton was the type of person you felt happy to be around.

"She loved her school family so very much," Hall said. "She wanted everything to be fun and exciting for the kids, and she did things in a big way. What she truly wanted was for her staff to love coming to work just as much as she did every single day."

Another long-time Oakwood friend, Nancy Leach, said it wasn't just a job to her.

"She just absolutely loved the kids. Even when she was sick, she was talking about going back to see the kids," said Leach, who recalls a time years ago when Mrs. Girton gave up several evenings to help decorate for a post-prom event in Oakwood long before her own boys were in high school. Leach said she even came back the next morning and cooked breakfast.

"If you needed something, you could always call on her," Leach said. "She was a class act, very devoted to her job and her school as well as her family. But her family came first, her job came second."

An Erie, Pa., native, Mrs. Girton, graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Penn State and a master's in administration from Eastern Illinois. She began her education career in Ohio, teaching kindergarten during the three years that her husband attended law school there and taught first grade in Ludlow, Ohio, for a year.

Leach and Ludwig both said she remained loyal to her alma mater, but the Penn State fan still enjoyed tailgating with them at Illini games. Leach said she was a great cook, too, and loved making her "Nittany Nachos."

"She was a Penn State girl at heart," Leach said. "She was tiny but mighty."

Hall said Mrs. Girton's legacy will live on in the lives of every student, colleague and friend who had the pleasure of knowing her.

"Replacing Laura Girton in the district, it's going to be a hard, hard job, because she was an awesome person, leader, educator," Campbell said. "I just can't say enough about her, and how much it hurts to know that she is gone."

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