By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY January 31, 2003 The schools in Liberty were shut down Wednesday afternoon to pay respect to a great teacher.
By Tuesday afternoon, Liberty Central School Interim Superintendent Ed Rhine already had upward of 60 requests from staff to be excused early Wednesday for the funeral of seventh grade math teacher Barbra Sims.
There would have been no way to find enough people to cover those classrooms and continue running the school in a safe manner for the children with that many people gone, he said. So he agreed to close the schools of the district early, making sure all staff and children would be free by 12:30 in order to attend the funeral.
Its out of respect for Barbra and her family, Rhine said. She was a great teacher, and shes made an impact on a lot of peoples lives.
A lifelong Sullivan County resident, Sims, 38, died in Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan Saturday after a long battle against breast cancer.
A graduate of Delaware Valley Central School, Sims grew up in Callicoon with her parents Paul and Leota Hermann. She married Bryan Sims June 16, 1984, and the Swan Lake couple had two children, Paul and Phillip.
Sims attended Sullivan County Community College (where she studied accounting after graduating from high school in 1982) and SUNY New Paltz, earning a degree to teach pre-ki through sixth grade students. She obtained a full-time substitute position and was thrust into teaching mathematics.
In her third year of teaching at the Liberty Middle School, Rhine saw Sims put her heart and soul into the children, walking in Monday morning after enduring chemotherapy treatments on the weekend.
I was absolutely amazed by her, he said.
During Wednesdays standing-room-only funeral service at the Liberty United Methodist Church, the Rev. Francis Waite read a letter from a child in Sims class.
No matter what her attitude, she loved her students very much, Waite read, in the words of youngster Ashley Klein. She always attended class no matter how sick she was.
She will never be forgotten, Klein added, a sentiment echoed by the many children who took advantage of the early dismissal to file into the Main Street church and say goodbye to a beloved educator.
Shes been a teacher to many people here, said Liberty Middle School Principal Jack Strassman, not just the children who had her in seventh grade.
When you look at the children here, you know she will live on forever.
Most in the audience said they will miss Sims spirit and her attitude about life. A Sunday School teacher at the Methodist Church, Sims taught until she couldnt teach anymore. Then she spent her days throwing herself into the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, organizations her sons have been a part of for many years.
Barbra was one heck of a person, said Henrietta Phelps, a foster grandmother in the Liberty schools. If I ever get sick like Barbra was, I hope I have the kind of courage she had.
Now God needs her to do some teaching up there.