WARRENTON — Dee Hartley, a second-grade teacher set to retire from Warrenton Grade School, got a surprise on Tuesday at the school’s year-end assembly.
Alexis Joseph, Wade Chosvig and their grandmother, Gail Antilla, honored Hartley in front of faculty, students and their families for her longtime service to Ronald McDonald House Charities in Portland.
The recognition was especially personal, as Hartley spearheaded an effort to support the family after Chosvig was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus on June 10, 1999.
From then on, Hartley turned Ronald McDonald’s pull tab program into a math project for her students. The program invites schools and other groups to collect pull tabs from aluminum cans and deliver them to their local Ronald McDonald House. The house melts and recycles the aluminum to offset expenses.
Hartley heard of Chosvig’s condition from Joseph, who was in her second-grade class at the time. Hartley was stunned when Joseph told her they were not able to bring her little brother home as he was flown to Portland shortly after delivery at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria. The family spent the following year at Ronald McDonald House in Portland.
“Every year as Wade has undergone multiple surgeries Mrs. Hartley at the end of every June has been there with a car full of pull tabs, a hug and support,” Joseph said at the assembly in the school’s gymnasium. “Thank you for being a shining light when the world doesn’t seem so bright.”
Joseph and Chosvig presented Hartley with a plaque and flowers and she was applauded and given a standing ovation.
“The school year has always been a hard time for me to say goodbye because it’s an ending and we were all excited for the birth of her sibling and when she got back she brought a picture,” Hartley recalled. “With all endings come new beginnings and that’s what it felt like. This little boy’s life was starting and when I saw Alexis in the hall and learned about Ronald McDonald that seemed like a good start to another start to help something.”
Her students would use the pull tabs over the school year to help them learn to count to the thousands. Some years, her class collected tens of thousands, and in other years, hundreds of thousands. Over time, surrounding elementary schools and high schools began to collect pull tabs to donate to Hartley’s class.
Hartley said in 20 years her classes have collected 3.2 million pull tabs.
“Every year there’s always one person in the class who says one of their family members stayed there ... so they already know about Ronald McDonald House and it makes it real,” Hartley said.
Every year, Hartley and Antilla lay out all the tabs at the year-end assembly and tell everyone how much they collected.
“It’s fun and it’s a tradition every second to the last day of school we trot them over there,” Hartley said. “At the beginning of the year, it brings everybody into a team process to do that, plus they love helping, that’s our nature is to help.”
Growing up in a Coast Guard family, Joseph attended several different schools. She said Hartley was the most memorable teacher she had.
With the support of Hartley and other teachers, Chosvig has overcome many of his own obstacles. He wants to teach other kids in similar situations how to do the same.
Chosvig helps mentor kids at Shriners Hospital for Children as part of their recreational therapy program. Some of the kids also have spina bifida, while others have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and Asperger’s syndrome.
“Some of them are younger and I have a lot more experience, so I give them a lot of advice that I’ve gone through when I was their age,” he said. “I’ve helped a lot of kids doing that.”