On October 9, 2016, Effingham County lost one of its finest. Meredith Rountree Arnsdorff, 72, a long-time educator, passed away. Her husband of 51 years, Jerry, her children and family cared for her lovingly until she was called home to her Lord.
Over the past 30 years, I cannot begin to count the number of times I have casually mentioned the late Mrs. Arnsdorff’s name in conversation only to have people immediately respond, “Ms. Arnsdorff! I love Ms. Arnsdorff! She was my favorite teacher!” or “She was the best boss I ever had!”
When you consider that, as principal and assistant superintendent after her years in the classroom, she had to make tough decisions that would affect people around her, it is absolutely stunning that she received unequivocal praise and admiration from those whose path she crossed. Perhaps it was her “way” – her charm, wit and sense of humor – that endeared people to her.
She was indeed an educator’s educator, and she knew how to run a school because she had spent a good deal of time in the classroom. Her teachers respected that.
They also respected the fact that Mrs. Arnsdorff would never ask anyone to do anything she wouldn’t do herself. On many occasions, if a wall needed painting, she would stay around after everyone left, put on work clothes and paint.
Her teachers knew she had her heart in the right place. Mrs. Arnsdorff always made sure she had plenty of people up front in the morning, opening car doors for students and welcoming children at the bus ramp, because – as she would explain – children really need to be greeted with a smile.
And the respect did not stop with her teachers.
Students respected and loved Mrs. Arnsdorff as well. At Christmas time, she would darken the cafeteria, get out her rocking chair, and read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the students.
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, students would see their school principal serving food in the cafeteria with her hair net on.
When two boys were not able to get to school in the morning, Meredith Arnsdorff would go pick them up. After a while, she was told, “You know, that really isn’t your job.” She responded, “Oh yes it is!”
And it was also quite common to see Mrs. Arnsdorff taking children home after school. However, she did have to institute an “under-seat check” after taking children home one time, hitting her brakes and having evidence of Mr. Jerry’s refreshments come rolling to the front!
Her teachers at Rincon Elementary recall that the students had so much respect for her that if they got just a little too loud, all Ms. Arnsdorff had to do was open the door the cafeteria and stand there. It became quiet very quickly.
Mrs. Arnsdorff was loved by students for the same reason teachers loved her – they saw her sacrifice and the dedication and love she had for them. She would dress up for book fairs and on other special days just to spend time encouraging and having fun with the children in her care.
Even parents respected Mrs. Arnsdorff. She would pick up parents and bring them to parent-teacher conferences on a regular basis. (In one such instance, a mother asked Mrs. Arnsdorff for advice on how to get a promotion at her job.) Everyone she touched had so much admiration and respect for Meredith Arnsdorff.
After the funeral, former superintendent Dr. Michael Moore smiled and said to me, “You left out one thing: She could be tough when she had to be!” That brought to mind the true story of a furious parent who came to her when she was assistant superintendent. This father was quite large and belligerent. His voice grew louder and louder. Soon, he was standing and slamming his fists on Mrs. Arnsdorff’s desk, angrily demanding she do something she would not (and should not) do. His fingers got close to Mrs. Arnsdorff’s face.
Her assistant called in, “Ms. Arnsdorff, do you want me to call the sheriff?” Meredith Arnsdorff calmly responded, “No, but in a minute you may need to call an ambulance!”
No, they don’t make them much like Meredith Arnsdorff anymore, do they?
This county is better than it would have been because of Mrs. Meredith Arnsdorff. Thousands of adults today are prepared for life better than they would have been because of Mrs. Meredith Arnsdorff.
And here’s the thing: You cannot teach a teacher to love. You cannot teach a principal to care. That is something you just pray for.
Our prayers were answered in Meredith Rountree Arnsdorff, a true educator’s educator. May you rest in peace.