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A Parade for Miss Ona

The surprise drive-by parade by members of the Marti Elementary staff for longtime school volunteer Ona Pritchard was special—and timely—as April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month.

                “Miss Ona” is the most tenured member of Cleburne ISD’s Volunteers In Public Schools program, with more than 30 years of service. The majority of that time has been spent at Marti, as the “official” queen of the copy machine, running papers and student worksheets for teachers. She is typically among the first to arrive at school each morning and has a fresh pot of coffee waiting for her Marti teammates. Last fall, the campus staff celebrated the 90th birthday of their dedicated VIPS member.

                Marti Principal Mary Boedeker suggested the parade for Miss Ona. Boedeker has tried to keep her staff close in their relationships—while apart—in establishing a weekly challenge initiative.

                “Each week since we began distance learning, I’ve issued some kind of ‘fun’ challenge to staff,” she said. “With all that our students and their families are going through at this time, now more than ever, we need to use Capturing Kids’ Hearts and maintain the relationships we have established with our kids and each other.”

                Boedeker’s challenges have included a talent show made up of videos from the Marti staff which was sent to students, to messages of affirmation for Marti learners and those who teach them. The parade challenge drew a response that exceeded the principal’s expectations.

                “I asked if we could get 15 cars to meet at school and parade past Miss Ona’s house,” Boedeker said. “We wound up with 25-30 cars decorated with signs, streamers and balloons. Many of our staff had their children, many who are also Marti students, in the car with them. My challenge blew up, taking on a life of its own.”

                With the parade to be a surprise, Marti receptionist Suzanne Doty called Pritchard, asking if she could drop by to say ‘hello’ while maintaining social distance. She set a time for Pritchard to be on her front porch when she came by.

                “It was wonderful to make the corner and see her,” Boedeker said. “I know it brightened her day, but it was also a very emotional moment for all of us. When we met in the school parking lot, there were tears and waves from our cars and I know there were more tears during the Miss Ona Parade. It was important, and comforting, for all of us to see her—and each other.”

                “I sent my daily email to staff after the parade, and got a flood of replies,” Boedeker said. “The students who were involved also received a lot of joy and encouragement from the experience.”

                While Boedeker is grateful for all the volunteers who serve at Marti—including her husband, Danny—she says Pritchard holds a special place in the hearts of the Marti Wranglers.

                The feeling is mutual. Pritchard’s reaction to the parade is posted on the “Today in CISD” Instagram platform.

                “The teachers all waved at me and had signs and it just made me shed tears of joy,” Pritchard said. “It was wonderful beyond words and I am so blessed to have all of them in my life. I can’t wait to call my daughter and friends and tell them what happened.”

                Boedeker believes the joy went both ways, perhaps even more so for those in the horn-honking cavalcade.

                “Through the years, Miss Ona has become a part of the Marti family,” Boedeker said. “Since we closed school as a precautionary measure against the spread of the Coronavirus, we have missed being with our students and with each other. That includes her.  She’s so much a part of everything we do.”

                In addition to her service at Marti, Pritchard is also a faithful member and volunteer at Henderson Street Baptist, most recently in the church’s work with the homeless.

                “I’ve never met a person who so exemplifies a servant’s heart,” Boedeker said. “She’s just a very busy lady. She takes a lunch break each week to go help at her church. But Marti is her home base. We wanted to blow her away with our surprise parade—and I think we did.”