In Sandy Snyder’s two preschool classrooms at Messiah Lutheran Preschool, there is a Wall of Fame. On it are decades of photos of former students who have gone on to shine in athletics, law, medicine, education and entertainment.
It’s part of her packet of teaching tools as she passes on her love of learning to her small charges.
But after more than 36 years in the classroom, Snyder, 75, decided to retire. Sunday, 200 people – friends, relatives and former students – surprised her with a party.
Snyder thought she was going to a late lunch with her daughter and stepped into the school to prep for Monday’s classes. Instead, she was led into the cafeteria where there were balloons, cookies and pound cake, and two iced cakes made into the shape of her two "Scaredy Cats," one yellow and one blue.
"Oh my God," she whispered as she walked into the room. Her hand went to her mouth and then to her heart. She stood in a makeshift receiving line to receive hugs.
She smiled as her daughter Kim Balkema pinned a corsage of tiny, pale lilies on to her dress.
Lynda Gevers, whose son R.J. went through Snyder’s preschool classes and is now a freshman at Concordia Lutheran High school, contacted many of the Wall of Famers about the party.
Her son, R.J. "has never had a teacher he liked better," Gevers said. "He credits Mrs. Snyder – he wants to be a brain surgeon – with all his curiosity and his love of learning."
Jessica Goeglein Arnett, a teacher at the school, said she first worked as Snyder’s aide and learned a lot. "What didn’t I learn?" she asked rhetorically.
Snyder is also famous for keeping a pet newt in an aquarium in her classroom and kissing it every year on "Wacky Wednesday."
Snyder, whose husband, Samuel, died 18 years ago, is a Fort Wayne native who attended Forest Park elementary school and graduated from North Side High School in 1959.
Her mother, Eileen Schamerloh, was a teacher and Snyder knew she wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Snyder earned a bachelor of science and master of science in education at the University of Saint Francis. She taught at a private kindergarten in Woodburn and then spent three years at St. Joseph Central elementary school before starting 33 years ago at Messiah Lutheran preschool and kindergarten. She taught alongside her lifetime friend, Rose Marquart.
She and her husband, whom she met when she was 4 years old, were foster parents to 29 children.
"It was a joy being able to provide a home for them until they could find new, loving parents," she was quoted as saying in Balkema’s writeup. The Snyders had four children of their own and there are five grandchildren.
Even though she has traveled to 12 countries and many islands, party organizers said she still wanted to travel the world.
Snyder herself said she had a couple of other things in mind, too.
"I’m going to enjoy my garden and my grandchildren and watch all of them grow," she said.