By Terry Rogers
On Thursday, June 2, 2016, community members, legislators and district employees gathered at Carlisle Fire Company to wish Superintendent Phyllis Kohel farewell. Dr. Kohel will retire, effective June 30, 2016, after more than 30 years of service to the district.
“Her story is amazing,” said Terri Hudson, City Clerk, who has been a close, personal friend to Dr. Kohel for many years. “She stayed home with her kids when they were young and when they returned to school, she took a job as a teacher’s aide. She fell in love with teaching and decided to go back to school to get her teaching degree. It wasn’t easy for her as she worked full-time while earning her degree, but she refused to give up.” While attending school, Dr. Kohel worked at the Milford Chronicle and at Wilmington Trust, providing for her family while working toward her degree, which she obtained from Delaware State College.
“I have been very fortunate,” Dr. Kohel said. “When I came to Milford in 1984, I met the greatest group of people and having many of them together tonight is such a blessing. I still remember the day that Chuck Moses hired me to teach. I knew immediately that I was meant to be in Milford. I was never meant to be anywhere else. I will forever be grateful to Bob Sutcliffe, who was my mentor, my confidante and my friend. I definitely have to thank Bob Smith for supporting me, for believing in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. He pushed me hard to become an administrator and I am thankful that he did.”
Senator Gary Simpson and Representative Dave Wilson presented Dr. Kohel with a proclamation from the Senate. Representative Wilson explained that there was another proclamation for Dr. Kohel from the House of Representatives, but Representative Harvey Kenton, who was supposed to present the proclamation, was tied up in a Joint Finance Committee meeting and was unable to attend the event at the last moment. Mayor Bryan Shupe presented a proclamation from the city as well.
“As a Milford High School graduate, it is a little intimidating to give this in front of all my teachers,” Mayor Shupe joked. “But it has been wonderful working with Phyllis over the past few years. I always respected and looked up to her. To be able to work with her to improve our city and the education provided to students has been very special to me and something I will always treasure.”
Dr. Kohel’s daughter, Stacy Greenly-Teat, spoke of the obstacles her mother faced throughout her life, many of the same obstacles that students in classrooms face today. She said that Dr. Kohel grew up poor and her parents eventually ended their marriage. Ms. Greenly-Teat said that Dr.Kohel’s family moved a lot, so it was difficult for her to put down roots.
“But my mom rose above all of that,” Ms. Greenly-Teat said. “Even while she attended high school herself, she stood out. She was an excellent field hockey player, she was a cheerleader. She was even the Homecoming Queen. When she told students that they could overcome anything, she wasn’t just saying the words. She actually did it and because she did it, she believed that any child could do it. She raised my brother and I, returning to school herself as an adult. She held several jobs while going to school. She can relate to everyone because she has been everyone. Through it all, she put family first. This means she put everyone here first, because everyone here is family to her. When she left to take the job in Woodbridge, I can tell you her heart didn’t go with her. Her heart remained here in Milford.”
Several people, including former Guidance counselor, Barbara Shalley-Leonard, English teacher, Kristen Majercik, current teachers, Ed and Veronica Evans, spoke about how Dr. Kohel influenced their lives as educators and friends. Ms. Shalley-Leonard said that Dr. Kohel had an infectious giggle that could make even the worst of times seem better. She also said that Dr. Kohel’s brief stay in Woodbridge affected changes in Milford.
“When she left this district, the one she put her heart and soul in, people took notice,” Ms. Shalley-Leonard said. “It started a chain of events that led her back home. It allowed her to return here and begin making changes that put this district on the right track.” School Board President, Renate Wiley said that her relationship with Dr. Kohel had come full-circle since they met in 1991.
Ms.Wiley, who was the school nurse at Milford High School for many years, said that when she came to Milford, Dr. Kohel was the Athletic Director. Because there was no office for her, she used Ms. Wiley’s storage closet as an office. Ms. Wiley said that she and Dr. Kohel grew close during that time, and she always considered Dr. Kohel a friend, even after she became the principal of the school, effectively becoming Ms. Wiley’s boss.
“In a strange twist of fate, however, as a member of the school board, I am now her boss,” Ms. Wiley said. “I was concerned when she applied for the superintendent position because I was afraid it would appear as if the ‘good old boy network’ was in play if we gave her the job. We had five candidates that we conducted final interviews for that evening. Every board member in attendance will tell you that Phyllis clearly outshined all of them. There was no question she was the right candidate for this job.”
Dr. Bob Smith said that he always considered himself a judge of good food, of good wine and of good people. He said he knew he made the right choice when he pushed Dr. Kohel to move into administration. Ms. Evans said that it was Dr. Kohel who made the entire staff “bleed maroon and gold.”
“With Phyllis, it is all about relationships, with her students, with her staff, with her fellow administrators,” Mr. Evans said. “The Kohel family is Buc Pride and we intend to keep that legacy going.”
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