Shirley Kolkebeck Remembered as Passionate, Gifted Educator
The Hawes Elementary School teacher died of heart failure on Feb. 18 while on vacation.
A beloved Ridgewood teacher who overcame breast cancer 12 years ago died on Feb. 18 as a result of heart failure, according to her family.
Shirley Kolkebeck, 60, of Harrington Park, passed away in her sleep while on vacation with her husband of 39 years in the Cayman Islands.
The educator worked in Ridgewood for nearly 23 years, many teaching kindergarten through second grade, said her husband, Ken. Colleagues named her the Hawes Teacher of the Year in 2011.
"She loved the kids, and especially little kids," Ken said Friday. "She just liked helping kids and bringing them along. That was what her passion was."
The Hawes Elementary School teacher moved into education later than most educators, starting as a teacher's aide to autistic children at the Alpine Learning Center in the early 1980s after a career in retail. Eventually, she came to Hawes and taught classes with now-retired teacher Terry Dunn. Shirley was an educational specialist at the time of her death.
An outgoing, vivacious woman, Shirley was an avid golfer who loved to sail the Hudson River. Her second passion in life, Ken said, was traveling. They've seen much of the world together.
The late teacher was also a cancer survivor, beating breast cancer 12 years ago.
"There's a relationship between heavy duty chemotherapy and heart problems," Ken said. "I've got to believe it was (a factor in her death)."
The Kolkebeck family has set up a donation page in her memory, with proceeds funding research by the American Heart Association. Over $2,000 has been raised as of Monday morning.
Ridgewood Superintendent Dan Fishbein had fond memories of the award-winning teacher.
"Ms. Kolkebeck taught one of my daughters. She was a great 1st grade teacher for my daughter," he said. "She always saw the humor in young students behavior even when she had to call my home and say, 'You are going to laugh about this someday.'
"She was willing to take on new challenges which I am sure kept teaching fun, exciting and challenging. I sat next to her at the breakfast when she was honored as the Teacher of the Year at Hawes. We laughed about the phone call she made to me years before. I will miss Shirley as will the entire RPS community."
A memorial service was held Monday morning at Community Church of Harrington Park. Kolkebeck leaves behind her husband of 39 years, Ken; sons Scott and Keith; her parents, John and Helen Kopchik; her brother, Jack Kopchik; and five grandchildren.
"She has five beautiful grandkids that meant the world to her and she meant the world to them," her husband said. "That's the thing that breaks my heart the most."
If you'd like to make a donation in memory of Shirley Kolkebeck, head to this link here.