St. Elizabeth Elementary principal retires after 16 years
The Rev. Roy Conley had one simple question when he interviewed Maureen Richardson for the principal's job at St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Baldwin Borough 16 years ago: “Are you going to make the doughnuts?”
Richardson paused. At 4 feet, 11 and, maybe, a half inches, tall, she never had been allowed to take a leadership role at the famed St. Elizabeth Spring-a-Rama doughnut booth before.
She explained to him, “Father, they never let me fry. I'm too short.”
But with promises of a stool to boost her height, she accepted the principal and doughnut-maker jobs at her home church, where her children had attended school, and the parish where her husband had grown up.
That interview, though, was just a formality of sorts, said Richardson, 67, who recently retired from St. Elizabeth Elementary School after working 16 years as principal.
Richardson had first learned she had gotten the job during a 7:30 a.m. Mass. She hadn't applied.
As she was standing in the rear of the parish, Conley, approached her and whispered, “You're the new principal.”
Richardson, 67, who grew up in Gardner, Mass., said her life always has been kind of like that, moving to a tune that she never planned.
“I had no vision for what I wanted to do,” she said. “This was a plan but not mine. It was a bigger plan.”
Richardson attended a Catholic elementary school in Massachusetts before attending a public high school. She attended Elms College, a Catholic college in Massachusetts, for one year before moving to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
There, she joked, she took classes in nearly every field.
“I loved to learn,” Richardson said.
It was during a summer job waitressing at the Original Roast Beef House in 1967 that Richardson met her future husband, Thomas, who was a regular customer.
She received her undergraduate degree in German, with an minor in English, from Duquesne in 1968 and married Thomas, with the deal that they would have their wedding in her hometown and move to his, she said.
That's how Richardson landed in the South Hills.
Her husband was a lifelong member of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Baldwin Borough.
Richardson said she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life, and her husband suggested she try her hand at teaching. She applied to the Pittsburgh Public Schools and got the first job for which she applied, teaching seventh- through ninth-grade German.
She left that job two years later, when she was pregnant with her first child.
When sons Tom, Matt and Mike were born, Richardson was a stay-at-home mother and volunteer at St. Elizabeth Elementary School, where they attended. St. Elizabeth's principal, Sister Mariella Bradley, noticed Richardson's extra work in the classroom and asked her to substitute at the school.
She continued substitute teaching until she was hired at the former Nativity School in South Park as a full-time teacher in 1981.
Sister Mariella, though, always said Richardson was only on loan to Nativity, and one day during Spring-a-Rama, the sister told her it was time to come back for a full-time stint.
Richardson, browsing her personnel files last week to determine what years she worked where, said she always wanted to remain at St. Elizabeth. It was Sister Mariella who persuaded her to try for a principal's position through the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Richardson was hired for her first principal's job at St. Margaret School in Green Tree. She worked there for four years, before Conley asked her to come back.
Her heart always was at St. Elizabeth, though, Richardson said.
During the last 16 years, Richardson said, she has seen it all. There was working to get accreditations, overseeing teachers in the classroom and talking with students in her office.
The dress-up days, such as Halloween, when the principal became “Mrs. Witchardson” for the day, also were fan favorites for the woman of little stature.
“We have great fun here,” she said.
The serious and fun are needed at the elementary school, teachers and office staff said.
“I have seen both the serious and crazy, funny sides of her. She's hilarious. There's never a dull moment in the office with her,” said the school secretary, Jan Bethel.
Richardson loved the classroom and students, said Rachel Kuzio, a first-grade teacher at the school.
“She could teach anything,” Kuzio said.
Richardson often would be sitting in the back of a classroom overseeing a teacher and would raise her hand to interject a comment, Kuzio said. Two minutes later, she was in the front of the room teaching the class. And no matter what the topic, she mastered it.
“She's wonderful. I love her,” said Beth Baumgardner, a third-grade teacher, who taught all three of Richardson's sons, had Richardson as a teacher's aide, and worked alongside her as a teacher and then as a principal.
There are so many memories inside the school, Richardson said, as she pointed to each wall as she walked through the hallways and recapped different memories with students and her own children.
“It's a family. When students bring their children here, what greater compliment is there to a school than that?” she said.
But her greatest joy has been the six grandchildren who have come through the school during her time there. The youngsters all knew, though, that the moment they walked into the building, “Grandma” became “Mrs. Richardson.”
There were times that the duties would coincide, when “Mrs. Richardson” would have to send the children home with “Grandma.” And they would ask, “Are we allowed to call you ‘Grandma' now since we're in the car?” Richardson said with a laugh.
“Luckily, I haven't had to see too many of them too often in my office,” she said. And she tried to be fair.
“What I wouldn't do to another child, I wouldn't do to them,” she said.
The only downside to being a principal is the paperwork, Richardson said.
“I sit back and I think, how have I been so blessed?” Richardson said.
Richardson said she plans to return next year, once a new principal has been hired, to mentor the new person.
And as for the doughnut duties which she oversaw each year at the Spring-a-Rama for the last 16 years, Richardson said, come next May and see she is behind the booth.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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