Nancy Gervel taught kindergarten and first grade for 31 years, 26 of them at District 203’s Maplebrook Elementary School. Hundreds of young students passed through her classroom, including me, and I can tell you she always showed her passion for writing.
“All through my teaching career, if there was a topic and I couldn’t find a poem for it, I would make one up,” she said.
Leap High Lily
In 2012, when her daughter Shannon asked her to write a story for a children’s “jumpstart” church program she was running, Gervel got to work. The word jumpstart lead her to leap, which lead to a frog character named Lily.
And so, Leap High Lily was born – the story of a young frog who finds motivation from within.
A Retirement Gift
When Gervel retired three years later, Nancy’s husband, daughter Shannon, and son Quinn planned a special gift.
“The illustrations she did were really, really basic, so we asked Quinn if he would use his artistic skills that he probably got from her to do the illustrations,” said Shannon. “So at her retirement party from Maplebrook, we presented the story to her as a surprise.”
“I had to add a few pictures based on what she had originally done but I imitated some of the pictures she had in some ways and I just adapted them,” said Quinn.
And when Gervel saw the book…
“I was so shocked. I was so overwhelmed,” remembered Nancy. “It was the most touching thing and to have them there presenting it, I was totally flabbergasted.”
A More Professional Look
But they weren’t done yet. As Nancy began substitute teaching during retirement, she began working with a publisher to give Leap High Lily a more professional look.
Last year, the final version of the book came out, complete with Gervel’s pen name – a tribute to her children and inspirations – Shannon Quinn.
“Quinn and Shannon have just encouraged me at just the right time,” Nancy said. “I almost gave up a couple times and each of them brought encouragement just when I needed it and they said just the right words when I needed it. It’s just been pretty amazing to see my little ones grow up and start teaching their mom and giving me some words of wisdom.”
Former Students Sharing
Former students are now sending Gervel pictures of them reading the book to their little ones – a testament to her impact as a teacher.
“You know whenever we come home and we go out to dinner downtown Naperville it’s like we’re with a celebrity because there’s always parents and kids that we see so she has to leave the table to go and say hi to them,” joked Quinn.
Mother’s Day Pride
Recognizing that impact turns to pride for Gervel’s children, especially around Mother’s Day.
“My mom touched so many lives over so many years in Naperville as a teacher and now she continues to have that impact through her writing,” said Shannon. “The little help that I gave just to get her started is just kind of payback for what a great mom and educator she’s been.”
A lifetime of inspiring kids to leap high.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.
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