When Alberta Savage showed up to W.F. Morrison March 14 to help students with their reading — as she has for around 20 years off and on — she had no idea she would be reading a book about her that day.
Troy first grade teacher Debbie Garrett, who is retiring this year, had her class write up and illustrate stories that Savage had shared with them about her 88 years of life, from her childhood to the present.
The children also wrote thank you notes to Savage that Garrett put at the end of the book. In them, they wrote things they liked about her.
“Some of it’s really cute, about how they like her eyes, her clothes, the way she smells — her hair, how it shines,” Garrett said.
“Oh kids, this is just the greatest book I think I’ve ever had,” Savage said as she leafed through the pages.
Savage said she was amused by some of the things the children focused on, such as the illustration of an outhouse with a drawing of Savage saying “I’ve got to go.”
“Some of that information I did not give them,” Savage said with a chuckle.
Garrett said she has been working with Savage since she first started as a teacher at W.F. Morrison in the 1990s.
“They said we have a lady here who would like to listen to kids read or help you,” she said. “I said, ‘I’ll take her.’”
After all the time they have worked together, Garrett could not put a price on what Savage has meant to her and to her students.
“It’s invaluable. A lot of these kids come from homes where they don’t have grandparents,” Garrett said. “Her values and just the life that she’s lived was so important to the kids.”
And listening often meant more than just listening to them read, Garrett said. She is someone who students feel they can come to with their problems.
“They talked to her, they confided in her,” Garrett said.
And the children listened to her as well, Garrett said. When they had a class assignment to interview Savage about her life, the 1948 graduate of Troy High School held their attention with everything from how she entertained herself without electronic toys to the chores she had to do growing up.
Savage said she started working with Carol Parsons’ first grade class years ago, then took a break when the children she worked with started graduating.
But, she came back, though she said she doesn’t remember what brought her to volunteer in the first place.
“I guess I must have enjoyed it, or I guess I wouldn’t have been here,” she said.
“You have to like kids, and you have to be able to be a good listener,” she said. But there has to be a genuine understanding that it’s work some days too.
“Little kids can be really trying sometimes,” she said. “You’ve got to have a genuine heart for it.”
When her husband was ill, working with the children kept her spirits up, she said.
“I just kind of needed to have a diversion, and this is a good one, when you feel like you’re maybe helping the little ones who need a little help,” she said. “And I always loved to read.”
When Savage was young, she was an only child and there weren’t many other children her age around, so reading became a favorite pastime, she said.
Savage struggled a bit to find words for how she felt about the reception she received from the class that day.
“What nicer honor could you have, than all these little kids hugging you and being glad to see you?” she said.
“Alberta, you’re a special lady,” Garrett said. “They need somebody like you to be that role model and listen to them.”
“But I didn’t — I never set myself up to be a role model, Debbie,” Savage laughed.
As Garrett retires, Savage said she was unsure whether she will continue. As some of her family have moved back to the area over the years, she has wanted to spend more time with them.
But being involved in her community has always been a part of Savage’s life, she said.
“It’s gratifying if you see that you’re making a difference for somebody,” she said.
What she has done she has enjoyed, and many others probably do similar things without ever getting recognized, Savage said.
“I think if you like kids and you really want to make a bit of a difference, you could surely do it here,” Savage said. “Everybody should spend some time volunteering somewhere.”