VINCENT – Sylvia and Sandra Young aren’t fans of retirement dinners, but the staff and administration at Warren High School and their former students weren’t going to let them close the doors on more than 50 years of teaching without saying goodbye.
Tuesday’s annual open house for the high school art show doubled as a send-off for the twin sisters who began teaching at Warren in 1961 – the year the high school opened. They started out together at the high school but Sandra soon took over the art duties at neighboring Barlow-Vincent Elementary. For the last two years, they’ve been teaching in the same classroom again.
“We started together. … We’re ending together,” said Sandra, who’s been volunteering in her sister’s class after retiring two years ago.
Current and former students and co-workers walked the halls looking at paintings, drawings, sculptures and more created by the Youngs’ pupils this year, and many took time to speak to the sisters.
“We’ve seen a lot of students that I haven’t seen for years,” Sylvia Young said.
The Youngs were surprised to find two cakes – identical, of course – and punch set up for them in the cafeteria. Warren High School Principal Dan Leffingwell said something had to be done since the sisters “wouldn’t hear of” a retirement dinner.
“You guys are great and we appreciate it and we love you and we’re going to miss you,” he said. “But we’re going to keep you on in an advisory capacity,” he added with a laugh.
Vincent resident Rebekah Grose, 34, came to see the artwork her son Dylan produced in his freshman year and to say goodbye to the women she calls “living legends.” Grose and her father were students of the Youngs, and knowing Dylan was going to learn from them as well was “an awesome feeling,” she said.
“They’re very dedicated to what they do, and you just knew that if your child had them they are going to have a good experience,” Grose said.
2012 graduate Adam Lankford called the sisters his “inspiration.”
“I’m a graphic design student (at Washington State Community College), and they’re the ones who set me on my artistic career,” he said.
Among those influenced heavily by Sylvia Young is Aaron Place, a 1996 graduate who has been teaching art at the district’s elementary schools. With the 2013-14 school year, he will take over the program at the high school.
“(Sylvia) was the motivation that made me go on to be an artist in college and to hopefully take after her here,” he said. “Taking after this legacy is making me nervous, but I’m super-excited.”
He’s got the confidence of his former teacher.
“I have no doubt that he will do a phenomenal job,” Sylvia said.
Place said the annual art show will go on, as will other traditions Sylvia has established.
“There’s no need to fix something that works so well,” he said.
Place described Sylvia as “a natural motivator.”
“She didn’t allow you to not succeed. She really pushed you to do your best,” he said.
Faith Daigle, a 2008 Warren graduate who recently earned her degree from The Ohio State University in art history and psychology, said Sylvia’s willingness to take time with students, and her own artistic talent, made her “a wonderful teacher.”
“She knows her art. She’s a wonderful artist,” Daigle said.
Both sisters gave their students whatever help they needed, Lankford said.
“They are so focused on you, on the individual. They’ll help you no matter what,” he said.
The sisters have also left impressions on their fellow teachers.
Barlow-Vincent music teacher Donna Marcinko said going to work the last couple years has been very different without her friend and mentor, Sandra Young.
“I needed someone to lean on,” Marcinko said, recalling her early days at the elementary school. “She would always say, ‘Don’t worry; everything will be OK.'”
But just because they don’t see each other at work doesn’t mean the friends have lost touch.
“When she retired, she promised she’d call me every day,” Marcinko said. “We talk every morning. She helps me get motivated for the day.”
Marcinko was also impressed by Sandra’s ability to “foster creativity in children,” calling it “unbelievable.”
“She understands the kids. They had so much respect for her. She had a sense of humor with them that they could relate to,” she said. “She believed that all children could express themselves through art.”
Former Warren agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Allen Clark said he appreciates the sisters’ tenacity, pointing out that they were teaching in the district when he was a student and are leaving a year after he retired.
“I admire them a lot,” he said, noting the arts aren’t always given as much attention as some other subjects but they can be good for students, especially those that aren’t involved in sports or other activities. “They provide a real good outlet for those kids, and some have found careers through that.”
The sisters said they are looking forward to painting more, taking short trips and visiting friends in their retirement, but they haven’t made any specific plans.
“We’re going to make it up as we go along,” Sandra told one inquiring well-wisher, “like Indiana Jones.”