She rose to the task: Stonebridge Elementary thanks longtime volunteer for service

Longtime Stonebridge Elementary volunteer and former school board member Karen Rose gets a group hug from students after a surprise school assembly in her honor May 23. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Karen Rose doesn’t mind the “dirty work.”

Whether it’s cleaning up milk spills in the cafeteria or staying late when parents don’t pick up a child on time, for 34 years the Stonebidge Elementary volunteer has done it all.

“She’s just about doing what is needed at the moment for somebody else,” said John Johnson, who was principal at the Stillwater school 1988-1997. “And she always did the dirty jobs that nobody wanted.”

“She’d do anything that needed to be done for anybody, in any part of the building,” said Mark Magnan, a former Stonebridge teacher who worked with Rose. “She gave tours to parents. … She worked non-stop for people in the office. She worked in the cafeteria … She taught art. … A guy could write a book, she did so many things.”

Write a “book” is exactly what students and staff did to honor Rose, who is stepping down from her role as a volunteer after this school year. During a surprise school assembly in Rose’s honor May 23, they presented the Grant resident with books full of notes and memories. Later in the day, community members and past and present staff members surprised her with a reception honoring her.

“It was a good turnout,” said Joan Hurley, secretary to the principal. “There was a ton of retirees.”

Rose’s son Joe, who lives in San Francisco, flew in to surprise her during the student assembly, as well. Rose began volunteering when her son was in school, and she fell in love with it. She appreciated the students and the staff.

“They’re all wonderful,” Rose said. “When I saw how busy [the staff members] were, I said, ‘Somebody’s got to help them.’ So I started to help.”

Over the years Rose not only volunteered in the cafeteria, in the office and with the safety patrol, but she also taught wildlife art and Spanish, gave tours of the school, stocked the candy jar in the teachers lounge and more. She saw herself as a school “mom” to the children, and former students often recognize and greet her around town. Rose said she worked with six principals.

She’s also a certified public health nurse and served multiple terms on the school board. Outside of school, her hobbies include taxidermy and classical guitar.

As a volunteer, Rose puts in long days at Stonebridge.

“She’s here first thing in the morning,” Hurley said. “She’s out there until the last student is picked up at the end of the day.”

Those who have worked with Rose say she’s steady in the midst of chaos.

“She is such a calming presence — that’s the first thing that stands out to me,” current Stonebridge principal Derek Berg said.

Her kindness and generosity also stand out.

“It doesn’t matter who walks through the doors,” Berg said. “She loves them and cares. There’s just no judgment.”

“She saw only the best, and because of that I think other people rose to the occasion and performed at their higher levels,” Johnson said.

Although she will miss the students and staff at Stonebridge, Rose said she can tell it’s time to step aside.

“I can’t keep up with them as well anymore,” she said.

She added that she’s “appreciative to this school for all that they’ve done for me too.”

In recognition of Rose’s years of service, the school staff and community raised more than $1,800 for an engraved bench to be placed in a Stillwater park. A garden in the school’s courtyard — the Karen Rose Garden — is already named after her.

Berg said Rose’s presence will be greatly missed.

“She was a resource and a help to the school,” he said. “But beyond all that, she was just the kind of person you want in the school and in the community. The best thing about her is the kind of person she is.”

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]