NEWS

Remembering inner strength, smile of Kate Harrigan

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 6/17/21

By JOHN HOWELL Holliman Elementary School Principal Joseph Coffey asked students to close their eyes Friday morning and visualize the strongest person they know. It was impossible for him to know if students followed his instructions. The students were

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NEWS

Remembering inner strength, smile of Kate Harrigan

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Holliman Elementary School Principal Joseph Coffey asked students to close their eyes Friday morning and visualize the strongest person they know.

It was impossible for him to know if students followed his instructions. The students were inside the building at their desks and Coffey was outside being livestreamed.

“You’re probably thinking about someone with big muscles, right?”

He suggested this person could lift heavy objects. Coffey said there is a different kind of strength, mental strength.

“Being mentally strong makes it possible for you to walk by a bowl full of your favorite candy, without eating it, because your mom or dad asked you not to, or because you know your shouldn’t have any more.”

Mental strength, he said, is not giving up on a challenging problem even though you’re tired of trying. And the person Coffey named as the most mentally strong person he has meet is the late Kate Harrigan, who died of breast cancer on May 28, 2019.

“I know Mrs. Harrigan had many great days when she was feeling good and when it was very easy for her to be happy,” he said. Then there were the hard days when it was difficult.

“But, even on some of her worst days … she planned great lessons for her students. She got out of bed, got dressed and came to school … and she still had a big smile on her face.”

On Friday, there were smiles and some tears as the Kate Harrigan Lending Library outside the school was dedicated in her memory.

Kate’s daughter Caroline, her mother and father Diane and Paul Ditalo, and her husband Patrick were among those gathered for the in-person ceremony. One of Kate’s friends and fellow teacher, Jamie Fratus, was a driving force behind the library. After Kate’s passing, Fratus and other members of the faculty wanted to do something to remember her. They started fundraising, and between donations and a gift from the PTA, they had the money to purchase the library.

The plan was to hold a dedication on the one-year anniversary of her death. COVID changed all of that. The library, a box-like structure on a post with a clear door, went into the Fratus garage for storage.

The dedication had to wait until this year. Jamie’s husband, Joe, mounted the library in the middle of a heart-shaped outline of rocks filled with crushed stone. The library bears an engraved bronze plaque with Kate’s name.

As Kate’s mother noted, there is more than the library to perpetuate the memory of Kate. She started Katie’s Fund for Kids.

“Kate was always saying how so many children were in need of the most basic things. Many people don’t realize that teachers take the initiative and in many cases provide clothing and other items to these children.  In addition, the teachers spend hundreds of dollars each year stocking their classrooms with necessities such as paper, pencils, crayons, markers, etc., all the basic items,” Diane Ditalo wrote in an email.

She said the primary contact is the teacher who lets them know of the needs for particular children that can range from underwear, eyeglasses, bedding and coats.

Katie’s Fund has had several successful fundraisers, including the publication and sale of Katie’s Kitchen, a cookbook featuring more than 280 recipes from family and friends. Ditalo’s goal is to take the fund statewide and even beyond.

Superintendent Lynn Dambruch regretted she couldn’t attend the dedication because of a conflict.

“I loved visiting Kate’s classroom; students were so engaged and her classroom was so lively. It seemed that Kate was always smiling; she seemed to enjoy every minuet with her students,” she said in a statement Coffey read. Third-grader Nolan Blair was featured in a brief video shown to attendees outside the school. He talked about Kate and how she had worked with him.

What he had to say was a testament to what Coffey urged students to do.

“Always keep her wonderful example of inner strength in your heart … thank you Mrs. Harrigan for teaching us what it means to be that kind of strong.”

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