Students, parents and staff in the Hamilton School District and many other people in the valley are mourning the loss of Hamilton Middle School counselor Patty Pagnotta, 62, who passed away New Year's Eve after a long battle with stomach cancer. She had worked at the school since 2004.
Because school was out when Pagnotta passed, the Hamilton School District made sure all students and staff had access to counselors on Tuesday.
"We've got a pretty solid plan in place with the counselors throughout the district," said HMS principal Dan Kimzey. "Essentially we have an extra counselor from each grade level to help those kids who are in need. The staff have really done a good job of keeping together and encouraging kids that need to talk to somebody to do so."
It was very recently, Dec. 14., that many students were made aware of Pagnotta's situation when the district held a spaghetti dinner and silent auction to benefit Pagnotta and another district staff member, Susan Matthews, who is also battling cancer.
Many students in the district also created a "Pink Glove Dance" video to show their support for the two women.
Pagnotta didn't allow her personal struggles to affect her at work, Kimzey said, so many students were unaware that she was dealing with such a serious situation.
"She kept it pretty quiet," he said. "It really started getting bad last spring, and she was notified that it was terminal. But she always put on a positive spin. Most of the kids in the district found out about it at the benefit dinner last month. That was really the first time everybody found out about what she was going through."
Even while she dealt with the cancer, she continued to work full-time and volunteered as a tour guide at the St. Mary's Mission in Stevensville.
Kimzey said that Pagnotta's positive attitude in the face of such grave adversity was an inspiration to everyone who knew her.
She kept putting on a happy face," he said. "She was doing the best that she could. That strength of character and determination that she has shown has been inspirational to all of us here, including the adults. She was able to muster up that strength to fight for so long, and she had the ability to see the positive every day."
Kimzey sent a letter home with his students encouraging them to seek counseling if they felt affected by the loss.
"While many of our students have had to cope with the loss of a loved one, sometimes the death of a teacher or a staff member causes a different kind of grief, given the school and social setting and the obvious vacant desk or office," he said. "I am particularly thankful that the staff, parents, and students planned and held the spaghetti benefit dinner in December and that Mrs. Pagnotta was able to attend. Our generous and supportive community was truly a boost to her spirit in what turned out to be her last few weeks."
Mrs. Pagnotta's funeral will be held on Thursday at 11 a.m. at the St. Mary's Catholic Church in Stevensville. If you wish to take your child to the funeral, please check him or her out through the school office. Pagnotta's full obituary can be found online at http://ravallirepublic.com/news/local/obituaries/article_89fb353e-34f9-11e1-8284-001871e3ce6c.html.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or email@example.com.