Art teacher who died of cancer has lasting impact on her school


April 12, 2000|By Donna Koros Stramella | Donna Koros Stramella,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MOST OF US can recall a favorite teacher. For seven years at Marley Elementary School, Debbie Butter was likely to be at the top of each pupil's list.

The popular art teacher played classical music during lessons, decorated her room with prints of the Old Masters, and made each child feel like a true artist. Educated at University of Delaware, she had a knack not only for the skill of teaching, but for the spirit of teaching.

Both my daughters had the privilege of being taught by Butter, and although neither is a particularly gifted artist, her influence helped bring a creative approach to many other areas of their lives.

The dedicated teacher told me that she had a little trick for getting a large number of pupils into county art displays, which limited the number of works each school could submit. She often mounted the work of four pupils on one board. The multiple-display would count as a single work of art.

A mother herself (her daughter, Jessica Butter, lives in Reston, Va.), she knew the pride children felt when they saw their work displayed.

Several years ago, Butter took a year's leave from her job. Her husband, Steven, had retired, and the couple planned to sail their boat from their home in Annapolis to Hilton Head, S.C. She never returned to teaching, and spent all of her winters in Hilton Head.

"She loved everything about Hilton Head," guidance counselor Connie Poussard said.

On Christmas Eve, Butter died of cancer. Four years before, when she was teaching, she had been diagnosed with and began treatment for uterine cancer. When the cancer returned, it spread quickly. She died within a year.

Poussard and media specialist Harriet Malamut have decided on a way to keep alive the name of their friend and colleague -- founding an annual scholarship in Butter's name for Marley Elementary pupils to attend the county Board of Education's summer Art Trek camp at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville.

Applications for the scholarship were given to talented Marley Elementary art pupils in grades two through five. Fourteen applied. A committee, which included Poussard, Malamut, Principal Nina Griffith and art teacher Christina Fiedler, reviewed the applications and sample art work from each child.

The winners were fifth-grader Kendra Shillenn and second-grader Ryan Collins.

"It was very difficult to choose," Poussard said. "The students were very talented, and we also had to weigh that a fifth-grader's work would be far superior to a second-grader's work."

Fifth-grader Ashley Taylor will attend the camp on a partial scholarship, thanks to the generosity of two other colleagues of Butter. Jean Curry, a retired reading resource teacher, and Karen Clark, a fifth-grade teacher, donated money for the additional award.

Poussard and Malamut are hoping the scholarship will not only honor Butter, but continue her legacy of helping children discover their creative side.

"We have lost a tremendous friend, and the profession has lost a very fine teacher," Poussard said.

University honors student

Glen Burnie native Amy Falls has been named outstanding physical education major of the year by Towson University -- part of an annual award program sponsored by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Falls was among more than 300 students -- one from each participating school of higher learning -- honored at a reception during the 11th annual convention of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, held last month in Orlando, Fla.

Association Executive Director Judith C. Young applauded the accomplishments of the students selected.

"These young professionals will be the leaders of the future in improving educational programs and encouraging all Americans to make fitness and health a part of their daily lives," Young said. "Their recognition as outstanding physical education majors is a crowning glory of their college years and introduces them to the value of professional involvement."

A sophomore at Towson, Falls is a member of the bowling team and president of the Physical Education Majors Club. She volunteers for the American Alliance for Health.

Falls is a 1998 graduate of Glen Burnie High. She hopes to become an elementary school physical education teacher.

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