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It Takes a Village

As I watch my daughter Annais Margot Gangolf cross the stage in a crowded gym at her Middle School, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I am overcome with pride and joy as her eyes find me in the crowd and she gives me a smile that is private and meant just for me. She has been very successful thus far in her 14 year old life. On entering middle school she made some goals for herself and she has achieved all of them plus. She received straight A’s for all 4 years, she made it onto the National Honor Society and became president, she was chosen to be on the Yearbook and became Editor in Chief, she helped plan the talent show, had a solo and sang the finale, she was on the band all 4 years and started her own band, she was awarded the American Legion Award for Leadership and the President’s Volunteer Service Award and she sang the Star Spangled Banner at Graduation. Besides her obvious successes, she is a kind, sweet and gentle person. But she did not get to this place herself. It has been the village of women that Annais has been surrounded by from the very beginning that has made the difference in her life.

So as my eyes fill with tears, it is gratitude that I feel most of all to the women in my daughter’s life. Raising a young woman in today’s world is not easy. She was born with beautiful blue eyes with a head full of brown hair and 10 little fingers and toes. She was perfect. We named her Annais Margot to honor her two grandmothers who she would never know. They were both strong women who survived many hardships in their lives. The legacy they gave to my first born daughter was to be strong, independent, kind and caring. I believe that we are all a culmination of the memories and characteristics of the woman who came before us. In the far reaches of our mind and souls, hidden from memory and consciousness, there are the small innuendos of the spirit, the experiences, the little nuances from our ancestors. I see it in my daughter. She has the tenacity and bright blue eyes of my mother, Margot, an 18 year old young woman who came to America, alone, to start a new life for herself. She has the self-assuredness and beautiful singing voice of my mother-in-law, Annette, who became nurse when people said she couldn’t. She has always had a sparkle in her eye which I know is these two women shining through her.

One of the constants in Annais’ life are her two wonderful and supporting aunts. They have always been there to guide and teach her about everything from boys to changing a tire. They have been here every step of the way in my little girl’s life. My sister, Aunt Patti Patricia A Mullen, is a stable and strong influence. Annais and Aunt Patti share the Mullen quick wit and a love of the outdoors. My sister in law, Aunt Jeanine Jeanine Gangolf-Marcordesis a kind and giving force in her life. Annais and Aunt Jeanine share the Gangolf cheek bones, their love of animals and perfume. Both of these important influences in my daughter’s life are here, sitting in this crowded gym to watch my daughter achieve this milestone in her life. And afterwards, as they take pictures and give hugs and kisses, I am so grateful that they have been there along side her in her journey.

We moved into our current house when Annais was only 3. We were fortunate enough to have a neighbor who has watched Annais grow up and be a part of her life. Lori Watt Rollenhagen has taught Annais about the goodness in people. Her kindness of heart has impacted Annais to be a better person. Lori is always there with a smile, a hug and a big vote of confidence.

So Annais went off into the world with the influences of these fantastic women tucked safely in her soul and she encountered other fantastic women. Fate and luck would be on her side when she was fortunate enough to be put in the path of 4 women who would shape her and give her so much patience, time, guidance and success. They have let her stretch her wings and soar.
Mrs. Gunkel, Robin Max Gunkel let Annais follow her passion for singing and allowed Annais to shine in the Arbor Park Talent Show. She let Annais help with the theme of the show and taught her about commitment to a project. She guided Annais through her nervousness about performing and with praise and encouragement Annais gained confidence. When Annais took center stage, Mrs. Gunkel was right there cheering her on.
Mrs. Nix, Jane Nix has taught Annais about friendship and comradery. She let Annais and her yearbook friends eat lunch with her everyday in the Art room. This led to many interesting conversations about anything and everything and led Annais to a new group of friends and interest in so many new ideas. She guided Annais in laying out the yearbook and listened when Annais had ideas about the theme of the book. She taught her about the important of creativity and going beyond limitations. She named Annais the editor in chief of the Yearbook Staff and has been one of Annais’ biggest supporters.
Miss Falls, Becky Lynn has been the band director and has helped Annais with her band called Beethoven’s Army. She gave her time and her talent to teach and guide her music and to push past barriers to achieve success. She helped Annais wherever she could and was always there with the solution to problems. She saw Annais as an individual not just a 14 year old girl and treated her with respect and listened to Annais’ ideas. And when she joined the group at Oberweis for an after concert ice cream cone, I could see why Annais considered her one of her favorites.
Mrs. Sexton has been Annais’s principal for the past 4 years and has been so important to Annais’s success. She has recognized Annais’s drive and commitment. She has listened to Annais’s ideas and helped her wherever she could. She has always been so kind and generous. She is someone that will have a lasting effect on her. Mrs. Sexton instilled in her that hard work will be rewarded and recognized.

At the age of 13-14, they say peers become more important than adults in forming a person’s future. Annais has surrounded herself with a great group to share her journey through her teenage years. She found a group of young ladies that share her passion for music, education and creativity. All of them are smart and driven with their eyes on their future. I am so proud of her for staying true to herself, not following the pack and always doing what is right.

So as I am patted on the back by casual acquaintances, congratulating me on my daughter’s graduation and outstanding success, I take a step back to thank the village of woman who have helped me raise this outstanding young lady. I am so grateful to all of you. And Annais Gangolf as your mother, I am so blessed to be the person who gets to watch you, enjoy you, love you everyday. You are the dance in my step, the sparkle in my eye, the beat of my heart.

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