Ruth Hernder has a spreadsheet of all the teaching and administrative positions she’s held, with a line for every one of her 31 years in the school system.
“She’s pretty damned organized,” says Mike Balsom, who has worked with Hernder at Laura Secord Secondary School since 2015.
She clearly also has a sense of fun: the database also features a song for every school at which Hernder has worked. Should you attend the high school principal’s retirement party on Jan. 12, you are likely to hear songs like “I Had the Time of My Life” (sounds like West Park Secondary School was good for Hernder), “Oh Happy Day” (apparently Eden High School was also a highlight) and “Uptown Funk,” which she associates with her time at Laura Secord.
Hernder has lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake for almost all of her life, most recently on a grape farm run by her husband and son. Her work has touched many in our town, particularly since our local high school was closed in 2009, and many local teens have had to seek their secondary school education in St. Catharines.
Most of the modest administrator’s career has been in North St. Catharines, “so I’ve seen lots of local kids at my schools,” Hernder says. “It’s really like watching your own kids grow up,” she continues. “I see people I knew as teens having babies now. I’m as proud as a parent would be.”
Balsom, a teacher at Laura Secord, says Hernder has always taken the time to get to know the students personally. He also recounts how she became very involved in a student-led mental health initiative called Secord Cares. “Weekly meetings she attended grew into applying for grants, and organizing speakers,” he says. “During Mental Health Week they were bringing in therapy dogs, organizing yoga classes — all driven by Ruth and this group.”
Hernder says, “There is always going to be the element of sex and drugs and rock and roll, but the majority of the teenagers I’ve worked with over the years are awesome.” The key, she says, is to teach them to be kind to others — as she did with her own children, who are now accomplished adults. “I also taught the students that everything is forever in the digital world, so think twice before you post it,” she says.
The retirement party will take advantage of a couple of local teachers’ extracurricular talents. Balsom, also known for his media prowess with stories for Cogeco’s The Source, will be the emcee for the evening, and sax player Jim Gay and his son Stephen will be providing some of the entertainment with their band Generation Train.
Hernder chose Caroline Cellars for the event because it’s owned by her husband Bruce’s cousin. And she chose the United Way as the recipient for ticket fees because of her own commitment to the charity. “Bruce and I have always supported the United Way, and then [the late] Anita Robertson invited me to join the board.” The reminder of the loss of this friend and mentor brings the sensitive Hernder to tears.
The party starts at 7 p.m. and goes to midnight. Light food and refreshments will be served. Tickets are $20 with proceeds going to the United Way. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Tracey Newman at 905-934-4501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Retirement beings officially on Feb. 1. What song will Hernder choose to represent this next chapter?