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Marilyn Malcarne thinks it's ironic: she never meant to be a teacher. She was certain the only district to which she had applied wouldn't hire her. She was wrong. Regional District 4 offered her a job. Then she made another mistake. She thought she would only stay for five years.
Now, 37 years later, Marilyn is about to retire as the art teacher at Essex Elementary School.
"Many children and many families will be very sorry," says Essex Elementary School Principal Joanne Beekley. "She will be a very hard person to replace."
Principal Beekley says that, though in some areas of the country budgets for art instruction have been curtailed, teaching art is a vital part of educating the entire child, saying, "When I go up to the high school and see the wonderful artwork on display, I know the students started to develop these talents in elementary school."
Marilyn sees virtues in art beyond the nurturing of artistic talent.
"Kids need both critical and creative skills. If you want good scientists, good engineers, you need to stimulate creativity in other fields. That's what art can do," she says.
For many years, Marilyn has given her students nicknames. Sometimes, she says, when she meets former students, she doesn't even remember their given names, but only their nicknames. Still, it is the nickname the students gave her that's the best known. One day, she says, some students saw her sipping from a cup and called her Mrs. Moo. Over time the Mrs. dropped off and became Moo. Today, she says, even some parents call her Moo.
One of the highlights of art class in Essex has long been the 5th-grade art show, which features creative hats. Marilyn refers to them as sculptured heads. The show has served as an opportunity for Marilyn to share her love of millinery (hatmaking) with her students. While teaching, she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York at night for 2½ years to become a milliner and she has designed hats for everything from theatrical productions to vintage car shows.
Now, she says, 4th-grade students who have heard she is retiring are upset that she won't be there to oversee another hat show.
"Some 4th graders told me they had already started designing their hats for next year," she says.
Marilyn talks with pride of previous students, like the one who told her that of all the classes he had taken, including those in college, her art class remained his favorite. She tells about one student whom she started off on computer graphics; he later used those skills as a designer for a major snowboard company.
One former student called on Marilyn for a task beyond the realm of the art room. When a snowstorm prevented the student's mother from getting to the hospital to do Lamaze breathing with her daughter as she delivered a baby, the student called Marilyn, who stood in during the delivery.
Cleaning the things Marilyn has accumulated from the art room is a challenge for the weeks ahead. She says she has always scoured tag sales and flea markets for materials for different projects. She says she herself is surprised by some of the things she has found.
"They are some of the weirdest things: wood, metal, tire jacks, and even egg shells. If I found it, I brought it in," she says.
Retirement, Marilyn says, will give her a chance to work on some projects of her own, among them her garden, which showcases her ability to mix unlikely treasures into imaginative settings. Next to a small pool in the yard, Marilyn has made a garden chair from a decorative bench frame with an old copper trunk as a seat. The garden features not only gnomes, wire flamingos, and a wrought iron screen, but also a pair of concrete lions that Marilyn herself sculpted for the Ivoryton Sculpture Mile.
"I've been finding all this stuff for 24 years," she says.
In addition to the garden, Marilyn plans both to work in her studio in Chester and to open it for adult and child art classes. And then there's the week-long summer camp she has run from the studio for several years.
"I'm going to get really serious about that," she says.
All of that is far from the end of Marilyn's to-do list. She is going to continue working with fused glass, a craft she has also brought to Essex Elementary School. In the process, glass is cut, layered, and fired in a kiln. On a recent visit, Marilyn was wearing a fused glass pendant she made.
She also will continue working in polymer clay, a clay product with synthetically mixed colors. When molded, the colors form intricate patterns throughout the clay. Marilyn has made jewelry with polymer clay and is currently working on sculpture in the polymer material.
There's still more. Marilyn plans a book. It is going to be on art and food. She doesn't want to be more specific, but says it is something that you don't have to be a good cook to enjoy.
"It's something that's not out there now," she says. "It's a whole new dimension and I am excited about it."
And that's just for the first year of retirement. For year two, Marilyn has other plans. Her daughter Tessa is teaching in Milan, Italy, and Marilyn plans to spend the year living in Italy-not, of course as a tourist.
"I'll do hats, I'll introduce them to polymer clay," she says.
Marilyn grew up as Marilyn Grote in Chester. Now a resident of Deep River, she says that the participation of her father and grandfather in the Chester Fire Department influenced her own decision to become a member of the Deep River Fire Department.
"I was more active before two hip replacements," she says. "I've slowed down, but I have not retired."
Nor has Marilyn retired from the Deep River Junior Ancients, the fife and drum corps in which she became active when her three children, now grown, were young.
"I can't even remember how many years I was president," says Marilyn, who still is the marching instructor for the group.
She organized the Friday Night tattoo at the annual Deep River Muster for 24 years and, though she no longer organizes the event, she's still the announcer for the event.
Retirement from teaching presents excitement and new adventure, but there is also the necessity to say goodbye. That, says Marilyn, is the difficult part. She fans her hands in front of her eyes as she admits this is a moment that can also bring tears.
"I feel a mixture of emotions. It's a double-edged sword. I love what I do and I am going to miss it so much," she says.
She knows that teaching brings special rewards not only to students, but also to those who instruct them.
"They've meant as much to me as I to them," she says. "How can you teach kids and not love them?"