A Fond Farewell to Connie Devlin

By Frances Sayers

“Good morning! Miquon School. Connie speaking.”

For so many of us, a conversation with Connie Devlin was our first interaction with Miquon. Whether we called to register for an open house or walked into the office building for an appointment, her voice, full of music, greeted us.

Officially the administrator for community support, Connie is the face of Miquon, one of the first staff members to see the children in the morning, and often the last to say good-bye. From her desk in the front office, she has influenced much of what the Miquon community experiences, from the tone she sets, sometimes turning down the lights in the afternoon to create a calm mood, to the school traditions she has established, such as sixth graders wearing flowers for their graduation.

This June, after 28 years dedicated to caring for the school and its children, Connie will retire.

Connie and her husband, Gary Pelkey, found Miquon when they were searching for a school for their daughter Sarah ’95, who was entering Kindergarten at the time. “I was looking for a school run by old hippies who let the children hug trees,” Connie says.

Once Sarah had enrolled, Connie spent more time at Miquon, first caring for the children of staff members on campus while they worked (daughter Alex ’00 accompanied her each day), and later joining the staff of both After School and the Miquon Day Camp when Will DeLamater (principal 1984-1990) was at the Miquon helm. She also worked in the Nursery and Kindergarten rooms. One summer afternoon, Greg Williams (principal 1990-1993) called out to Connie in the driveway. “He said he had three part-time jobs, thought I could do them all, and asked if I wanted to come work in the office.”

Altogether, Connie ended up working with seven principals — a record surpassed quite possibly only by longtime Miquon teacher Lynn Hughes.

Staff members say she can’t be replaced. “You’ll hire three people to replace her?” one asked Principal Susannah Wolf recently, only partly in jest. That’s not just because the scope of her job is so wide-ranging—Connie answers parents’ questions about anything, manages attendance, tends to skinned knees, procures the school’s supplies, and of course fields phone calls all day long—but also because of the many ways she has made the job her own.

“Connie has a voice and it is always in support of students and helping parents navigate the beginnings of their children’s school years. Mostly this is done by being the center of the office,” says Pam Feinschil, the administrator for office support.

In her office and on the campus beyond, Connie wants kids to be doing real work. To that end, she will talk students as young as Nursery through small tasks.

“When there’s a job in the office that she can set aside for a child, she does,” says fifth and sixth grade teacher Diane Webber. It might be the opportunity to sound the morning buzzer or to hang kid art on the walls of her office. In fact, her desk is a gathering place for children. Some linger just to talk, others seek her out on a daily basis at Choice Time or morning drop off because her space is a haven where they feel special. Several more have grown to know Connie through her minicourses — she has shepherded students through sessions on fairies, sewing, and creating theater for radio, and together she and Pam have offered cooking as well.

Connie, the de facto standard-bearer of Miquon traditions, also takes on the role of the overseer of the school’s culture. She has worked to commemorate the school’s children and teachers alike, ensuring that activities and rituals reinforce the school’s philosophy. Above all, “She was the one who made it clear—and it was true—that every adult on campus is responsible for every child on campus. She made sure everybody understood,”says Jeri Bond Whatley, fifth and sixth grade teacher.

It is Connie who has written the banter that introduces each year’s staff Halloween skit and Connie who designed the Miquon T-shirt where a leaf takes the place of the Q. For years, she ran the Spring Fair while also doing her usual job. She has painted various walls in the school office and procured child artwork to display. Teachers and staff have often found Hershey’s Kisses in their office mailboxes—a small treat from Connie—and many delight in the Shakespeare quotes she selects for the weekly staff bulletin. For the communal dinners during Conference Week, staff sit down to a table set with flowers and candles—all laid out by Connie.

Connie designs many of the items the Miquon community treasures: the Winter Assembly program, which this past year featured ribbons and greens, and the full-color graduation programs. When the hollow tree that had stood on the woodchip field for years finally fell in 2014, it was Con and Gary who salvaged the pieces, hanging one section opposite her desk, a tribute to a very local landmark and the generations of Miquon children who had played in its embrace.

In 1999-2000 Connie and Gary, both graduates of the photography program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, organized a schoolwide, yearlong photography project, “One Day, One Child, One Picture.” Each day one child was given a camera with a roll of black-and-white film to document their Miquon experience. The couple printed more than 400 images at home, in their laundry room/darkroom, selecting one photograph from each child. The photographs were exhibited at the couple’s gallery, Owen/Patrick Gallery in Manayunk, along with a published catalog of the work.

“When they were mounted,” Gary explains, “Con met with each child and had them sign their artwork.”

“The project was a reflection of how much she recognizes the contribution each child can make.” says Diane.

Recognizing the importance of the world and the worth of the people around her is Connie’s way. Even when she’s “just” doctoring a scrape, “She takes the time to tell the child exactly what she’s doing,” says Kindergarten teacher Toni McDonnell. Connie sees that as just being a part of the Miquon ethos. “Every single person who works here comes every day for the same reason: to give the children a wonderful life experience.”

Connie’s familiarity with the children and their routines is so detailed that, “She knows how every kid is going home—even if the kid doesn’t,” Lynn explains.

Connie marks each person’s birthday, whether child or staff member, with a sticker and her best wishes for a very happy birthday. “She makes sure everyone’s birthday is celebrated… It’s important to her to acknowledge people’s worth, whether a child or an adult, and for them to know they are an integral, loved part of the community,” Jeri says.

Diane recalls that when she returned to teaching at Miquon in fall 2012, she received a lovely note from Connie, whose daughter she had taught twelve years earlier. “It came for no particular occasion, but she knew I was finding things challenging at that time,” Diane says.

What Connie really does, says Lynn, is “knit community.”

Being more distant from that community will not be easy for Connie. “Being at Miquon has made me feel incredibly supported by staff in the same way that staff supports children. It has been a life-changing experience. When I first came to Miquon, that feeling of acceptance was so new to me.”

“Getting that experience has allowed me to give it,” she says.

Although Connie would like to pursue her interests in public gardening and learning French in retirement, she’s also motivated to be more politically active now. “I feel like the political climate has made me more socially aware because I’ve had all these years of Miquon inclusion and support, which have inspired me. I’m lucky now, to have time to spend spreading Miquon values to others.”

Please join other members of the Miquon community on Saturday, April 29, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm for a celebration honoring Connie and her years of dedication and service to generations of Miquon children.

One last tradition Connie established? Creating memory books filled with notes, photographs, old programs, and art for retiring staff members. We hope you’ll come to Connie’s celebration with art or photographs in hand, or memories ready to share. If you’re unable to attend or simply want to contribute to the memory book ahead of the event, send your photos and stories to Andrea Myers at [email protected].

Help us Celebrate Connie!