Retiring teacher's service to her students rewarded with gift to Hawaii

North Texas Catholic
(Apr 16, 2019) Local

St. Andrew kindergarten teacher, Pat Cooper (middle), sits with Michelle LaGroue (left) and Stephanie LaGroue (right) who gifted her a trip to Hawaii from the school's auction. (NTC/Jayme Donahue)

FORT WORTH — While at 5:30 p.m. Mass at St. Andrew Parish before heading to a fundraising auction, mother of six Michelle LaGroue reflected on how much Catholic schools have meant to her family.

Her youngest is about to graduate from St. Andrew Catholic School and this would be her last of many school auction appearances.

Suddenly, she had an epiphany. She decided to purchase a $100 golden ticket for a drawing that allowed the winner to pick any live auction prize — not for herself, but for a cherished kindergarten teacher who is retiring this year.

On the way to the event, LaGroue used her phone to buy a single ticket — one of 150.

Michelle and husband Fred arrived to find they had won. But they had to pick their prize immediately to take it out of the bidding for the evening.

What to get Pat Cooper, who had devoted the past 29 years to teaching kindergarten there? She had been at the auction, but left moments before to go home.

Luckily, organizers reached her by phone and Cooper said she would love the vacation package to Hawaii.

“Afterward, my husband and I began laughing and giggling about what God did,” said LaGroue, whose family are members of St. Patrick Cathedral Parish. “He really wanted to bless Miss Cooper.”

When a physical education teacher called Miss Cooper as she was heading home, her first reaction was to say it was a mistake because she did not buy a golden ticket. But then she was told LaGroue had gifted her the grand prize.

“My hands shook a little,” Cooper recalled. “When I got home I dropped to my knees and thanked God. It was a blessing.”

Cooper began teaching kindergarten at St. Andrew in 1990 and never wanted to teach anything else.

“I always enjoyed teaching the little ones,” said Cooper, who describes herself as four-foot-11 and a quarter. “When something clicks, you can see it in their eyes. I call it the light bulb moment. I see that in the classroom a lot.”

Cooper, who attended Catholic schools her entire life, has a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from the University of Dayton in Ohio and a master of education from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

“One of the main reasons that I teach at St. Andrew is because of the feeling of being part of a large Catholic faith community,” Cooper said. “The staff and the families that send their children here live out the teachings of Jesus to be of service to others.”

Cooper is excited about the weeklong trip for six to Kauai and is taking two sisters and her two best friends.

“This truly was a gift from the LaGroue family’s hearts,” the longtime educator said.          

Catholic schools have played a prominent role in the formation of the lives of the LaGroue family. Fred attended Catholic school and vowed to give all of his children a similarly rewarding education.

“He was very adamant they needed a community,” LaGroue said of her husband, who works at Lockheed Martin. “We wanted to back up what we were doing in the home.”

St. Andrew kindergarten teacher, Pat Cooper stands with Michelle LaGroue (right), Stephanie LaGroue, and Rose Hall Welborn. The LaGroue family decided to gift her a trip to Hawaii from the school's auction. (NTC/Jayme Donahue)

All six attended St. Andrew, and when their youngest, Stephanie, 14, graduates this year she will attend Nolan Catholic High School as did her siblings, Ann Marie, 28, Freddie, 26, Jeremy, 22, Gabrielle, 20, and Camille, 18.

The two youngest had Cooper as their kindergarten teacher.

They not only adored her but LaGroue, who occasionally substitutes there, had gotten to know the diminutive educator.

“Miss Cooper said she wanted to always teach kindergarten so the students would be smaller than she was,” LaGroue said with a laugh. “She loves kids. She always lives lovingly.”

The faculty, students, and their families were inspired by the teacher’s courage when she battled breast cancer and returned midway through the school year.

“She came back because she said kids are the best medicine,” LaGroue recalled.

According to Rose Hall, St. Andrew director of development, 515 supporters attended the 21st Annual Auction and Dinner held April 6 at Ridglea Country Club. They raised $243,000, up from $167,000 the year before.

It was a highpoint in the history of the school that opened in 1954 and serves more than 600 children in grades pre-K through eighth.

“It was a huge difference from last year,” Hall said.

The theme was “Eat, Drink, and be Giving,” and Hall said the gift to Cooper “really set the tone” for people to be generous.

“It gave me goose pimples,” she added.

When the auctioneer announced what had happened, everyone reacted with joy and a standing ovation.

“It was amazing,” Hall said. “Everyone was crying and clapping. The evening was probably the best monetarily and it was definitely the most fun.”

The annual fundraiser is designed to build financial support for the school and a stronger community. Funds support academic and enrichment enhancements not covered through tuition such as technology upgrades and facility enhancements.

Another live auction item made its way back to St. Andrew. Auction co-chair Jennifer Folzenlogen donated a 37-inch mosaic statue that was made by her mother-in-law Jeanie Folzenlogen especially for the auction.

The Blessed Mother statue was made with individually cut pieces of Spode and Royal Doulton china and embellished with porcelain roses and genuine turquoise, lapis, and amethyst jewels. 

With a top bid of $9,000, the winner gave the piece to St. Andrew Parish to place in its newly remodeled foyer outside its new pastoral center.

Father Jim Gigliotti, TOR, pastor, who fell in love with the statue at first sight, was thrilled that it was gifted to his parish. He proudly introduced the artwork to his congregation at the 10:30 a.m. Mass the day after the auction.

Folzenlogen said she was thrilled the piece her mother-in-law specially made was given such prominence.

“Jeanie’s religious imagery creations have raised more than $280,000 for charities,” her daughter-in-law said.

The entire night was an evening in which the co-chair said “you felt the community, you felt the love.”

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