That's how superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools Wendy Robinson described the tributes paid to her Tuesday during a drive-thru retirement celebration at Northrop High School.
Scores of vehicles bearing present and former administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students, lined up to wish Robinson well after 17 years in her post and three decades before that as a teacher and in other district positions.
Two of the attendees were Dan Bickel and his wife, Barb, of Fort Wayne. Dan, a former elementary schools administrator, called Robinson “a very special person in my life.”
He praised her collaborative leadership style and the way she kept the focus on students.
Robinson “accepted me in the Fort Wayne Community Schools years ago and was one of the first people to teach me the ropes. She helped me as a colleague and a mentor and became a real and trusted friend,” said Bickel, who retired in 2012.
“I told her retirement was the biggest adjustment in my life, but if she needs any help just to call, because I got good at it.”
School board member Steve Corona greeted Robinson with a hug.
“It's, you know, a bittersweet day,” he said. “I'm so happy for her.”
But at the same time, he said, he knows what the 30,000-student district will miss without her at the head.
Corona said Robinson emerged as a champion for not only large urban school systems like Fort Wayne but for public education as a whole – “at a time when it was under attack.”
He added he was sure she wouldn't stop rooting for the district.
“But it's good to know after so many years she won't have to make those decisions all day long, every day,” Corona said.
Robinson came to the event with her husband, Jim, and one of her two adult sons, Damian. She stood under one of two white-topped tents with about a dozen staff members, while a wicker basket collected greeting cards, assistants took custody of flower arrangements, and cars decorated with balloon and streamers paused in a socially distanced manner.
“I'm seeing people I haven't seen in a long time,” Robinson said, pointing out that COVID-19 has limited her contact even with people she would normally have seen in the course of her work.
“It's like homecoming week!” she said.
Her first challenge in retirement, Robinson said, will be seeing how everything in her office can fit into her home. “That will take at least a couple of months,” she said.
Maria Norman, on the FWCS board three years, drove up with a passenger waving a sign to honor Robinson out of the sunroof.
“Our SHERO,” it read. “Thank You for Paving the Way for Women Everywhere.”
Norman said, for her, the sign said it all.