By Rich Winter
The recent passing of Todd County elementary teacher, Deb Waln, after a long battle with cancer, brought up a lot of emotions for the Todd County School District and the hundreds of students whose lives Waln touched.
As the caravan of cars bringing Deb Waln’s body back to Mission came close to the elementary school, one student asked why they were going out to watch the processional because he didn’t know her.
Another brand new student offered this in response...
“I didn’t know her either but they all love her so I do to,” Bobbie Cox, Todd County Elementary Principal said.
Waln had been sick for awhile and fought a very public battle, one that students at the elementary school were aware of.
“We didn’t keep it a secret, and we didn’t hide our sadness. Many students had questions and teachers handled that well. Staff were also very supportive of each other,” Cox said.
And so, as a caravan of cars pulled up to, and through the parking lot of the school just north of Mission, the Waln family was greeted with hundreds of students with decorated signs, all showing support for someone that had meant so much to them.
“Deb’s family was kind enough to agree to the caravan driving around our back loop and also behind the middle school so that kids could say farewell,” Cox said. “It was a very emotional time, facing Deb’s family as they drove through, and seeing our students’ responses.”
And it wasn’t just students that Waln touched. Most of the teachers at the elementary school piled in a school bus to drive to the Thursday funeral together.
“In all my life I have not known such dedication, stamina and love for students. Deb was remarkable as a teacher and person. She never indicated discouragement in our conversations, even when she could barely walk,” Dr. Karen Whitney, Todd County Superintendant said.
“With a smile on her face, she always referred to her important work with her students. She loved and was loved by all in the Todd County School District.”
Waln began her career as a teacher’s aide in 1991 and later completed her bachelors degree in elementary education from Sinte Gleska while working as a para, eventually taking over her own classroom.
But she didn’t stop there.
Waln earned her Master’s Degree from SGU as a reading specialist. Waln was a third grade teacher at TCES when the school opened in the fall of 2014 and she continued in that capacity, until this year where she was a special education teacher.
TCES Counselor, Rosebud Brushbreaker noted that a lot of students at the school had questions but were very reflective of the fight that Waln displayed during her battle.
“Her fight to continue and always comeback to school/work, has taught our kids that no matter the struggles you may be facing, you continue,” Brushbreaker said.
Cox, who served as Waln’s boss, knew Waln well before she ever became a teacher and said the teacher always had a natural talent for interacting positively with others.
“I’ve known Deb for most of my life, long before she became a teacher, and when I think back to meeting her as a child, I remember how friendly she was, and what a beautiful smile she had,” Cox said. “She always seemed genuinely happy. She had a natural talent of drawing people in and connecting with them, and that is one of the things that made her a great teacher.”
Gone but never forgotten, students and staff meet every day at 8:25 a.m. in the commons area to sing the Lakota Flag song with Waln’s memorial quilt hanging above them.
“I think we have the greatest kids here at TCES, and I think that Ms. Waln’s death shows that there is so much more to learning than a standardized test,” Cox said. “Ms. Waln touched the lives of hundreds of children and their families.”