Marleen Moffitt retires after 35 years in the Cordova School District

If you’ve lived in Cordova awhile and either raised your children here or spent your own childhood here, it is likely you will have met one of the most amazing women in this town. This dynamic individual has spent the larger part of her life raising not only her own children, but going to work at Mt. Eccles Elementary School every day to raise your children and mine, too. That woman is Marleen Moffitt, known to most of us simply as Ms. Moffitt — and who retires at the end of this school year, marking a mostly lovable, long teaching career with an entire, whopping amount of rambunctious kindergarten kids.

All of those years have been with the Cordova School District, 33 years as an educator and two years as a teacher’s aide prior to getting her first teaching job. In that time, Moffitt taught high school special education for four years and was a kindergarten teacher for 29 years. She’s not only taught a generation of kids, but has then taught the next generation — her student’s children!

Moffitt was born in Moscow, Idaho, and was raised in Cordova. She started kindergarten in the same room she’s been teaching her kindergarten classes in for nearly three decades. She’s the daughter of Delmar Moffitt, who worked for Pacific Northern Airlines and was a volunteer firefighter in Cordova in the early ’60s. He passed away when Marleen was 10-years old.  Marleen’s mother, Kathy, remarried Walt Crow. Crow was part owner of the original St. Elias Cannery and later was a tender operator. Kathy and Walt are also deceased.

Marleen’s sister, Delleen, is also an educator in Oregon. Marleen has two daughters, Cadence and Joscelyn, who she’s raised in Cordova.

“I was in college when I realized I wanted to teach young children. I originally was a music voice major, but I took a couple classes in early childhood development and realized how fascinating young children are. I did a practicum in a preschool classroom for children with developmental disabilities and I decided that special education was what I wanted to go into. There were no special education programs in the state at the time, so I transferred to the University of Idaho and entered the education program there,” Moffitt said.

Moffitt earned an Associate of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in 1977 and a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Special Education and Elementary Education from the University of Idaho 1980, just one day before Mt. St. Helen’s erupted and blanketed the Pacific Northwest with ash.

Moffitt credits several of her own teachers for inspiring her to further her education and take up a career as an educator.

“I had several teachers who inspired me during my years in Cordova as an elementary and high school student. One of my music teachers, Richard Port, helped me discover my passion for music. JoAnn Banta taught me almost everything I needed to know in life. She taught me how to sew and cook, and write, as my home economics teacher and my English teacher, but most of all she probably taught me to never accept less than my best effort and also to not sweat the small stuff and enjoy life,” Moffitt said.

“Tom Church helped me appreciate education and how to think outside the box. I have a great-grandmother who was a teacher after she finished 8th grade in 1898, and a grandmother who was involved in education for almost 50 years, so perhaps it was just one of those family things.”

Asked what is most inspiring about being a teacher, Moffitt said there are so many instances to choose from, as there would be after helping raise 30 years of Cordova’s kids.

“One of the sweetest is when some
middle-aged man shows up at the school and gives me a hug, telling me that I made a difference in his life. There have been several of those ‘kids’ show up with memories and kind words. It’s like the years fall away and I can see that goofy kid who showed up in my classroom decades ago,” Moffitt said.

This delightfully funny lady has a great sense of humor, I’m sure we will all agree. It may be attributed, in some small part, to spending so many years with youngsters.

“Five- and 6-year-olds say the most honest and hilarious things. I should have written them all down, but of course I thought I’d always remember them. Almost every day there’s some little bit of 5-year-old wisdom or humor that brightens my day.”

“The one memory I will always have: I’d been sitting on the floor for too long and was having a hard time getting up off of the floor. I looked at my teacher’s aide and said, ‘Can you get a fork lift?’ The little boy next to me yells, ‘Fork Lift! Fork Lift? Just like Sampson Tug and Barge!’ Then he ever-so-skillfully runs both of his hands underneath my rear end! Fitful laughter and legs that had fallen asleep kept me on the floor a while longer! I won’t name names, but he was one of my second generation kids. His dad and he will always have a place in my heart,” Moffitt reminisced.

But being an educator isn’t always easy.

“Some of my greatest struggles have been realizing that I only have control over about six hours each day in a child’s life. Knowing that some children are coming from an environment that is challenged with health issues, addiction issues, metal health issues and a disrupted family is sometimes overwhelming for me. Then I consider how overwhelming it is for the child,” Moffitt shared.

“I have always vowed to try to make kindergarten the most consistent, stable and welcoming place for them to be. It really does take a village to raise a child and we all need to have those people who will support and love our kids. We need those people who will back us up, or teach us new ways to parent. We need those people who will pray for our kids and our families. When we’re to the point we don’t know what to do anymore, we need those people who are like our wingmen, covering our backs and making sure we complete the mission and return home.

“Cordova is a great place to raise kids,” Moffitt said. “I’m glad I got to be a little part of the bigger plan.”

The “light bulb” moments are the ones that have kept Moffitt going throughout the years. Those are, she said, the times when a child is struggling with something and finally gets it.

“You can see the light bulb go off in their brain. The joy about kindergarten is that it might be a educational light bulb moment or it might be the moment in time when they learn to tie their shoes, put their coat on by themselves, or say, ‘Could I use that when you’re done with it,’ or the moment they learn how to skip. The little blocks that build the foundation of a child’s life are sometimes huge!

“My mantra in kindergarten is, ‘Solve your own problem.’ Too often we step in way too early and fix everything for our kids. When do we really do our greatest learning?  During those times when we really have to struggle with something, come back to it, look at it in a different way and tackle it again. That’s the gift we can give to our kids. Let them get bored, struggle and problem solve. They are so victorious when they finally can do it themselves,” Moffitt said.

What carried her through her hardest times? So often it was the children themselves.

“The kids — that’s the only reason any teacher goes back day after day, year after year. Some days it’s the parent that I know I somehow made a difference in how they tackled something at home. I helped them make a difference. Often it’s the other teachers who just get what it’s like to be there in the trenches. There is a great system of support between teachers and without the legacy of highly qualified and dedicated teachers during the last 35 years I don’t think I would have been equipped with the enthusiasm to return for 6,300 days.”

What is Ms. Moffitt going to do now? First things first, she won’t have to set the alarm, at least for a couple of days. Next, she’ll chaperone the Cordova Future Problem Solvers team to the international competition in Michigan.

“I’ll do my summer job at Cordova Air; take Cadi to college in August and then who knows? I have two daughters to get through college, so I don’t believe this is the end of my working days,” Moffitt said.

The family plans to stay in Cordova for the next several years. Cadi just graduated from Cordova High School on May 21, and her sister Josi isn’t far behind, as she will be a junior at CHS in the fall.

Moffitt shared a few parting words of wisdom for her colleagues not yet ready for retirement:  “A very wise former superintendent used to say, ‘If you think you can take your hand out of a bucket of water and the water won’t flow back into the hole, you need to think again.’”

“I’m not leaving a hole, I’m leaving a space that someone else will fill with their passions and gifts and abilities. The great thing about teaching is that it leaves some space for those passions and gifts. All of the teachers who will be at Mt. Eccles this fall will be excited and inspired to jump into a new year with a new crop of kids. I know the tradition of excellence at Mt. Eccles will continue because of the passion,” Moffitt said.

“My advice to all of my friends returning next year? You have my phone number, call if you need a sub! I know I’m not finished working with kids. I’m just examining what that new role looks like.”

“I’m grateful to two people who I have to thank for their amazing support of me and my family — my Uncle Buddy and Aunt Wanda. They have been my biggest cheerleaders, wingmen and support system,” Ms. Moffitt said.

Clearly, trying to put the proper amount of words to paper to convey the depth of Marleen Moffitt’s dedication and investment into this community, and our children, is a nearly impossible task. There are so many facets of this woman’s life which we haven’t touched upon — including her singing and acting talents, her cooking and baking skills, her work in photography, her travels to far off lands, and so much more.

It is with our love, our gratitude and our most humble best wishes that we congratulate Ms. Marleen Moffitt on her years of service to our community, and her retirement. May you continue your journey and enjoy every moment of it — you deserve only the best!

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.