HOLYOKE – The Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade Committee gave the 2009 Grand Marshal Christine Zajac and former educator her marching orders last Friday night at the Delaney House.
Zajac, the main focus of Author Tracy Kidder’s renowned book, “Among School Children,” received a mixture of accolades and good natured barbs from a slew of speakers at the Annual Grand Marshal’s Reception.
Parade committee members, friends, family, and former colleagues packed the restaurant’s banquet room to honor Zajac and to recognize her 35-years in education. She retired recently as principal of Sullivan School.
Barry J. Farrell, the 2008 Rohan Award Winner performed his usual duties as master-of-ceremonies for the three-hour event and introduced authors, educators, and politicians.
Zajac, who spoke before the event, said, “When I was driving up here it was like, ‘oh my god, I can’t believe this is about me.’ It’s sort of overwhelming.”
She said she spoke to last year’s Grand Marshal Ann M. Gibbons for advice. “She gave me the lay-of-the-land and things she did and didn’t do. She was a great inspiration for me and a great role model.”
Gibbons was unable to attend the reception and was in Ireland visiting family.
“The honor itself, it’s amazing to me that I’m here and I’m being honored by all these people. I’m shocked, people keep telling me it’s well deserved, it is, I guess but I don’t think that,” said Zajac. “I’m a teacher, I was a teacher. Every teacher should be up here.”
Zajac was joined by her husband, William Zajac, a journalist for years with a number of area newspapers, her son, Joseph, and daughter, Kathryn.
Mayor Michael J. Sullivan, said, “They couldn’t have made a better choice. No one who has exemplified and just assumed a position of leadership in the City of Holyoke. We’re so proud of her.”
Kidder, in attendance and a Pulitizer Prize winning author, said the two greatest professions, in his view, are medicine and teaching. He considered teaching harder.
For an entire school year, Kidder followed the daily happenings of Zajac’s fifth grade classroom at Kelly School. The book became a national bestseller and put the author and Zajac in the national spotlight on educational issues.
“I think no job is more important and given it’s importance, clearly, it’s a job that gets far too little recognition and celebrated far too infrequently,” said Kidder. “I applaud you all for selecting a teacher who always loved her job even on the days when she didn’t know it.”
A number of local politicians spoke during the reception that included, State Rep. Michael Kane, President of the Holyoke City Council Joseph McGiverin, and City Councilor Todd McGee, who spoke on behalf Congressman John Olver
At the end of the evening, Parade Committee President Robert Kane, the Tax Collector for the City of Holyoke, fitted Zajac with the coveted green, Grand Marshal’s jacket, handed over her walking stick she will need for parade day, and unveiled a mural of the award winner.