It takes a lot to surprise Cathy Weadley of Arlington Heights. After teaching physical education to students for 37 years in Prospect Heights Elementary District 23, she's seen it all.
Or so she thought.
Last month, students at Anne Sullivan School in Prospect Heights threw a "marathon" retirement party for Weadley. The bash drew staff, parents and even members of the Prospect Heights Police and its K-9 unit to come out and thank Weadley.
Events included students singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "Go, Cubs, Go," to the die-hard Cubs fan, as well as surprising Weadley with a banner that the children -- all 700 of her students this year -- made and signed.
The retirement party acknowledged not just her long teaching career but her dedication to the Prospect Heights community and its schools.
"The assembly just blew me away," Weadley said simply.
Ironically, Weadley set out to be a high school teacher, but within a year of teaching at Elk Grove High School, she jumped at the chance to return to District 23, which she had attended growing up.
She never left. Over the years, Weadley has taught students at all of the district's schools, including Betsy Ross and Anne Sullivan elementary schools and MacArthur Junior High School, all in Prospect Heights.
That's only part of the story. She also coached softball, volleyball, badminton, basketball and soccer at Mundelein, Hersey and Wheeling high schools. During summers, she coached all levels of baseball in the Prospect Heights Little League system.
By her own account, Weadley has taught more than 500 gym classes, coached 90 seasons of different sports and taught more than 12,000 students.
"She was my first and best softball coach," says Debbie Nelson, who still remains in touch with her former teacher, whom she affectionately called, "Weads."
It's a career that Weadley found more fulfilling with each passing year. When the chance to coach at the varsity level finally came some 20 years ago, Weadley turned it down in order to stay with younger players.
"I wanted to make sure every kid had a positive experience," Weadley says. "I loved teaching the fundamentals and skills, and making sure that every kid played. After wanting it so badly, I found out I wasn't varsity material."
School officials agree that her legacy will be one that goes beyond teaching skills in her various units, which ran the gamut from organized sports to dance and cosmic bowling.
"Cathy worked to instill confidence in her students," says Tracie Meziere, principal of Anne Sullivan School in Prospect Heights, "while teaching them about sportsmanship and fostering a sense of ownership in their growth in and out of the classroom.
"She made meaningful connections with her students and their families over the years," she adds, "and was instrumental in planning and running special events for our school."
Key among those events was the annual "marathon," which her students hijacked her from this year in order to surprise her with the retirement assembly. The marathon was a schoolwide track-a-thon of sorts, with music and entertainment, that encouraged fitness while raising money for charitable causes.
In her retirement, Weadley has more time to spend on her hobby, which is painting murals, specifically designed with a Cubs theme. She has been known to transform bedrooms into the "friendly confines" and currently is transforming a garage wall into the iconic marquee at Wrigley Field.
Fittingly, she also has landed a part-time job, which she describes as a dream come true: working security and greeting fans at Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs.
"I love it. I learn something new about Wrigley Field every time I go," Weadley says. "The best part of it is that there is no paperwork or homework that goes home with you."
Still, Weadley says retiring from her life's work has been a transition.
"It's bittersweet," Weadley says, "but it's been a great run."