Friend, teacher and leader
Community fondly remembers Alyse Prince
November 09, 2011 - There's an empty chair inside the main office at Oxford High School where Alyse Prince used to sit.
Prince (click for larger version)
But what's not empty are the hearts of all those who knew Prince, who loved her and who were touched by her on a daily basis.
Though they ache with grief now, those hearts are fuller, stronger and wiser for having known Prince, for having benefited from her friendship and for having learned from her sterling example.
"A ship contains a captain, but a vessel is hard-pressed to sail without its navigator," said OHS teacher Gina Sambuchi-Black. "Alyse navigated the waters on which we sail."
Sambuchi was one of many who spoke fondly of Prince and one of hundreds who came to mourn her passing and pay tribute to her rich life during a memorial service held Monday evening at the OHS Performing Arts Center.
Employed by the Oxford school district for nearly 22 years, Prince passed away Oct. 28, 2011 after a long, hard-fought battle with cancer. She was 62 years old.
Prince began working for the district in November 1989 as a substitute noon aide and tutorial assistant at Clear Lake Elementary. From 1996 until her passing, she worked as the secretary for the principals at OHS.
"Everybody knows that the secretary runs the building," noted OHS teacher Amie Stevens.
To those who knew and relied on her, Prince was so much more than just someone who shuffled papers in the front office.
She gave a whole new meaning to the term 'support staff' by consistently listening to people's troubles, dispensing sage advice, offering sympathy and helping brighten the days of those around her with her smile, her hugs and of course, a funny e-mail or two.
"No matter how bad our day would be, she always reminded you of how lucky we were for what we have," said OHS teacher Deb Brown, who noted that during her mother's battle with leukemia, Prince was "my friend, my therapist and my rock."
"Alyse was the lowest paid therapist I have ever met," Sambuchi-Black said.
Samantha Hein, a 2011 OHS graduate, told the audience that "the office was a second home to me and always a place to go if I was in trouble" because Prince "always knew exactly what to say" to her.
Whenever she was acting "immature" or "making dumb decisions," Hein said Prince was "never scared to put me in my place."
Hein credits Prince with helping make her the person she is today. "She encouraged me to try my hardest and reach for the sky," she said. "I have learned so much from my talks with Auntie Alyse."
Those who knew Prince considered her to be a teacher in the truest sense of the word.
"Alyse was a woman who embodied the IB (International Baccalaureate) learner profile long before it was fashionable – compassionate, reflective and principled," Sambuchi-Black said. "Although she didn't have a Ph.D, she will always remain one of the wisest women I've ever met."
"Alyse taught us how to love and to show love," Stevens said. "Love your family, love your friends, love your job, love life and be thankful for what you have.
"I remember Alyse telling me, not too long ago, not to worry about how much you weigh or how old you are (because) those are all just numbers. What matters in life is love."
Brown noted how Prince taught her the three most important lessons in life – 1) People can "become your family from the moment you care about them and love them;" 2) "Not everybody's going to like you and that's okay;" and 3) "You can't burn a candle at both ends," so don't miss out on the important things in life, which are "family and love."
"She might not have had a teaching degree, but she taught by example each and every day," said former OHS Principal Mike Schweig as he read from a letter written by someone who wished to remain anonymous.
Prince was admired for her fierce loyalty to others.
Brown recalled how Prince would often "stick up" for teachers whenever she felt they were being treated unfairly by a parent, an administrator or even their peers.
"She always had a way to make you see both sides of the story and help you find the silver lining in every cloud," she said.
Prince was considered by all to be a font of information. If you had a question, she was the one you sought out for the answer.
"She knew everyone and everything about Oxford," Stevens said. "Her knowledge and memory was incredible. She knows everyone at OHS, she knows their parents, their grandparents, where they live, what they do."
Former OHS Assistant Principal Paul McDevitt, who's now principal of Leonard Elementary, recalled that no matter how busy the world seemed to get or how large the school district grew, Prince never failed to take the time to get to know the people she saw and worked with every day.
"Alyse was the master at that," he said. "She knew everything about everyone's lives, their children, their struggles."
Prince would keep McDevitt informed on little things most people might not take notice of such as who was having a tough day or who was celebrating a birthday. "She was the one that kept me in the loop (about) everything that was going on," he said.
In addition to all the personal qualities people admired and respected her for, Prince also had a terrific sense of humor and a mischievous side.
Oxford resident Jim Hughes, Sr. recalled how one day his wife visited a pet store with Prince. An animal lover, Prince was distressed to see 25 or 30 canaries being kept together in a small cage. The store owner told her he really wanted to split them up, but he couldn't tell the males from the females.
Prince told the store owner she could separate them by sex and proceeded to do so.
As they were leaving the store, Prince admitted to Hughes' wife she had no idea how to tell male and female canaries apart, but she got them separated.
Schweig, who delivered Prince's eulogy, recalled how she and a fellow employee "shrink-wrapped just about everything in my office" while he was away at a conference.
"Alyse loved a good prank," he said.
One of the things Schweig kept reminding the audience of was that Prince wanted everyone to keep smiling during her memorial service. Schweig's well-known sense of humor accomplished that mission and then some.
Prince's service to the Oxford community went beyond the school district.
From December 1992 until her passing, she served as an elected member of the Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Commission.
Parks Director Ron Davis recalled his first meeting with Prince 17 years ago when he was being interviewed for the department's top job. While the other commissioners were busy asking him all sorts of questions concerning budgeting, risk management and liability, Prince wanted to know whether he knew the distance between home plate and first base on a girls softball field.
"I knew right then that I had an 'in' with Alyse because her passion was girls softball and her passion was for kids," Davis said.
Davis recalled one of the happiest moments in Prince's career as a parks/rec. commissioner was when he approached the board about allowing female softball players to wear uniform pants (as opposed to jeans) just like the guys and the board approved it.
"Alyse had been trying to get that done for years," he said. "That made so much progress in her eyes for the girls to be treated equally."
As a commissioner, Davis said Prince was consistently prepared for every meeting and "always asked the right questions."
He called her a "dynamic lady" whose tireless support for the Kids Kingdom playground and K.L.R. Spashpad helped make both of those projects realities at Seymour Lake Township Park.
Davis said the township's park system as it exists today is the legacy of Prince's "vision" and "wisdom."
"She'll be missed and never forgotten," he said.
It was repeatedly noted during the memorial service that Prince waged her battle against cancer with the type of courage that can only come from loving life, loving family and loving friends.
"She fought so hard to be here for her family and for all of us," Brown said.
That courage was a shining example to others as beautifully expressed by the anonymous letter Schweig read:
"She never complained. She never made an excuse for herself. She never blamed someone else for her struggles. She was one of the strongest people I've ever met . . . The cancer might have affected her body, however, she never let it affect who she was as a person . . . She taught me what strength during a tough time really means . . . She exemplified perseverance and courage . . . Her attitude amd strength during the last years of her life will serve as a never-ending (source of) strength in my own life."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.