On a normal weekday afternoon, the Chebeague Island School couldn’t be busier. With classes over, the students twirl and skip down the single hallway, creating a ruckus. Over the din, backpacks and lunchboxes are gathered; coats and hats donned. Teachers Kristin Westra and Ruth White act like sheepdogs, herding the youngsters towards the bus that will take them home.

Things were quite different on the afternoon of February 24. The island school children filed quietly into the Chebeague Island Methodist Church, joining parents and family members. Everyone was there for a memorial service for Ann Long Ormsby, who served as the school’s food director and custodian.

Ormsby died of cancer on February 20 at age 65. Although a resident of Freeport, she was a beloved member of the island school community. 

The children sang and read poems about their lunch lady, who had worked at the school for seven years. Adults shared memories of swapping recipes and Ormsby’s great homemade meals; the kids, of course, remembered her sticky cinnamon buns and the popsicles she handed out at recess.

Those were just a few of the 85 special things the kids said they loved about Ormsby, or, as they called her, Ms. Ann. The school in which Ann Ormsby spent so much of her time has three classrooms, two bathrooms, a multi-purpose room and kitchen. All must be put back into order after a day of serious learning and fun, and the time and effort that Ormsby devoted to the tasks can now be truly appreciated.

“You don’t realize how much someone is doing until they’re gone,” says Alton “Bump” Hadley, superintendent of Chebeague, Long Island and Acton schools. “Ann did it all without fanfare.”

During the school year, Ormsby and her husband Bill did the school’s grocery shopping on the mainland, saving delivery charges. The time expended on this extra service is now especially appreciated by Ormsby’s temporary replacement, Virginia Calder. As the school’s bus driver, physical education teacher and mother of three, Calder has also stepped in to prepare school lunches, but it’s quite a juggling act. Calder concedes she has a lot to learn.

“I was told right away that I didn’t set the tray up right. The milk should be over here,” Calder says of the students’ reactions to her new role as “lunch lady.” But she doesn’t take it personally, for Ms. Ann left big shoes to fill.

“She remembered who liked their apples peeled,” recalls teacher Kristin Westra. “She remembered little things and asked follow up questions. The kids adored her.” She even kept in touch with two students who moved out of state, writing letters and sending gifts.

Teacher Ruth White agrees and describes Ms. Ann as someone who was always calm and kind. Both say that the kids would make up excuses during class to “wander over to the kitchen” to chat.

Westra, White and Ormsby commuted to the island every weekday on the 7 a.m. Chebeague ferry. “She would wait for us at the top of the hill and we would walk down together. We would talk about the weekend and what we did the night before. She loved the commute,” says White, who also remembers sharing the joys of the sunrise from the Cousins Island bridge on the way to the ferry landing.

Westra, who worked with Ormsby for six years, rememberes her as “the kindest person I knew.” Ormsby’s warm demeanor made her easy to talk to and she made people of all ages instantly feel at ease. “She was the heart of this school,” recalls Westra.

Ormsby was first diagnosed with cancer two years ago, and was in remission after undergoing chemotherapy. She completed her final reconstructive surgery in January.

“Your stamina takes forever to come back with chemo,” says friend and cancer survivor Jen Belesca, whose two sons attend the school. Ormsby never really bounced back after that final surgery and her husband Bill noticed a change when she stopped going to the grocery store three or four times a week.

Belesca also knew Ormsby was sick after another mother walked in on Ormsby in the school kitchen and found her sitting down.

 “Ann never sat down,” says Belesca.

Before the memorial service for Ms. Ann, the yellow school bus pulled up outside the church and the youngsters somberly went inside. Ormsby’s mainland family filled the front rows as Pastor Linda Brewster began the service.

She read a poem from Ann’s mom, June, letters from Ann’s husband and sister and a poem from her three sons. The children of the Chebeague Island School sang a song about Ormsby and recited poems inspired by “her smile, her heart, her laugh and her soft voice.” In addition, they read from their list of 85 reasons they loved their cook and custodian. That said it all.

“She was a caring and loving person.”

“She could take a joke.”

“I liked the way she made corn dogs.”

“She never complained.”

“We had the cleanest classroom in the world because she cleaned it.”

“Ms. Ann had a big heart.”

Anna Maine is a Chebeague Island resident.