Few people ever have the opportunity to touch thousands of young minds in a lifetime.
That's Ann Casselman's legacy. She educated. She inspired. She loved.
For more than a half century, Ann was a teacher. Without any children of her own, she connected and impressed upon the minds of generations of Hamilton students. Until her recent and tragic death, Ann was an institution in Hamilton schools.
As a testament to her immense connection with the community, more than 300 people turned out for her memorial service last week, most of them teachers and students.
"Her whole life centered on her students, her classroom and the lookout - probably in that order," said Sheila Berkley.
Colleagues describe her as a dedicated teacher and one-of-a-kind woman whose knowledge was passed on to three generations of Hamilton students. Her knowledge and love of science and the natural world set her apart from other educators. She spent many summers staffing a Forest Service lookout, constantly vigilant for forest fires.
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During her tenure at Hamilton School District, Ann taught science and English at Westview Junior High. Even after her retirement in 1995, she remained a fixture in schools, substitute teaching, volunteering and generally following the successes of students until her death at age 76.
"She retired the year I started, and I saw her in the schools as much as any teacher," said Hamilton schools Superintendent Duane Lyons.
Ann also enjoyed attending prep sports games - following the successes of her students in high school and college.
Her characteristic silver hair that sat in bun atop her head was distinct. Ann's exquisite hair cascaded down to her waist but was rarely seen down. Science teacher Marie Antonioli said she saw her hair down only once, an occasion when Antonioli visited Ann at the lookout she worked at for the Forest Service during the summers.
Ann's warm smile was framed by soft wrinkles, features that didn't change over the last decade. She would often wear ear muffs in the winter months and could be seen walking the streets of Hamilton as she didn't own a car and traveled everywhere by foot. And ironically, her death was the result of being hit by a car in a crosswalk on First Street.
Many of the thousands of students who enjoyed raising animals in her classroom and enjoying field trips attended her memorial.
"She wanted you to learn. You could tell that she liked teaching," said Cherese Wemple, who was a student of Ann's in the mid 70s. "She worked hard to make sure we learned science."
So dedicated was Ann, it would not be odd to find the teacher preparing lessons well into the night, Berkley said. Sometimes she even slept on a cot at school.
Schools were her home and the teachers and students were her family.
"She really believed in hands-on learning and interactive classrooms," Antonioli said. "She loved passing that information on to her students."
Ann was a naturalist, friends say. She could identify any bird, plant or animal and often stumped even expert ornithologists. In her 38 summers spent as a fire lookout at both Antrim Lookout and Willow Creek Lookout, she found peace and stimulation from spectacular views and abundant wildlife, Berkley said.
Reporter Jenny Johnson can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org