Debra Lambert thought it was strange when Cande Isaacs asked her to come to the school building at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday to fill out retirement paperwork.
When Lambert and her husband, Jack, arrived there May 15, they stopped by the canopy on the right side of Immanuel Lutheran Church, which is next to Immanuel Lutheran School.
Again, she had a feeling something was up.
Soon, she saw vehicles coming around the back of the church toward her. She couldn’t help but smile and laugh when she realized it was students and staff members participating in a retirement parade for her.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery
She was wearing a face mask and gloves because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but you could tell she was smiling because of the way she joyfully laughed as each vehicle passed by.
“It just meant all the world to see those students and former students and faculty members that took their time to come. That was pretty special,” Debra, 66, said.
The day marked the end of her 44-year career in education, and it also was the final day of the 2019-20 school year for Immanuel, which like other Hoosier schools had been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic.
Typically, the last day of school for Immanuel includes a field day, a picnic, an awards assembly and a chapel service. During the latter, retiring teachers get to sit up front and be recognized while a slideshow of pictures plays.
This year, Debra said she sat in her recliner to watch Pastor Philip Bloch’s year-end chapel service from the comfort of home.
Since she couldn’t experience a typical retirement celebration, fellow third grade teacher Jordan Spieker and eighth grade teacher Sue Sims organized the parade for Debra.
“First of all because we’re going to miss her terribly at school. She is a huge part of Immanuel and takes care of so many things,” Sims said of why they chose to do the parade.
“When Debbie announced her retirement, we knew we were happy for her because retirement is a good thing and a well-deserved rest, but we’re going to miss her,” Sims said. “She plays a big role in teaching little ones about Jesus in the classroom and just being a teacher leading the way and setting an example.”
Spieker became emotional when talking about the impact Debra has made on her.
“She means so much to me,” Spieker said. “I was a new teacher when I first started at Immanuel (seven years ago), and she just led the way and helped me so much. I couldn’t have done third grade without her.”
Debra said she made it her mission to help new teachers any way she could.
“When I came in 38 years ago, no one was there to show me anything, and I just sort of felt like I was either going to sink or swim, so I’ve just sort of made it a mission when a new teacher came in to make sure if they had any questions or anything (she was there for them),” she said.
Debra said she grew up on a farm in Vallonia, and while attending Brownstown Central High School, she decided she wanted to become a teacher.
“I had several family members who were Lutheran schoolteachers. It was just a given that that’s what I was going to do,” she said. “I enjoyed working with kids, and I also am into music, so I also had the music at college, too, that I was going to do.”
After graduating from BCHS in 1972 and Concordia College in Chicago in 1976, she married and wanted to stay in the Jackson County area to teach.
Since there were no Lutheran school positions at the time, she became a fifth grade teacher at Medora Elementary School.
“Oh, it was wonderful,” she said. “At the same time, I was working on my master’s, too, so I wanted to get my master’s right away before we had children. Getting married, teaching, going to college four nights a week, it was quite an experience.”
She spent six years at Medora until learning about an opening at Immanuel, and she applied and got the job in 1982. She taught fourth grade for several years until moving to third grade and remaining there until retirement.
“They are so eager to learn, and they haven’t acquired that attitude yet,” she said, smiling, of why she chose to teach at the elementary level. “They are still wanting to learn, and they are just very loving. It’s not unheard of to be getting little notes from them, ‘I love you’ and our little pictures that they draw for us constantly. They are very excited.”
Teaching at Immanuel was special, Debra said.
“I think they just have the love of Jesus in their heart and they know how to share it. They just know what’s right and what’s wrong. Not that they are perfect,” she said, smiling.
She was able to recognize students for their efforts by being a part of the WoW (Warrior Way) committee. Each quarter, the school conducted an assembly to honor students who “WoWed” staff members with outstanding character by exhibiting responsibility, respect, a positive attitude, love, dedication, self-control, humility and gratitude.
With a music background, she also led a student handbell group at the school and was an assistant organist and played in a handbell group at the church.
Talking about her colleagues made Debra even more emotional.
“They are like a second family,” she said. “We laugh together. We cry together. We care about each other. If someone is hurting, we’re right there to help them. That’s the part — them and the students — I’m going to miss.”
Of deciding to retire, Debra said she had thought about it for a while.
“My husband has been retired for seven years, so I thought it was time that I invade his space,” she said, laughing.
They also have three sons and eight grandchildren with which they want to spend more time.
“They are getting to the point where they are involved in activities, and we want to be able to go and do that,” she said of their grandchildren. “Plus, we want to travel, but right now, it’s sort of on hold.”
Finally making the decision to retire was bittersweet, Debra said.
“In one way, it was because I’m going to hate missing all of that,” she said of being around the students and staff. “Then the other way, people always say you know when it’s time, and it was just, ‘OK, it’s my time. It’s time now for me to think of myself for once.'”
While she has many highlights of her career, receiving handmade posters, a hanging flower basket, balloons and cards from students and staff during the parade is something she will long remember.
“Oh definitely,” she said with another smile. “Today is one of the highlights, for sure. There have been lots of highlights and enjoyment here, and I will miss it dearly.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Lambert file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Name: Debra Lambert
Education: Brownstown Central High School (1972); Concordia College (bachelor’s degree in education, 1976); Indiana University Southeast (master’s degree in education, 1978)
Occupation: Recently retired after teaching for 44 years — six at Medora Elementary School and 38 at Immanuel Lutheran School
Family: Husband, Jack Lambert; three sons; eight grandchildren