OPUSD organizes retirement reception to honor the 13 district retirees

Reception capped at 100 people to comply with COVID-19 guidelines

The Oak Park Unified School District’s Board of Education held an invite-only reception on Tuesday, May 11 to honor 13 educators leaving the district: Patti Holland, Sheri Merfeld, Nina Johnson, Linda Friedricks, Regina Pahn, Dr. Jon Duim, Lynn Paniz, Randi Liepman, Julie Ross, Sherry Hung, Sharon Stutz, Debbie Cooper and Dr. Tony Knight.

The in-person event was strictly specified to be invite-only and took place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the Great Lawn of the Oak Park High School; however, all members of OPUSD were invited to watch a YouTube livestream of the evening through a link sent out via email. 

Due to COVID-19 guidelines, there was a maximum of 100 attendees – the listed retirees, their guests and some selected speakers. Masks were to be worn at all times, with the only exception being during the retirees’ and speakers’ closing words and photoshoots. 

Throughout the ceremony, the Board presented its retirees with certificates from local elected officials and an OPUSD plaque honoring their extensive years of educational and administrative service. The awards presentation was accompanied by the gift of a flower bouquet and friends offering a few kind words to their beloved colleagues. 

The reception came equipped with many heartwarming moments – friendship speeches between Red Oak Elementary School retirees Sheri Merfeld and Nina Johnson, a demonstration of TPR (Total Physical Response) between OPHS French teacher and language department chair Madame Bovard and OPHS Chinese teacher retiree Sherry Hung and a photo op with Administrative Human Resources retiree Debbie Cooper with her grandchildren. 

The retirees were honored in the order listed earlier, and the farewell for district Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight concluded the night – no pun intended. 

At Knight’s commencement, he was awarded a resolution honoring his work by guest speaker Linda Parks and was given speeches by former OPUSD superintendent Marilyn Lippiatt and former board member Jan Iceland, among many others. 

According to Knight, the Board wanted to plan a separate event for him, but he asked that he simply be included with the other OPUSD retirees.   

Knight also went up to the speaker’s podium multiple times to praise and take pictures with his fellow retirees. 

As the reception drew to a close, many of the retirees had words of wisdom and encouragement for current students. 

“Be sure you look people in the eye, listen and know they have a story, and honor them,” Cooper said. “We can all learn from others, which allows us to choose qualities for ourselves and our success.”

Medea Creek Middle School Librarian retiree Lynn Paniz shed some light on her new routine in retirement. 

“I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my life,” Paniz said. “I think that it will be a treat to wake up without an alarm clock so I’ll be able to see how wonderful each day can be.” 

Knight assured that the district’s students are stronger than they think, and advised that they should take a look at everything that happened during the pandemic and learn from both the negatives and the positives. 

“I’ll definitely miss the students most,” Knight said. “They are courageous and absolutely wonderful and will take on problems with resilience.”

Among the guests was upcoming OPUSD Superintendent Jeff Davis, who expressed his honor in joining the district’s staff.

“When you have a great school district, like Oak Park, you can tell it is a great school district because it is a family,” Davis said. “Everybody feels so close and connected – to be a part of that is a great honor.”