Mary Pat Bruels stepped out of her house at the sound of a bullhorn calling her name.
"Mary Pat Bruels! Mary Pat Bruels, are you in there?"
As she emerged from her house, husband at her side, Superintendent Shon Hocker announced, "Congratulations! You are the district teacher of the year!"
Lining the street in front of her house was a Dickinson Midgets bus with police escort, and on her lawn, a gathering of her administrators.
"I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I think I just burst into tears immediately, and when I saw my principal, I figured it must have something to do with me. … It was a very humbling experience, a very nice honor, and very unexpected," Bruels said. "My husband just told me I need to … come home a little earlier than usual for a meeting … I wasn’t told anything else. I had no idea it was going to happen. I was totally surprised and overcome with emotion."
The principal where she teaches at Lincoln Elementary, Tammy Peterson, held a banner with Bruels' name on it, along with her new title. Peterson gave the teacher flowers and a hug; Hocker presented her with a plaque and certificate bearing the accomplishment; and Brent Seaks, school board president, handed her a box of donuts.
After they had piled on the bus to visit the next house, a parade of about 30 vehicles carrying Lincoln Elementary staff drove by with the school's mascot, Lincoln lion, a suit which Bruels herself often wears.
Bruels is retiring at the end of the school year after spending her whole 42-year career in the district. Her principal, who helped organize the parade, has known her for most of those years.
Bruels was at Lincoln in 1990 when Peterson's career was just beginning. Now Peterson will be there as Bruels' is ending.
"I was a student teacher at Lincoln Elementary back in 1990 … and Mary Pat was there during that time … That’s where we really got to know each other. Coming back to Lincoln and being able to be an administrator at Lincoln and work with her again was pretty special," Peterson said. "When I think of the legacy that Mary Pat leaves behind, it’s her kind heart, her caring aurora that surrounds her, and her compassion for education … She truly is the classiest person that I know … Other educators would say the same thing; for as long as they’ve known her, she always has the classiest outfits, matching shoes, matching earrings … her fashion is top-notch."
While Peterson says that Bruels has been the "heart of Lincoln" during the pandemic, Bruels offers praise to her as well.
"I would just like to give a shout out during this online learning and this whole pandemic … to the Dickinson Public Schools administrators and specifically to my principal Tammy Peterson for their leadership," she said.
Soon after, across town, Heart River Elementary's administrative assistant, Jeanette Wyckoff, was watching television with her daughter when she heard police sirens in her neighborhood. She went to the window to look out and saw a large bus.
"It was such a surprise, so that was really cool, and then just to have the whole parade was really cool," Wyckoff said. "When everyone left the first time, I said to my daughter, ‘Aw, that’s kind of disappointing; I didn’t get to share that with Heart River,’ and then of course 10 minutes later they came through."
She, too, was presented with a banner, plaque, certificate, flowers and donuts awarding her for her recognition as the district's classified staff member of the year.
Wyckoff has also worked for the district her entire career - 24 years - first as a supervisor on the playground, then as a library paraprofessional and currently as administrative assistant.
She does a lot more than answer phones.
"Mrs. Wyckoff also imparts the importance of education on our students," principal Susan Cook wrote of her. "She often works with students who need a break assisting them in understanding a difficult concept or just encouraging them and helping them to reset and refocus their day. Her no-nonsense approach to the importance of learning and the benefits of 'turning it around' goes a long way in our students."
She continued, "She is professional, knowledgeable, honest and one of the hardest workers at HR. She does everything with a smile, song or dance and almost knows the question before the teacher, staff member, student or parent asks it. She has a wonderful personality and takes care of her co-worker’s needs. Mrs. Wyckoff is willing to put on any hat and will always have a smile with it. She is more than a secretary; she’s a superhero!"
Those organizing the parade compared it to the district's usual way of presenting these awards, a dinner and ceremony.
"I did tease Dr. Hocker with saying I really think we should do this from now on and doing away with the formal sit-down meal and presentation, because this was quite outstanding. I think this was a game changer," said Peterson. "You feel pretty special when you have the grand midget bus pull up and lights going from the officers and all the staff coming to you to celebrate and your family is there. I just don’t think it can get any better than that."