By Claudia Mathis
CORTLAND — Denise Hall, new principal of St. Mary’s School in Cortland, discovered a rare treasure among the staff at the beginning of the school year — Gail Teeter. “She has been my right hand as a new administrator,” said Hall.
Hall felt that Teeter should be commended for her faithfulness and dedication to St. Mary’s. “Gail deserves recognition because she is a pillar of the school,” said Hall. “Besides being a great secretary and our ‘copy queen,’ she knows the history of the school. That knowledge is invaluable.”
Teeter, who has worked at the school for 23 years, said she enjoys the time she spends there. “I believe in the school, and the people that I work with make it worthwhile — they’re just like family,” said Teeter.
Sister Harriet Hamilton, OSF, who was the principal at St. Mary’s in 1987, asked Teeter if she would like to help out in the office. She needed a second secretary. At that time Teeter was serving as a pre-K teacher’s aide.
A native of Cortland, Teeter is 58 years old and has been married to her husband, Michael, for 33 years. They have two sons, 29-year-old Vincent who lives in Cortland and 26-year-old Nicholas who lives in Buffalo. Both sons attended St. Mary’s School.
Teeter’s interests include crocheting, knitting and making jewelry. She also enjoys tap dancing and has taken tap dance lessons for the last four years at SUNY Cortland. “I’m living my mother’s dream,” said Teeter. “She always wanted to take lessons, but never did.”
Teeter got involved with tap dancing when one of her friends expressed an interest in taking lessons. “I always have a good time when I tap dance,” remarked Teeter.
Teeter is a parishioner of St. Mary’s in Cortland and she was baptized, made her first Communion, was confirmed and was married there. She said that her faith is a very important part of her life and she is very conscious of it as she works in a parochial school.
“I rely on my faith a lot, especially when I am going through a hard time,” said Teeter. “I ask God to not let me dwell on the situation. It helps.”
Hall described Teeter as the “school’s historian.” She said that Teeter is very helpful as a resource person and that the staff depends on her knowledge. “She knows absolutely everything about the school,” said Hall. Teeter is a product of St. Mary’s School and her father graduated from there in 1936.
Teeter recounted the history of St. Mary’s. It was built in 1928 and it used to include high school grades until 1970, when the last seniors graduated. In 1986, grades seven and eight were eliminated, and pre-K classes were added in 1985.
Teeter said she’s seen a number of changes at St. Mary’s School since she began working there. At the time, the teaching staff included two religious sisters, but now there aren’t any on the staff. Also, in the mid 1950’s, an addition was built to house a gym and two classrooms. In addition, beginning with this school year, the students’ dress code has changed from casual dress to a uniform.
Teeter’s duties as a secretary are numerous. She orders supplies and textbooks, prepares students’ awards for scholastic achievement, oversees the annual bazaar and candy sale and handles the money generated from these fundraisers. In addition, she assists parents and students when they stop by the school office.
She also runs a marketing campaign. The marketing campaign, Teeter said, has been successful in getting children to enroll at St. Mary’s School. She sends bibs with the school logo imprinted on them to the babies who have been baptized at St. Mary’s and always sends that child a birthday card when the child turns one year old.
Hall said that Teeter has helped the school maintain a strong connection to its alumni and families. She does that by updating the list of alumni and their addresses as needed. Teeter also sends Mass cards to the family members of alumni who have died as well as congratulatory postcards to alumni for their various accomplishments.
Sister Harriet was a major influence on Teeter as she began her career as a secretary. Teeter has employed what she learned from Sister Harriet. “When I was first hired,” said Teeter, “I didn’t know what I was getting into. I learned a lot from Sister Harriet. I learned how to be a good secretary — to be friendly and to stay calm in a tense situation.”