Former Miss Lancaster County finishes 40-year reign in education

By on May 29, 2013


ALICE HUMMER Review Correspondent

, Staff Writer

Gail Witwerâ??s second grade class is (first row, left to right) Andrew Lockman, Abigayle Amaturo, Emma Shupp, Tyler Hambright, and Miles Mondo; (second,l-r) Cassidy Byers, Karly Galbreath, McKenzie Snyder, Santi Saavedra, Ebian Rivera, Cameron Nye; (third, l-r) Dennis Gitke, Noah Frymyer, Carter Sauder, Araya Shiffler, Dylan Reich, Katie Houck and Ryan Hershey. Missing from the photo is Hannah Kierkowski. (Photo by Alice Hummer)

"My thumbprint will be here for many years," reflected Gail Redcay Witwer, 63, as she spoke of her 42 years of teaching second grade in the Cocalico School District.

Her thoughts are an understatement when you consider the following facts from her career:

Witwer welcomed her 50th student teacher in March of this year.

Cocalico School District has eight elementary teachers, several middle school teachers and two high school varsity sports coaches who did their student teaching with Witwer.

Many high school students volunteered in her classrooms performing service learning hours for graduation.

Witwer served as social studies chairperson for many years.

Witwer has worked for nine school principals, including Mae Wingenroth, Henry Walker, Dave Burns, Jane Martin, Sharon Myers, Liz Kleinman, Nate Van Deusen, Tim Buts and Angela Marly.

"I played school all the time," Witwer said of growing up. "My great aunts were very influential on my career choice."

Aunt Edith Risser taught 3rd grade at Lincoln Elementary in Ephrata for 42 years. Aunt Adeline Gerhard taught 1st grade for 35 years at Reamstown Elementary.

Indeed, distinguished relatives who worked in education dominated Witwer’s family as evidenced by reading the plaque at the entrance to Denver Elementary School, the former Cocalico High School. Her great-grandfather, Reuben Hornberger, served on the board of education when the school was built.

Those who know Witwer, know that her priorities include doing the best she can for every child in her classroom.

"Everything she did, she did well," said her first principal, Mae Wingenroth.

"I was always impressed with her being open to change in her classroom," said former principal, Nate Van Deusen who is currently currently the Adamstown Elementary Principal. "Her interest was in helping students make progress. Whether it was technology or a new core program, she was always first in line to try it."

Angela Marley, principal at Denver Elementary, summarized her feelings and appreciation for the veteran teacher.

"Gail is a seasoned teacher who continues to grow professionally," said Marley. "She finds creative ways to incorporate what she has learned in the classroom. By mentoring pre-service teachers, she continually gives back to education. Her impact on children, families and other educators is far reaching. She will be greatly missed at Cocalico School District."

Dr. Hank Walker, former principal and assistant superintendent at Cocalico echoed Marley’s compliments about Witwer’s creativity.

"Gail was always energetic and came up with creative projects. She worked closely with parents, who always had positive things to say about her.

When I first came to Denver in 1979, Gail was a major support for me regarding school policies and procedures. She was positive about the school, district administration and the school board. Gail was always professional and I consider her a friend," said Walker.

Children dominate Witwer’s life year round. Cocalico has funded through grant money a summer reading camp, Camp Read-a-Lot. Witwer was on staff the first year the summer program started and will return to teach for her final summer at the camp this year.

Two years ago, when her reading camp position was not available, Witwer worked for "Camp Anchor," a camp for special needs children operated by the Ephrata Recreation Center. Last year, she was asked if she would direct that camp.

"Camp Read-a-Lot received funding through a grant and I returned to teach reading to second graders."

As much as education has dominated her life, Witwer said her own two children are the people of whom she is proudest.

"Jonathan is such a good husband and father," Witwer said. Jonathan, who resides in Delaware, works in banking and approves loans for college students. "

Gail’s grand-daughter, McKenna, is three years old. By the time this article is published, a second granddaughter will have arrived.

"Daughter, Abby, is a school psychologist in Elizabethtown School District and is working on her doctorate," said Witwer.

A resident of Ephrata, Witwer returns home after school to a neighborhood of teachers.

On each side of her home reside other Cocalico educators. One might say that education is in the air she breathes.

Knowing that this year would be her last year, Witwer looked around the auditorium at the first in-service day in September, and became nostalgic thinking about how many former students of hers are now her co-workers.

"You cannot put a dollar amount on those good memories and people," Witwer said.

"Gail has been a spectacular teacher. Her career exemplified all that is good in public education," said Cocalico Superintendent, Dr. Bruce Sensenig. "She served in any capacity she could to make our district better."

"It will be hard to retire," Witwer lamented. "I’ll be back to volunteer."

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