Bellefonte

‘She was pure joy.’ Longtime Bellefonte teacher leaves lasting legacy

Memorial service honors Marion-Walker kindergarten teacher

After the death of teacher Cheryl DeCusati, Marion-Walker staff, students and community members held a vigil to remember her. They also dedicated a tree, bench, mural and renamed a scholarship fund in her honor.
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After the death of teacher Cheryl DeCusati, Marion-Walker staff, students and community members held a vigil to remember her. They also dedicated a tree, bench, mural and renamed a scholarship fund in her honor.

The late, retired Marion-Walker kindergarten teacher Cheryl DeCusati wasn’t just a teacher. Instead, DeCusati is remembered for treating her students like her own children and for always cheering them on — even after they left her classroom.

After DeCusati died at age 60 in January, the Bellefonte Area School District wanted to honor her legacy, so the Marion-Walker Parent Teacher Organization unanimously voted to rename its Excellence Award scholarship after DeCusati.

“She is the epitome of what any parent would want for a teacher of their children,” said Amanda Grindley, Marion-Walker Parent Teacher Organization president.

Grindley said that as DeCusati’s cancer progressed, the PTO recognized her “caring” and “nurturing” teaching style. After she died, the PTO unanimously voted to rename the award after DeCusati, a teacher who “embodied excellence,” Grindley said.

Two former Marion-Walker students will be awarded the scholarship each year. Applicants are evaluated on their community involvement and must earn at least a B-average. The Cheryl DeCusati Memorial Scholarship was awarded for the first time this year.

“Our hope in renaming the scholarship is to honor her for everything she gave not just to the students but to their families and the community at large,” Grindley said. “She was pure joy. She wanted to spread that joy to every person that she met whether it was in the grocery store or in the school or at an event. We hope it’s some small way to continue her legacy through the kids that get the scholarship.”

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After Marion-Walker kindergarten teacher Cheryl DeCusati died, a tree was planted outside of the elementary school in her memory. Photo provided

In addition to the scholarship, a memorial service was held last month to remember the Marion-Walker teacher. Principal Karen Krisch spoke about DeCusati’s loving nature, and elementary students shared their favorite memories with DeCusati, who taught in the Bellefonte school district for 25 years.

“(Students shared) everything from the way she whistled to get her kids’ attention to her giving underdogs on the swings,” Grindley said.

Near the Marion-Walker playground, a bench and redbud tree were dedicated in DeCusati’s memory.

“The redbud tree has beautiful flowers in the spring and then produced heart-shaped leaves,” Krisch said during the service. “We felt this was a great symbol of our love for her and her love for the school and all the students.”

Inside Marion-Walker, students helped paint a mural to honor DeCusati. Grindley said elementary and high school students contributed to the painting.

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Bellefonte Area School District students helped paint a mural to honor Marion-Walker kindergarten teacher Cheryl DeCusati. Decusati died in January. Photo provided

Inside the classroom, Grindley said DeCusati always pushed her students to learn and work harder. Marion-Walker teacher Katy Haagen said DeCusati was known to attend her students’ sporting events throughout their elementary and high school careers. She would also invite students to her home for tea parties.

“She cared about what they were doing not just when they were in kindergarten,” Haagen said. “She would go above and beyond the duties of being a teacher,” Haagen said.

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After Marion-Walker kindergarten teacher Cheryl DeCusati died, a bench was dedicated in her name. Photo provided

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.
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