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Waterford Country School students celebrate co-founder's 95th birthday

Waterford — In 1951, a recently trained cadet nurse from New York City named Emily Cabo moved to Connecticut to work at a farm as the official nurse of a summer camp for children with special education needs.

That camp later became the Waterford Country School and that nurse married into the Schacht family, joining its members as one of the school's founders.

Now, 70 years later, she still serves the school as a member of its board of trustees.

Thursday afternoon, on her 95th birthday, students and staff from Waterford Country School joined Emily Schacht and her family outside her home to sing her "Happy Birthday." Among the students was her grandson who attends the school, which is down the road from her home. They celebrated her with cupcakes, cards and balloons.

"I thought it was really sweet of them," Emily Schacht said, remembering how students used to visit her late husband, Herb Schacht, and sing to "Uncle Herb" on his birthday before his death in 2017.

The teachers at Waterford Country School wanted to continue this tradition for Emily.

"I like giving back to the family that started the school," said Anne Adams, a teacher at the school for the past 40 years. "They're always really kind and I think it's important to teach the school's history to the kids."

Herb and Emily Schacht played integral roles in the school's development. Herb was the son of Henry and Ettie Schacht, who started a school in Brooklyn in 1922 and a few years later bought land in Quaker Hill, where the facility would be permanently situated.

Herb was the school's longtime director and Emily was the nurse for both the school and summer camp. She and her husband raised seven children of their own while serving the school's students.

Emily Schacht has served faithfully on the board of trustees since the school became a nonprofit in the 1970s. She said she feels very good about all of the children the school has helped over the years. She continues to receive letters from some who attended 20 to 30 years ago; she said many of them have said the school was the only place they were ever happy.

"You can't teach a kid who isn't happy," she said.

Emily also holds close the memory of Herb, who loved her dearly and proposed to her soon after her arrival in Waterford 70 years ago.

Every year on their anniversary, Herb would bring her a red rose. The red rose pinned on her blouse Thursday was brought to her by one of her sons, who has chosen to continue the act of love started by his father.

"They had the kind of love people search for," said Emily's daughter, Eileen Degaetano.

Degaetano said when she was growing up, there was little separation between the school and her home. Her parents were really involved and welcoming to students.

She has a lot of admiration for her mother.

"She's one of the most amazing women," she said. "Seeing the happiness and fulfillment in her life, she's shown us, her children, the way."

j.vazquez@theday.com

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