Former Basalt PE teacher earns honors
Ann Stewart stands in her kitchen, sprinkling shiny brown flax seeds into a coffee grinder.John Denver belts out one of his signature ballads from the living room stereo.Outside, black and fluorescent green cycling clothes hang on a wood drying rack.Stewart, 55, is preparing for a trip to Arizona – the Phoenix area – where she’ll ride for multiple sclerosis. Every year she does at least one charity ride to help others.Retirement has awarded time for the meaningful moments in Stewart’s life.Brave new worldSince 11 a.m. Tuesday, Stewart hasn’t been able to shake Mount Sopris from her thoughts.There was something about the midmorning light, the few remaining gold leaves on the aspens, the cornflower-blue sky.She wondered the last time she had caught the sun reflecting off the mountain’s bowl so perfectly.A long time, she figured.Retirement has brought a new perspective to Stewart’s life.”Just today I was driving back from my exercise class and I was looking at Sopris, and I never see Sopris at that time of day and this time of the month,” she said. “I never see it in this light. I was just really touched when I saw Sopris today.”The postcard view of Mount Sopris caused her to reflect on her life in Colorado.Memories of educating kids at Rangely High School and Basalt Middle School. Teacher friends and parents. Retirement from a 33-year career.”I call it ‘rewirement,’ not retirement,” she said. “It’s kind of like in my career life, I was very goal-oriented. I have decided in my rewirement, I’m going to live my life with spontaneity.”For Stewart, spontaneity comes in many forms.Spontaneity is the last-minute trip to the Pacific Northwest, Italy and Switzerland with friends.”Whatever falls my way is what I do,” she said.Spontaneity is volunteering for the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities’ blacksmith exhibit because her nephew is an up-and-coming smith.”I’ve been there, done that with the goal-setting, and now it’s taking life with a different approach,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do when I wake up in the morning. I get up and create a purpose.”Spontaneity is transforming out of teacher mode.”I’m very proud of being a retired teacher, but I want to have a different title. I adored that profession,” she said. “The other day I signed something and after I wrote my name – where I used to write, ‘Ann B. Stewart, physical educator,’ I wrote, ‘Ann B. Stewart, caring citizen of the Roaring Fork Valley.’ I love that new title because it will move me forward. I now get to create my life as I go.”All systems goRewiring takes some time. Stewart sometimes catches herself planning too much. She’d rather slow things down, allow life to take its course.”It’s 33 years of life habit,” she said. “I’m trying to make that shift.”Thirty-three years of teaching is fresh on Stewart’s mind. This week, she won the Colorado Middle School Physical Education 2006 educator of the year award from the Colorado Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.The honor is humbling – and a welcome surprise.”To have been recognized for what I had done my entire career for kids, what I was so passionate about and had given my heart and my soul … I thought, ‘Oh my gosh,'” she said. “I just sat there trying to absorb it all. It’s not like you teach to get awards.”Stewart is happy to share the news of her award with colleagues, friends and family. The one person she wishes could be part of it all is her mother, Marion Stewart, who died in March.”She would have been so proud,” she said.Marion Stewart’s photo sits at the top of a bookshelf in one of Ann’s bedrooms, next to wooden letters that spell out “Anna Banana,” her nickname.There, displayed on bookshelves and walls, are memories of Ann’s life.She was raised in Old Snowmass, one of three kids. She graduated from Basalt High School.She’s been a cheerleader, a prom queen, a volleyball coach, a PE teacher, an aunt, a sister, and a friend.She has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, biked across America, and run a marathon.”Ann inspires others by the way she chooses to live her life,” said BMS Principal Christian Kingsbury, who nominated Stewart for the educator of the year award. “She has created an environment of teamwork and positive support where students truly come to appreciate each other’s differences and just because one of them can’t get a volleyball serve over the net does not in any way define that student as a failure. Ann will continue to inspire us all through her life.”That can be as simple as grinding flax seeds to sprinkle on a salad for good health.”Health reasons,” she explained. “I do it as a menopausal thing.”
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