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After 60 years, educator retires (video)

May 9, 2012 at 12:09 a.m.
Updated May 10, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.

Jane Vivion, left, was one of many people offering hugs to Barbara Sutter during a celebration of her retirement at Victoria Fine Arts Center. Vivion, an English as a Second Language teacher at Patti Welder Magnet Middle School, worked with  Sutter for 18 years.

Sixty years have etched lines on her face that seem to levitate into a permanent smile.

Even her green eyes grin when she says all the memories - all of the triumphs and struggles and craziness that comes with spending more than half a century in a middle school - are happy ones.

After 60 years in education - 58 with the Victoria school district and 53 with Patti Welder Middle School - Barbara Sutter is retiring.

"I like to think that I'm just so good, I could go on forever," said Sutter, 81, who's been a counselor since 1966. "But it just finally becomes that thing you got to do."

On Wednesday night, family, friends, former students and colleagues honored Sutter's years of service to educating and mentoring the thousands of kids who have stopped by her Patti Welder office over the years.

"It's wonderful to meet my former students and have them remember their days at Patti Welder as good days," Sutter said hours before the ceremony that celebrated her retirement.

Some of her former students, such as Gary Moses, that evening stirred her noticeable joy. Guests called her tenacious, a class act, infectious, energetic, wise and humble.

They reiterated Sutter was their staple at Patti Welder - the woman who made their experience in middle school and beyond all that it was.

"We found that you were the person that we could depend on, and you really looked out for us," Moses said. "Ma'am, I don't know what I'd do without you... You've been a tremendous boost for my life, all the many years I've been with you."

For her part, Sutter has always said she's sure Patti Welder could exist without her, but she doesn't know if she can exist without Patti Welder. Her pride for the school has endured everything from the integration of black students to the 1985 fire that burned down a portion of the school. On that, guests called Sutter the cheerleader that kept school spirit - as well as learning - going strong. She still has one of the "I survived in '85" T-shirts from the ordeal.

Sutter has mixed emotions about leaving what her three daughters called her second family at Patti Welder.

"I've always said, 'What does it matter? I'd just as well drop dead walking down the halls of Patti Welder as anywhere else,'" Sutter said, laughing. "To me, that'd be a good ending."

But in all seriousness, she's looking forward to traveling with her daughters and doing some gardening. Of course, she'll be popping into her old stomping ground from time to time.

And now, the former theater and drama teacher will be welcomed by a familiar place with a new name. The auditorium previously known as Panther Hall will forever be named the Barbara J. Sutter Hall, she found out Wednesday evening.

Her smile as stuck as ever, only Sutter's cracking voice hinted at her emotion. She gave a few brief, final words.

"You've given me a wonderful 60 years," Sutter said. "I love you all, and you'll always be my Patti Welder family."



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