By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – She’s heard her final pitter patter of excited feet, hurriedly moving down the hallway as students move from class to class. She’s taken her last phone call from a parent notifying the school that their child is sick and will be out of class for the day. She’s turned off her computer for the final time before walking out the door to return home for the evening. After 12 years working for the Big Sky School District, LaDawn LeGrande is saying goodbye.
LeGrande concluded her time at BSSD in a fitting way, speaking at the commencement ceremony for the class of 2020, an experience she said she greatly enjoyed. “I got to just say a little memory that I had of each one of them, but every year when the kids graduate, I’m like, I could talk about all of these kids,” she said.
LeGrande’s path to BSSD was a winding one. The Garden Grove, California, native was one of eight children in her family and she fondly recalls growing up near Disneyland. While in school herself, LeGrande knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up: “I always wanted to be a mom,” she said.
One year after graduating from Rancho High School, LeGrande married her husband, Rod. She went on to attend Cyprus Junior College where she earned her associate’s degree in general education. After school, LeGrande held her first job working with her husband, who was a motivational speaker and sales trainer. “[I] basically taught myself the computer, so I did books for him,” she said, describing her role.
The pair moved around the western and mid-western portions of the United States, with LeGrande self-describing them as “gypsies.” With stops in California, Utah and Kentucky, while raising six kids, they eventually settled on Montana in 2008.
“We spent a year driving around Montana to different places to see where we wanted to live and we settled in Big Sky,” LeGrande said. Upon arrival, Rod was semi-retired, but LeGrande wasn’t ready to call it a career just yet. After coming across an advertisement for the secretary position at BSSD in the newspaper, LeGrande knew it was meant to be.
“It said, ‘Must know computers [and] must love working with children’ and I thought that might as well have had my name on it because we raised six kids,” she said, recalling her thoughts while reading the ad.
LeGrande spent the next 12 years working for BSSD, holding the title of executive secretary and possessing a wealth of knowledge on the school district’s database system. The title is deceiving, however, as LeGrande wore a multitude of hats throughout her time, substituting for a band teacher for a stint, and even acting as the athletic director at one point.
When first filling in for the band teacher, students were excited to have a substitute, expecting to avoid practicing their instruments, but LeGrande had other plans. “No, I know how to conduct a band. You guys [have] got to play,” she said, reminiscing and chuckling at what she told the group.
“Her job description should’ve been something like: Can you do everything in life,” said lead facilitator of creativity and innovation for BSSD Jeremy Harder in appreciation of LeGrande’s ability to tackle any task. “…Whatever was handed to her she crushed. It was done well and done right.”
Harder labeled LeGrande “the glue that binds the district”—hats displaying a bottle of glue paired with the hashtag #Wegotthis were distributed at her retirement party. “The thing about Miss LaDawn is she would be able to do things that were above or beyond, [and] way outside her job description,” Harder said.
Harder’s glue phrase was reinforced as other BSSD staff members began referring to LeGrande with the phrase as well. “She kind of runs that school, she’s like the glue that holds it all together,” said BSSD kindergarten through fourth grade health teacher Erika Frounfelker who worked with LeGrande for all 12 years. “But I’ll miss her personality and just her love for the kids.”
LeGrande, who was also known as “Miss LaDawn” due to the fact that another faculty member shared the same last name as her when she first started, was well known for her love of students. Frounfelker said that her classes would recognize LeGrande at the conclusion of each school year for assisting them with injuries.
“She was always just so kind and she helped take care of the kids and made them feel better even when it was just a small scrape or something,” Frounfelker said. “But she tended them as if the scrape was something bigger. Which they loved.”
Harder, who worked with LeGrande for her entire tenure, appreciated her optimism and composure, no matter the situation. “Her ability to look at every situation in a school setting, no matter how stressful, with like a smile and just like a presence around her to know that well we’ll figure this out. Don’t worry,” he said. He believes it will be an adjustment for BSSD as LeGrande moves on, losing a consistent presence that has been there for more than a decade.
For LeGrande, saying goodbye didn’t come without a list of things she will miss, but most of all: “I think just seeing the kids every day,” she said. “I really enjoy interacting with them and just watching them grow and change and move on to do great things and I feel like they’re all mine.”
LeGrande has moved on to the next chapter in her life; experiencing her 22 grandchildren grow—she and Rod moved to Utah following the conclusion of the school year to be closer to them. She plans to return to Big Sky next spring to attend the graduation of the class of 2021. LeGrande knew what she wanted to be when she grew up and today, she continues to live out her dream of being a (grand)mom.