Dee Ann Gastineau wasn't going anywhere. It didn't matter that her home had been hit by the May 20 tornado and there were family members inside.
Gastineau had a job to do and continued to comfort a group of frightened young girls huddled inside a bathroom at Fairview Elementary School in the Moore School District.
“She was very loyal to her job, very faithful to her students,” recalled Karen Smith, a Fairview teacher who worked with Gastineau for 26 years. “It took a lot of guts for her to stay here.”
Gastineau, 56, retired Friday after 35 years as a math teacher at Fairview. She planned to step down from teaching in May, but moved up the date to focus on rebuilding the home she shared with her husband near the intersection of SW 153 and S May Avenue.
Her sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who were visiting from Chicago, survived the twister, but were hospitalized for a week. Three of Gastineau's four dogs were killed. So were two horses that belonged to friends.
Gastineau's oldest son — who lived near Plaza Towers Elementary School — also lost his home in the tornado. Her granddaughter, a student at the school, was not injured.
“We were very fortunate,” Gastineau said recently.
Friends and colleagues said the retired teacher looked for the good in every situation and had a knack for always saying and doing the right thing.
“Her generosity is never-ending,” said Shelley McMillin, principal of Briarwood Elementary School and a former Fairview teacher Gastineau once mentored. “She's a giver with her students and teacher friends. She lives it. She models it every day.”
A former student named Kendall Harrell recently reached out to Gastineau to thank her for helping to change the course of his life 30 years ago.
Back then, Harrell was a troubled fifth-grader whose home life was spiraling out of control when Gastineau busted him for forging signatures on a negative progress report.
As part of his punishment, the boy had to spend two weeks worth of recess periods with his teacher. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Harrell, a naval officer who lives in Japan with his wife and two children.
The former student wrote a letter to Gastineau dated Oct. 13 in which he said she told him that “I was better than that, and my bad choices got me into trouble, and good choices will lead to success. Maybe not exactly word for word, but they were the words I needed to hear.”
“I have been in the U.S. Navy and that has been with me and helped me be successful,” he wrote. “Thank you!!”
Gastineau said she didn't specifically remember Harrell, one of approximately 3,500 students she's taught over three-and-a-half decades.
“Years later, to know that what I said changed his life, is pretty awesome,” she said.
With Harrell's permission, Gastineau read the letter at her faculty retirement party earlier this month.
“The kids that come to school, you don't always know what's going on in their home,” she said. “Some kids, the last thing that's going through their minds is solving a math problem.”
Gastineau said Harrell is successful because he overcame a difficult family life by believing in himself.
“As a teacher that's what you hope, that you can help someone be successful,” she said.
The kids that come to school, you don't always know what's going on in their home. Some kids, the last thing that's going through their minds is solving a math problem.”
Dee Ann Gastineau,
The Fairview Elementary School teacher is retiring after 35 years.