DANSVILLE — It was a bittersweet ceremony as members of the community came to say goodbye to their teacher, friend, and mentor.
Growing Places Founder Ruth Witte said at on June 9 this would be her last pre-school graduation, since she is moving to Vermont to be close to her children and grandchildren. Witte has been providing young children with quality education since 1995. She started out of her home, and bought the place she is at now in 2001.
Witte told Genesee Country Express that a former student is planning on taking up the torch, and carrying on her work at Growing Places in about four years. However, the beloved pre-school will be shut down for a few years.
Each of the six children who graduated got their artwork, The Complete Works of Winnie the Pooh, and The Complete Works of Peter Rabbit with a special note from their teacher.
“These kids were amazing,” she said. “I have never seen such a bonded group of kids. There was no fighting at all.They all got along really well.”
The pre-school graduates are; Levi Goins, Harper Clark, Jacob Abbey, Violet Edwards, Zoe Struble, and William Goodwin.
“We planted a tree here in 2001,” Witte said. “When we planted the tree I envisioned the tree to grow into the place I wanted this to be. That tree was a metaphor for this whole thing It really was a gift.”
Witte said she loves when her students come back to visit her, and they have all gone on to do great things.
“My people have been with me for so many years.They are all my rock,” she said. “I thought I was going to do this for many more years, but I feel drawn to Vermont. I have my grandkids up there. I want to be near them.”
Heather Clark had grown up with the Witte family, and was one of the earlier students. Clark has a plan to open the place back up in a few years, and pick up where her favorite teacher left off.
“She (Ruth) is my inspiration for everything,” she said. “Growing Places has always been a peaceful place. Harper (her daughter) loves it here. This place is exactly what she needed. The kids that come here learn the importance of community.”
Clark plans on keeping the pre-school mostly the same.
“I wouldn’t change much,” she said. “Everything she built was perfect. The curriculum she developed can’t be touched.”
Samantha Gibson came to Growing Places with a baby girl, and looking for a place to call home. Gibson presented a Weeping Cherry Tree that will be placed at Babcock Park with a stone from her home in honor of Witte. The tree and stone come from the Advisory Board and the Village Board was kind enough to offer the Public Works crew to plant it for them and approve the donation of the tree and stone in Ruth and Tony’s honor.
“I came to Growing Places as a new mom with a eighteen-month-old with lots of energy and curiosity,” she said. “I only had one and my hands were full. I was lost. Kyrie was too young to start formal school with Ruth, but the play group was just what I needed to help me in my loneliness as a new mom. A place to make friends - who have become lifelong friends - and who have gently taught me the ways of motherhood. Ruth welcomed us, and often let Kyrie participate with the older kids.”
Gibson said this place became her home, and offered a safe place for her family. She spoke about all the wonderful things they had done together.
“With hope in my heart I wish Ruth and Tony (Ruth’s husband) all the benefits of retirement well earned. (They will have) time with their grandchildren, children, chronicling adventures at Growing Places, and resisting the powers that be with all their might. I know this sleepy town of Dansville will feel their loss. I myself will never forget their contribution.”
Dansville Mayor Peter Vogt sent a letter to be read at the ceremony paying tribute to Witte and all she has done for the community.
Vogt thanked Witte for the impact she had on the area youth, and for being a great example to follow. He also said he was proud of the legacy she had created.
Kyrie Gibson, 14, said that she met her best friend at Growing Places, and Witte will always mean so much to her.
Ian Gibson, 11, said that Growing Places will always be his home, and he will never forget this small and humble place.
As Witte moves to Vermont in August, and this refuge to children goes dormant, everyone will look forward to the day it rises again with a new teacher, but will never forget what the old teacher taught them.