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’Bye, Betty – Palm View loses piece of its heart

MANATEE — “Ask Betty.”

Those words tell you how things got done around Palm View Elementary School as long as Betty Vohringer was its secretary.

Try 35 years.

“Have a question about anything? It’s always, ‘Ask Betty,’ ” Principal Frank Pistella said.

Vicki Hammock uttered those magic words a few times during her 23 years at Palm View.

“ ‘Go ask Betty’ has been our catch phrase,” the teacher said.

“She’s the school’s heartbeat.”

Which makes today bittersweet.

Betty Vohringer is retiring.

“It’s going to be hard to let go,” the 63-year-old grandmother said. “I never dreamed I’d be here this long.”

When the Mt. Ephraim, N.J., native joined Palm View in 1973:

n Richard Nixon was president.

n Gene Witt was superintendent.

n Palm View’s enrollment, now 500, was 180.

Pistella, Vohringer’s seventh principal, estimates 17,000 students have gone through Palm View during her tenure.

Her children and grandchildren included.

“This is my home,” Vohringer said. “It’s like a family here. You know all the parents, all the children. It’s the sharing and caring. We’re all involved for the child.”

One Palm View alum, now an adult, told her as much recently.

“He said, ‘You listened to what I have to say,’ ” Vohringer recalled. “That little bit of attention makes them feel someone cares about me.”

Teachers knew Vohringer felt the same about them.

“Seeing Betty in her office every day was comforting,” said Peggy Witt, Gene’s daughter-in-law and a Palm View teacher for 22 years. “I don’t care what the problem is — a question about a student, a supply order, which parent belongs to whom — you can ask Betty and she knows.

“When we come back after Christmas, it’s going to be surreal she’s not there.”

Vohringer won’t vanish.

For one thing, her granddaughter Cheyanne is a second-grader.

For another, a plaque bearing Vohringer’s name will adorn the new school wing after its April 2009 completion.

Imagine that.

“I’m humbled,” she said. “My grandkids have always referred to this as ‘Granny’s School.’ Now it will be with my name on it.”

What Vohringer did goes beyond tracking budgets, making purchases, handling correspondence and the PTA, and making deals on recyclables to pay for field trips.

“It’s the way she is caring for the kids, making sure their needs are met,” Pistella said. “Making sure everyone here — teachers, support staff, principal and assistant principal — has what they need to meet the needs of the kids. She epitomizes what Palm View is all about — a school with heart.”

Turns out they won’t be letting Vohringer go that easy.

It just won’t be “Ask Betty” anymore.

“She’s going to have to change her phone number,” Pistella said. “We decided we’re going to call Betty.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@ bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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