When the 2019-20 school year came to a close at the end of May, so did Cherie Ruhle’s illustrious teaching career with Orange County Public Schools. And while her last day at Windermere Elementary School wasn’t exactly how she envisioned it, her coworkers made sure she received a proper goodbye before she headed into retirement.
A video, dubbed a “virtual hug,” was created for Ruhle that served as a blast from the past — video clips submitted by colleagues, family members, former students and former parents.
“It was their way of saying goodbye,” Ruhle said. “There were kids on there I hadn’t seen (in years) … One girl was a teacher and had herself and her child in her video. I’m a big Gator fan, and I have some there (at the University of Florida).
“I laughed my way through it; I cried my way through it,” she said. “They had my uncle on there; he’s 89. It was so touching that they took the time to do that. They had my two best friends from Mollie Ray (Elementary), and we’ve been friends for 50-something years. Stacey Beavin reached out on Facebook to some of my friends, and it went from there. … I had former students who are in California who are on the video.
“It was pretty incredible,” she said. “I’ve watched it twice, and it’s something I can keep forever.”
A FULFILLING CAREER
Ruhle had completed one year of college when she got married but then put her education on hold. She returned to school after her children were born, and because she had always enjoyed being around little ones, she pursued a degree in teaching.
Her son started second grade and her daughter was in kindergarten in 1983 — the year Ruhle began teaching with OCPS. Her first job was at Spring Lake Elementary, where she was hired by Principal Frank Watson, who had been her principal when she was a student at Mollie Ray.
In her first three years of leading a classroom, Ruhle taught fourth grade and then first at Spring Lake. In 1986, she was one of 12 teachers hired at Windermere Elementary. She began on the first-grade level before moving to kindergarten and then teaching several multi-age classes.
She was switched to second grade, and that’s where she stayed for the remainder of her career.
“I liked that grade a lot,” Ruhle said. “They were still excited to go to school. They liked the teacher and were still friendly and wanted to make friends. They were really awesome, the second-graders.”
Among her favorite memories are the times she spent writing several plays with fellow multiage teachers Carol Clinton and Linda Gold. They taught students American history in “Sea to Shining Sea.” They put on “Around the World Jeopardy,” where students sang Disney songs and discovered landmarks around the globe. And they performed “A-Z Florida,” which shared information about spring baseball, Daytona auto racing, Walt Disney World and other state points of interest.
“The kids remember the fun of being on that stage,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite memories, doing the plays and getting to know the kids.”
She said she found that students were more engaged when they were learning interactively. During Colonial Days, Ruhle’s students embroidered quilt squares, made butter and used a wringer washing machine. They participated in field days and water days, and they danced to “Waltzing Matilda” and learned to square dance.
Through the years, Ruhle experienced many changes in technology, education and the way students were taught. She experienced the growth of the school, which resulted in portables stretching across the school property and, ultimately, the construction of a larger school building. The last three months of this school year were a challenge, she said, as she navigated the difficult transition to distance learning.
But she wouldn’t trade any of her experiences at Windermere Elementary because she went through them with friends who became like family.
“I met a lot of fabulous people, and I had a lot of great principals, great kids, great parents,” she said. “I made some really good friends.”
Ruhle’s decision to retire was tied to family. She started teaching the same day her daughter started kindergarten, and her plan was to retire when her granddaughter, Emma Davis, finished fifth grade at Windermere. The two left the campus together.
Ruhle’s husband, Bobby, is retiring from Disney, and their plans include traveling as much as possible as soon as it’s deemed safe to do so.
“We are beach people, so I’ll be at the beach a lot,” she said. “I’m a reader. I have a lot of projects, so now I have the time to do that. I plan to not work.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.