Though Linda Reinhart has spent over four decades as a volunteer at Paul Banks Elementary, a more fitting title would be resident grandmother.
Reinhart, who is indeed referred to as Grandma Reinhart by both staff and students, volunteered off and on for 32 years at the school and has been a consistent volunteer for the past 13 years. In recognition of her 45 years spent working with students, Reinhart received the Golden Apple award at the March 7 school board meeting, just five days after her 80th birthday.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education gives Golden Apple awards to employees, volunteers and community organizations that go to extra lengths to support and advance education, according to the district’s website. Reinhart’s contributions to Paul Banks fulfills the needs of teachers across the school by assisting with programs, reading groups and giving one-on-one attention to students, said Paul Banks Principal Eric Pederson.
“If there is anyone in the district that is worthy of the Golden Apple, it’s her. Everyone at the school and even district level knows her,” Pederson said. “We are blessed as a school to have someone like that. It’s kind of like having a floating certified teacher. … We use her everywhere.”
The school intended to surprise Reinhart by telling her about the award at an assembly, but a school board secretary gave it away when calling to ask which meeting she could attend to receive it. The spoiled surprise was a relief for Reinhart, who said she was glad to be saved from crying in public when she heard the news for the first time. She was, however, surprised that there was an award for someone like her.
“Getting rewarded for something that is so much fun is like getting rewarded for eating chocolate,” Reinhart said.
For busy educators like first grade teacher Wendy Todd, Reinhart’s assistance can be a life-saver in hectic times.
“Just when you feel like, ‘Oh my gosh I can’t do one more thing,’ she’s there,” Todd said. “Just when I feel like a kid needs extra attention, or love or someone to read to, she’s there. She’s just so good with the kids. She’s calm and loving.”
In addition to the Golden Apple award, everyone at Paul Banks showed their love for Reinhart by giving her a heart-warming birthday celebration.
“All of the kids in the school — there are 210 of them — they lined up in hall and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me instead of saying the Pledge of Allegiance,” Reinhart said. “And then I got 210 plus hugs throughout the day. I smiled ’til my face fell off.”
Students also gifted Reinhart with a book filled with what they would be doing when they were 80, and what they thought the best part of being 80 would be.
Imaginations ran wild, with some posing that at 80 years old they wouldn’t be able to drive anymore because they might crash, or that they wouldn’t play games anymore because they would be working to get rich.
Others told Reinhart that they would still remember her at 80, and that they wouldn’t stop learning even after they retired. Students also thought that 80 held lots of freedoms, like going on the computer whenever they wanted or having as many dogs as they desired.
For Reinhart, she most enjoys her health and the ability to do things like work with the children at Paul Banks.
“It’s being healthy and able to do everything I want to do,” Reinhart said. “I’m having more fun now than ever. It’s like I completely reinvented myself.”
Anna Frost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.