Deputy completes final DARE class in Tonganoxie
In many ways, Connie Anderson probably didn't want Friday's DARE culmination ceremony to end in the Tonganoxie Elementary School gymnasium.
Anderson, a Leavenworth County sheriff's deputy, is retiring from the department next September. And Friday's ceremony was her last at Tonganoxie.
"I'll keep you close to my heart," Anderson said during the graduation, voice trembling slightly as she worked to hold back tears.
Anderson, who has worked with fifth-graders in several Leavenworth County schools, has been the county's DARE officer since January 1991. Overall, she's been with the sheriff's office since 1986.
For the final time Friday, she was the emcee of the Tonganoxie DARE ceremony.
Anderson noted that Tonganoxie students always were so well-mannered.
"I don't know whether it's the badge or the gun or what," Anderson said with a chuckle.
Nearly 150 TES fifth-graders graduated from the DARE program, the largest DARE class Anderson has been associated with.
"It's definitely a record for all of us, so we didn't know just how this was going to play out with all those students, but it worked magically," Anderson said Monday.
The ceremony opened with music instructor Wanda Haney directing the students in the song "I Will Dare."
Minutes later, TES Principal Jerry Daskoski welcomed the students and their families.
"It's not just a graduation, but also a celebration," Daskoski said.
Students from the six fifth-grade classes received certificates from Anderson for completing their DARE education. One student from each class read their DARE essay. Sidney Grinter, Chrissy Kelsey, Maggie Gripka, J.T. Spiker, Colby Yates and Ethan Vickers were essay winners in their classes. Essay winners received medals and watches. All other essays were displayed on a gymnasium wall.
Along with DARE certificates, some students received special recognition certificates. Helpers and mascot keepers received sunglasses and a ball cap.
Mascot keepers were in charge of mascots Carin and Daren. The stuffed animals are DARE lions. In the last few years, Anderson created Carin by putting a ribbon in a lion's mane.
A few "participants" also were recognized. Participants basically are the nucleus of the class and "really make the class tick." They received water bottles.
Spirit awards were given as well. Each class spirit award winner received a CD holder. Spirit award winners were Sarah Wetta, Aubrey Drozinski, Beth Jobst, Grant Rahjes, Derek Lingo and David Kemph.
"That's quite an honor, the leader of your class," Anderson said. "It's something that exemplifies what DARE kids are all about."
School, city and county officials were on hand as guests for the ceremony.
Along with Daskoski, school Superintendent Richard Erickson was a guest at the event, as was Tonganoxie police officer Billy Adcox.
Tonganoxie natives Jim Welsh, Lawrence police, and Brian Welsh, Kansas University police, were on hand, as was their father, sheriff's office Maj. Burdel Welsh, who is leaving the sheriff's office next Tuesday. Seated next to them was Parks and Wildlife officer Glen Cannizaro.
County commissioners Joe Daniels and Bob Adams were present. Seated next to them was county attorney Frank Kohl, who has been at every DARE ceremony since it started in 1991.
Kohl usually speaks to the students, but because of this year's large class, Anderson ran out of time for a guest speaker.
In attendance from the sheriff's office with Anderson were Deputy Birgit Burggraff and Sheriff Herb Nye.
"You're in charge of your destiny," Nye told the DARE students. "Make sure you choose it wisely."
The ceremony concluded with a DVD slide show of DARE students.
But before the program was finished, students presented Anderson with books of notes from the fifth grade and current seventh through 12th-graders.
"It's amazing how many people's lives you touch," Anderson said. "I think we do everyday, we just don't know it. And hopefully in a positive way.
"The secret is teach from your heart. I can't say it makes it easy, but it makes it easier. It's been the highlight of my career."