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McMenemy’s tireless work at Sanibel School is appreciated by all

By Staff | Dec 24, 2014

Maureen McMenemy's 27-year tenure at Sanibel School has come to an end, as many will miss her hard-work ethic and soft, encouraging hugs. BRIAN WIERIMA

There were many consistent aspects put forth by Maureen McMenemy during her 27-year tenure at Sanibel School.

The first was her boundless love and energy she gave each and every day at Sanibel School. The second, was her presence to students who entered the school in the mornings, seeing her at one of the many positions she worked throughout the last two decades plus.

“I guarantee, if you ask any kid who went to school here the last 27 years, they would know her right away,” said Kari Wheeler, who grew up on Sanibel, attended school here and now works in the office. “The description of her by everyone is the same: kind, hard working and loving. She is the wheel behind what makes things move here.”

McMenemy is known as Mrs. Knapp to many past students, but she changed back to her maiden name after her divorce from her husband. But her journey to Sanibel School started in 1987, when her ex-husband’s brokerage firm moved the family south from New Jersey, along with their two daughters Patricia and Suzanne.

It wasn’t an easy move for the family, but McMenemy’s early connections to the community of Sanibel eased that difficulty, along with her faith, which originated back to her Catholic upbringing in New York.

“I came to Sanibel kicking and screaming,” McMenemy said. “But it’s been such a journey and a blessing. I love life, God is good all the time. I know there is more out there for me.”

Her role at Sanibel School started as a volunteer, which started as a one-hour a week capacity. She started as a volunteer for Kindergarten teacher Laurie Sanders, who is still teaching at Sanibel and has 33 years of service to the school.

That one-hour a week volunteer job eventually blossomed into a multi-faceted pronged job. Students would see McMenemy all over the school, working as a bookkeeper, health aid, clinic assistant and lunchroom monitor.

Eventually, a full-time position opened up as the principal’s assistant under Principal Barbara Ward, and McMenemy took on the responsibilities with as much vigor as she did prior.

But even when McMenemy was hired back in 1987, she still brought love to the students and also discipline. That remained evident every day for the last 27 years.

In an article featuring McMenemy in the Islander’s Sept. 6, 1988 edition, she describes what she brought to Sanibel School.

“Kids need more hugs, and I’ve got one for each of them,” she was quoted as saying. “As a matter of fact, children need a lot more hugs, and sometimes, a few more spankings would go a long ways, too. But that’s not why I’m here.”

McMenemy laughs at that quote 26 years later, saying “I can’t believe I said that!”

But it was that tough love what some kids responded to the most positively to.

“When I was a kid, I was terrified of her,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “But I can see after coming back to work here with her as an adult, that toughness was strength. What was terrifying as an elementary kid, has turned into a lot of respect for her.”

McMenemy made the Principals’ schedule work as smoothly as possible, as well. If it was either Principal Ward, or current Principal Barbara Von Harten, they both could be confident their appointments would be met and everything laid out precisely under the guidance of McMenemy’s watchful eyes.

The Sanibel School staff also has taken notice of their “Mother Hen” and appreciate the solid structure she has provided for 27 years.

An employee recognition notice goes out weekly at Sanibel School, with staff offering comments of people they appreciate.

With McMenemy’s last week of work being the one before holiday break Dec. 19, compliments rained down.

“Maureen gives 110-percent each and every day to make our lives easier,” wrote Nancy McDole. “I truly do not know how the school will function without her.”

“Maureen, you are the best secretary, friend, supporter and lover of life,” wrote Mary Stewart. “Thank you for sharing yourself with all of us over the years. Thank you for all you have done to make our world easy, happy and worth coming to work for. I will miss you!!”

And yet one more: “Nothing slows her down,” wrote Tim Dean. “Even when she isn’t feeling well, she still won’t give in, she just keeps going and going. You are so loved here.”

Those were just three of well over a dozen appreciating comments, which truly shows the respect McMenemy earned over her time at Sanibel School.

But life will definitely move on for McMenemy, who retired early in the school year because she will be taking a dream trip to Australia from February to April. She still plans on making stops at Sanibel School, but she also knows life will be different not being there every day.

“It’s such a wonderful place to work,” McMenemy said. “Sanibel to me, is one of the nicest communities I know of. If it wasn’t for the community, this school wouldn’t be what it is.

“I love life, God is good all the time. I know there is more out there now. I volunteer for hospice, perform weddings on the island as a notary, I do dog sitting and dog walking. I know I will be OK.”

The legacy McMenemy will leave behind will not be forgotten by many Sanibel residents and school staff for a long, long time.

It will be her consistent reminder that offering love, hard work and strong faith is a successful path to follow.