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Ellen Carrico, left, and Rachel Garner, right, sit amid the walls that have seen many years of memories at First United Methodist Preschool on Friday.

RAWLINS — Twenty three years of guiding our youngest citizens’ first steps, 23 years of changing lives, 23 years of working with the youth of Rawlins concludes this May as Rachel Garner retires.

Garner, affectionately known as Miss Rachel by her students, began her tenure in 1996 in an effort to remain with her oldest daughter as she eased into the realm of education. While Garner had always enjoyed children, the work of a preschool teacher was not her first choice.

“It started out as a place to be with my daughter and turned into a passion,” said Garner.

She began her career at Head Start in 1996, before transitioning to the First United Methodist Preschool where she has remained since 1999. Despite having a degree in social work, Garner took to teaching children with glee.

“I have the mind of a five-year-old in the body of 52-year-old,” said Garner when describing her love for the position. “It’s never felt like a job.”

While every class holds a unique dynamic of struggle and triumph, things have changed as the decades marched ever forward, according to Garner. The largest shift over the years has been family dynamics, as the majority of her classes have changed from a single-working parent to both parents remaining in the workforce. This spurred organization to host programs that run the length of the workday, rather than ending at noon.

According to Garner, the preschool is designed to serve the needs of the community and has changed in order to better fit the shifting family dynamics.

The decision to finally leave the profession weighed heavily on Garner, as she eventually decided to walk away from more than two decades of work. She agonized over the choice, but family needs pushed the final decision to leave her career and passion.

Garner had wanted to see her youngest child graduate from Rawlins High School just as her other children had, but it was not to be. After her final day, the family will pack their bags and make the long trip southward to Texas. Once there, Garner has no solid plans for a second career, though says she will likely begin working with children once more.

Garner’s loss will deeply affect First United Methodist Preschool, but another has been chosen to take the reins. Ellen Carrico has been named the successor to the long-tenured and much-loved teacher.

She described the process as, “Daunting, overwhelming, and very, very sad.”

Despite Carrico’s reservations regarding the change over, Garner heaped praise upon her replacement. According to Garner, she saw the saw same passion and dedication to guiding the youth of Rawlins.

When describing Carrico, Garner simply said, “I have no reservations about Ellen.”

Despite Garner’s protests, the First United Methodist Preschool is hosting a going away party for the longtime teacher and has invited the entire community to share Garner’s impact. As Garner’s impact has spread far beyond the walls of her classroom, Carrico has asked for anyone interested to share their memories in an effort to fully convey how 23 years of teaching can impact a community. Carrico asked those interested in sharing their memories email Ellen_carrico@hotmail.com.

While Garner said going quietly into the night would have suited her, her fellow teachers simply could not allow a veteran educator of 23 years to shuffle off into the windy darkness.

The final class to know Miss Rachel as a teacher will say their last goodbyes on May 23. The final day in her illustrious career, spanning more than two decades, having seen a new millennium and a new century, will be bittersweet for Garner, her students, fellow staffers, and the community at large.

“It’s hard to say goodbye,” Garner said tearfully.

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