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06/07/2022 02:18 PM

Longtime Staffers Retiring at Valley Regional High School

Valley Regional High School Career Counselor Mary Hambor retires this year after three decades of helping students find a path after high school.Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

This year’s recent School-to-Career Partnership breakfast was special for Mary Hambor, and for a good reason: It was her last.

After 30 years of service at Valley Regional High School (VRHS), and 38 in all as an educator, Hambor, the school’s career coordinator, is retiring. She has also been the school advisor for Interact, Rotary’s service club for young people from 12 to 18 years of age.

VRHS is losing another familiar face at the end of the school year. Administrative Assistant-Receptionist Tina Stoddard is also retiring after 33 years at VRHS. In fact, Stoddard’s tenure at Valley is even longer if you count the four years when she was a student at the school. She graduated in 1972.

In all, 70 seniors participated in the School-to-Career Partnership program that Hambor leads. Some 21 of them gave brief summaries of their experience at the 16th annual breakfast that marks the end of the program. The internship program is one way for VRHS seniors to complete a Capstone Project, required of all graduates.

Ava Cunningham, who interned for attorney Gregory Gallo of Branford, said the experience confirmed her decision to study law after completing college.

Ben Safran, who interned at ebm-papst, a manufacturer that makes fans and motors, said the experience confirmed his plan to study engineering. Cayden Nadolny-Pallatto designed and painted a mural on a wall at the Deep River Housing Authority that focused on the history and lore of the community. He will study design at Western Connecticut State University.

For other students, the internship had changed their career goals. Mia Alio interned at Yale New Haven Health Old Saybrook Medical Center with the idea she would go into nursing. Her experience confirmed her interest in the medical field, but not as a nurse. She plans to study be a speech pathologist.

“Without the program I would have pursued a career that was not right for me,” she said.

Novelist Susan Strecker, who served as a mentor for Anne Brennemann, said she had learned as much from the experience as her mentee had. Brennemann said the editing she had done under Strecker’s supervision “guided her to a whole new way of thinking.” She plans a career in journalism.

“I feel nostalgic, happy, and sad,” Hambor said at the end of the breakfast. “We’ve developed a great program here.”

Renee Fragola will take over the School-to-Career program next year.

Hambor’s plans include visiting a new grandchild in Missouri, learning to play pickleball and golf, traveling, and taking courses “just for fun.” She will continue her work with Raise the Roof, the Shoreline Habitat for Humanity organization.

For Stoddard, the first face students see at the window as they enter school, the voice answering the telephone, the veritable nerve center of VRHS, the decision to leave was difficult.

“I’ve gone back and forth about it,” she said.

Her family, husband Pat and grown children Bryan and Jen, made it clear in conversations over Mother’s Day that they thought the time had come for her to retire. Stoddard admitted she would like to go to see a two-year-old granddaughter in Minneapolis.

“Just get in the car and go cross country,” she said.

She will continue to work on the annual spring musical as she has for many years.

“That is a little spot for me; it’s nice to think I can still be welcomed back,” she said, adding she would be glad to substitute if there is a secretary out anywhere in the Region 4 district.

Central as she is to the life at Valley Regional, Stoddard rejected the notion that her retirement would leave an unfillable gap.

“Sure, I can be replaced,” she said, but fellow retiree Hambor noted that would be a challenging task.

“She’s a pillar,” Hambor said.

In addition to Hambor and Stoddard, other retirees this year include special education teacher Judith Redhead, transition coordinator Kristina Len, paraeducator Gene Richard, and bookkeeper Valerie Owen. School counselor Lorraine Duffy retired in January.

Administrative Assistant-Receptionist Tina Stoddard has served as the nerve center Valley Regional High School for 33 years; she retires at the end of this school year.Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier