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Bonnie McBeth, Plainfield's First Kindergarten Teacher, Dies

"The students and staff loved her, and she loved them right back."

In 2007, McBeth donated $25,000 to endow a scholarship for fellow educators. Credit: File photo
In 2007, McBeth donated $25,000 to endow a scholarship for fellow educators. Credit: File photo
Even after retiring after nearly four decades of teaching, Bonnie McBeth remained a "powerful force for education."

Plainfield School District Community Relations Direction Tom Hernandez said the district learned on Tuesday that McBeth, 85, the namesake for Plainfield's early learning center, had passed away.

"Mrs. McBeth was an inspiration to countless District 202 students, staff and community members, a leader, and a positive and powerful force for education," said Hernandez, who worked with McBeth each year on the scholarship she endowed in 2007. "She was an icon in District 202, and her loss will be felt for a long time."

McBeth became District 202's first kindergarten teacher in 1951 at Central Elementary. She also taught reading and worked as a reading specialist before retiring in 1994 after 38 years in education.

After retiring, McBeth didn't leave education behind. In 2007, she donated $25,000 to endow a scholarship to help fund continuing education for early childhood teachers.  The Plainfield District 202 Foundation for Excellence now administers the scholarship on her behalf.

Named in her honor, two Bonnie McBeth Early Learning Scholarships are awarded each year to Plainfield-area teachers, and it was McBeth herself who chose the recipients each year.

Kristin Brower, principal of Bonnie McBeth Early Learning Center, said McBeth was well known among students and staff at the school.

Every holiday season, she would visit and read "The Polar Express" to students; a mural at the school even depicts McBeth reading the tale aloud.

"It's definitely something that has always been special to us and will be even more so,"Brower said. "She was just here in January to read to us, so it's been very hard ... I think it'll really hit us hard come the holiday season."

Brower said McBeth was also invited to ride on the school's homecoming parade float each fall.

"She's a celebrity here," Brower said. On Wednesday, purple bunting was hung at the early learning center, as well as Central Elementary and the district administration center, Brower said.

Calling McBeth "a remarkable woman," Hernandez said in a statement:

"She personally funded a scholarship in her name to help early childhood teachers continue their education. She hand-picked each winner, and personally presented each check to nine educators over the years. 

"She always intended that the scholarship be open to all teachers, whether from District 202 or elsewhere. This year, she was delighted to give one of her scholarships for the first time to a non-District 202 teacher in the Valley View district. 

"But the best part of this process every year was watching the kids' faces light up with recognition as they realized they were talking to the 'real' Bonnie McBeth. 

"Every winter she would come to the school and read 'The Polar Express' to students at the preschool that bears her name -- and a beautiful mural showing her doing just that. The students and staff loved her, and she loved them right back."

Brian Kocher February 27, 2014 at 04:13 PM
She's with the angels now. What a great woman. She will be missed.
Paul Fay February 27, 2014 at 04:35 PM
May God welcome home his good and faithful servant. Bonnie, you are missed.
Vicky Polito February 27, 2014 at 04:59 PM
While 38 years would be a wonderful accomplishment, I believe that with the info given (1st kindergarten teacher in 1951 to her retirement in 1994) Bonnie McBeth gave 43 years of devotion to education! All sympathy to her family and loved ones.
Shannon Antinori February 27, 2014 at 05:58 PM
According to the district, Mrs. McBeth actually took a few years off when she had her kids, so she taught for 38 years. However, she definitely continued to support education in District 202 long after that.
Tracy February 27, 2014 at 06:41 PM
This is such sad news. My son went to Bonnie McBeth Learning Center and I was a PTO President at the school. We met Mrs. McBeth on several occasions, and it was always a treat for the kids. This Summer, I was at the library with my son and daughter, and we saw her again. I asked if I could take a picture with my kids, and she agreed. She asked them about the books they were reading, and she was completely engaged when they talked to her. She was such a wonderful person, and she will be greatly missed.

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