When Victoria Waidner was a young girl attending the four-room West Annapolis Elementary School, she would round up the neighborhood children in the afternoons and play school. She was always the teacher.
"I would take roll call," recalled Waidner. "I remember talking to them, actually, about birds and science."
Her interest in education made sense: Her father was a professor at the Naval Academy, and her mother was a ballet teacher.
Waidner, who is retiring from her job as principal of Mayo Elementary School on June 30 after 44 years as an educator in Anne Arundel County elementary schools, never intended to be a principal.
But 30-plus years ago, her salary as a teacher was only $4,000. She would earn more if she got a master's degree in administration.
"I said, `I'll do that, but I don't ever want to be a principal,'" said Waidner, 69. "Maybe an assistant principal, but never a principal."
But when she was offered the job, at Annapolis Elementary School in 1973, "I loved it," she said. "There was nobody over the top of me in the building. I liked the freedom of making decisions -- of course, within the guidelines and policies and all that," she quickly added.
Waidner was principal of Annapolis Elementary School for 14 years and of Mayo for 19 more. Before that, she taught at Meade Heights, Germantown, Crofton and other elementary schools.
Her pending retirement has created a deep feeling of loss at the school she has called her own for nearly two decades.
"I can't talk about it because I'll cry," said Rocky Cummings, who has been Waidner's secretary all 19 years at Mayo.
"I'm not dealing with it too good," Cummings said, tears leaking from her eyes. "She's been here so long I can't imagine life without her."
Teachers in the South County school of 316 pupils agree that Waidner has a gift for encouraging teachers and creating a nurturing environment.
Kindergarten teacher Danielle Bender, now in her fourth year at Mayo, said Waidner was the principal when she attended the school as a child.
"It's a very homey school," she said.
Helen Jean Holt, a primary-grade team leader finishing her 33rd year at the school, said her success as a teacher is a direct result of opportunities and encouragement Waidner provided.
"I'm going to miss Mrs. Waidner so very much," she said.
Art teacher Dana Henstrand said Waidner, who hired her 15 years ago, has been a consistent supporter of art education.
"She's very passionate about the arts," she said. "If there was ever anything I needed or wanted for the program, somehow she'd find a way to get it."
Waidner was born in Boston, and her family moved to West Annapolis in 1940, when she was 3. Her father, Ellery Harding Clark Jr., taught English history and government at the Naval Academy for 38 years. He was also a track and field coach, and one of the runners on his cross-country team was Jimmy Carter.
Waidner graduated from Annapolis High School in 1955 and attended the University of Maryland, College Park, helped by $500 she had won as the Anne Arundel County Farm Queen.
She began her career as a second-grade teacher at South Shore Elementary School in Crownsville in 1959, and -- except for a year in Iowa -- has remained in Anne Arundel schools ever since.
She returned to College Park and took doctoral classes but never wrote the dissertation. She doesn't regret it, though -- by then she had become principal at Annapolis.
"I had learned all the things. I had gained the information. ... I applied what I learned," she said.
Waidner, whose husband and two sons are deceased, said she's retiring now in part because she has successfully seen Mayo's transition to a new building, which opened last fall.
"I wanted to open the new school and order the new furniture and equipment," she said.
For two years, Mayo students were bused to Annapolis Middle School after a 70-year-old building was demolished and a new building was being created in its place.
Over the desk in Waidner's new office are photographs she has taken of hippos, elephants, a jackal and a cheetah.
She has been to Africa twice, she said, and has also traveled to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon. Every summer, she sails for one or two weeks on a windjammer that departs from Maine.
It seems that her retirement will be busy. In addition to travel, she is active in the local arts council and opera, and she plays bridge.
She noted that she could have retired after 30 years on the job, but was having so much fun she decided to continue.
"They tell you you'll know when it's time," she said.