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16 Salutes: Mrs. Condefer

JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- There are no dull days at Bright Beginnings in Mount Cobb.

Karen Condefer has been a teacher at the preschool in Lackawanna County for 35 years now, and she makes the most of every opportunity with these children.

She handcrafted an entire rainforest to teach them more about the environment.

"It's to see the children so excited when they come in!" Condefer explained. "The first time we came into the rainforest, everything was dark in here. All the lights were out. They all had a picture on a card and a flashlight, and they all come in and they have to find what was on the card, and it was squeals all around."

The children have also learned about the solar system, Native American culture, ancient Egypt, insects, and lots more thanks to the tireless Mrs. Condefer.

"I don't think of it as work because I love doing it. I love creating these things."

Condefer began teaching in her parents' home in Jefferson Township alongside her mother in 1982. For 30 years they taught together.

"My mother loved it. She said this gave her a life."

Since her mother retired, Condefer has had an aide help her.

"What Karen does here for the children is really more than just kindergarten readiness. It's teaching them kindness and awareness for their classmates, respect for one another," said aide Jen Strzelec.

Condefer says she wants children to learn about the world around them and how to be the best people they can be.

"They get keys, little keys on a key ring, and one of the keys they work toward is a kindness key, so when I see or hear something kind, they get a kindness key. They love that, so then that spreads, you know? Now if someone drops a crayon, 10 children go for it because they all want a kindness key!"

The generations she has taught say Mrs. Condefer is the best of the best.

Michelle Valentino was one of her students. Now her young daughter is, too.

"Everyone knows she is just an amazing human being. That's the minimum you can say about her," said Michelle Valentino of Lake Township. "I just have such great memories from being here. She can tell them that she loves them and show affection, and it's wonderful."

You can feel the love here, thanks to Mrs. Condefer. That's what these parents say.

"The first word that comes to mind is 'magical.' She literally makes everything magical for these kids," said Krista Leo of Jefferson Township.

"She's one of a kind and we are so lucky to have her. She knows your child's strengths, and she cultivates them," said Sarah McGee of Jefferson Township.

Now, after decades of molding young minds, Condefer will be selling the school property. When that happens, she'll retire.

"She will have definitely made her mark, an impression on a lot of people in this area, and a lot of children, and help them grow," said Karen Preate of Roaring Brook Township.

Condefer hasn't forgotten any of her hundreds of students. She has every one of them on a special wall, starting with her very first class where she taught one of her own two daughters and her niece.

She has newspaper clippings, too, of class valedictorians and salutatorians. She follows their successes.

Condefer says she's not sure what she'll do with herself when she retires, but one thing is certain, she will always keep these memories.