Every morning for the past 25 years, Gloria Zapalac has greeted her students as they walked through the door.
First as a kindergarten teacher at All Saints Episcopal School, it was the students walking into her classroom.
Then as head of Lower School, it was the students walking onto her campus. Those students and their teachers served as her motivation all these years.
“If you could stand with me every morning … you see those little faces of the children and the teachers because they’re … the ones that became kind of like my classroom of teachers, the folks that I looked after,” she said with tears in her eyes.
After 25 years at All Saints, 20 of those as the head of Lower School, Mrs. Zapalac is retiring.
The 61-year-old Tyler resident wants to spend more time with her family and travel. Plus, she said, 25 years is the perfect time to end a career.
She will continue in her role through the end of June and hopes to spend some time with her replacement, Erin Leonard, to help make the transition a smooth one.
“What I think is that it’s just been perfect for me,” she said of her career at the Tyler school. “And I don’t know why or how I was so lucky. … I think when you set out to plan your life, I couldn’t have planned anything that would have been more perfect for me.”
BECOMING AN EDUCATOR
Mrs. Zapalac was born in Shelby and raised on her family’s farm. As a child, she already seemed destined to be an educator.
“I just loved always working with children,” she said. “It just seemed like such a natural fit for me. I would play school at home as a child.”
Still, she didn’t actually pursue the career in the beginning. After graduating from Bellville High School, Mrs. Zapalac attended Blinn College in Brenham where she earned an associate’s degree in business.
She then returned to Bellville where she worked at a bank until she and her husband moved to Tyler in 1978.
Once here, she transitioned into the education world. She went to The University of Texas at Tyler and earned a teaching degree.
She student taught at Tyler ISD’s Clarkston Elementary School and taught preschool at First Baptist Church for a few years.
It was in 1989, after a conversation with fellow baseball parent Leonard Davis, who was an All Saints’ board member at the time, that she came to the school as a half-day kindergarten teacher. And, she stayed.
OVER THE YEARS
Even though her first position was half-day, she said she stayed the whole day because she loved setting up her classroom and making everything perfect for the next day.
When then Head of School Bill McGee approached her about moving into administration after five years in the classroom, she immediately accepted the opportunity.
“When you’re young and you just feel like you can do whatever … I never even thought twice about it really,” she said. “I mean they called and said, ‘Would you want to do this?’ And I said, ‘Of course. Yes, I want to.’ Then it was all these other sensible people (who said), ‘Oh no, wait a minute. You know, maybe you should go back to school and get … what you need to be able to do that job.’ So I did.”
Mrs. Zapalac went back to UT Tyler to earn a master’s degree in education administration.
It’s her passion for children and for teaching that has kept her motivated all these years, she said.
A CAREER OF IMPACT
As an educator and administrator she has made a mark on the lives of hundreds if not thousands of children, families, teachers and staff members over the years.
All Saints parent Susan Bosworth likened her to Mary Poppins.
“She just has a carpetbag of magical tricks with just an insight to know what makes kids tick and what makes them happy,” said Ms. Bosworth, who has one daughter who graduated from All Saints and one who is a senior.
She said just knowing Mrs. Zapalac was at the helm put parents at ease.
Jaime Warren, All Saints’ Learning Enrichment Center director and assistant head of Lower School, said Mrs. Zapalac has been a great mentor to the educators under her leadership. She allowed them the freedom to try new things, provided a listening ear and brought a calm assurance to any situation.
As a woman of faith, she encouraged the educators in their faith and also encouraged them to grow and learn professionally.
“She is a blessing, has been a blessing to All Saints and to me and will always be a blessing to me,” Mrs. Warren said.
Mrs. Zapalac already has two trips planned for her retirement. She said she promised Head of School Randal Brown that she wouldn’t write a book about her experiences, though her memories probably could fill one.
She said she will miss the people and relationships the most.
“It’s just that I’ve gotten to know so many people from all walks of life and … interesting people whom I call my friends today,” she said. “And, I’ve just seen so many grow up. They’ve come through down at the pre-K level and then I see them graduate. So that’s just been a joy.”