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Beloved Corbett teacher retires after 35 years

- Bonnie Lilly inspired generations of students and instilled a love of learning


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Bonnie Lilly, almost 60, spent the last week sifting through 35 years of classroom memories at Corbett Grade School. She looks forward to gardening, beach visits and time with her grandchildren in retirement.

Bonnie Lilly thought about retiring from Corbett Grade School five years ago, but she wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye.

After 35 years as a Corbett elementary teacher, Lilly is bidding her beloved community adieu.

“I’ve loved the kids, the community and the great teaching staff,” Lilly said. “They have become like family.”

A graduate of Franklin High School in Portland and Oregon State University, Lilly subbed in various school districts before she was hired in Corbett in 1978.

During the course of her career, Lilly received her master’s degree at Portland State University, raised a daughter, Janelle Budke, 30, and son, Jordan Lilly, 28, with her husband, Mark, and became a grandparent to two grandchildren.

But Lilly isn’t just a matriarch to her children and grandchildren.

Heather Freeman, assistant secretary to Principal DeeDee Haynes, said Lilly treated her three daughters like they were her own.

“They just look up to her like a second mom,” said Freeman, the mother of Grace, 6, Elle, 10, and Maddi, 13. “I’ve looked up to her for advice.”

Lilly was touched at her community celebration last week when she recalled something a girl had done as a child. The girl said, “Oh my gosh, you remember.”

“I always told my students that once they were mine, they were always mine,” Lilly said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - LILLY

As a primary teacher who originally taught kindergarten and then expanded to multi-grade classes, most recently K-2, Lilly always has had a goal to empower children.

“I wanted to give them what they needed to know they were able, capable and could do it,” Lilly said. “I always hoped they would take that out into the world with them as lifelong learners.”

Lilly has always been touched by the students who came back to visit her. One was even inspired to pursue teaching and then joined the grade school staff.

“I was really privileged to have her at the beginning of my school career and my work career,” said Megan Shaw, a K-2 Corbett Grade teacher.

Shaw had Lilly as a kindergarten teacher in 1983 and still recalls the big alphabet chart Lilly used.

“We were looking for ‘s’ words and I pointed out celery,” Shaw said. “’Ms. Lilly said, ‘That’s really good, Megan, you heard the ‘s’ sound. But celery actually starts with a c.’”

A couple weeks ago, the same scenario happened to Shaw, and she felt as though she had channeled Lilly’s lesson from 30 years ago.

“I’ve loved working with her — she keeps us on our toes and makes us all better,” Shaw said.

Lilly, who turns 60 on June 30 and lives in Happy Valley, said she looks forward to gardening, beach trips and time with her grandchildren in retirement.

Come the start of school this year, she’ll be on the beaches of Kauai with her husband, remembering fondly her many years in Corbett.

“Schools are the heart of the community in Corbett,” Lilly said. “I have just loved my relationships with the kids and families. I feel like I was born to be a teacher, and it’s just been a great career choice for me.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - One of Lilly's popular units was the Tourism of the Columbia Gorge, in which students created models of iconic Gorge locations. This iPad image features the Crown Point diorama.




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