Stella Chavez works in the same building she has for the past 14 years. But of all those years, this past one has been the hardest. Her husband Waldo passed away one year ago. The man she had been married to for 43 years was gone suddenly and tragically after an eight-hour surgery to repair the mitral valve in his heart. He was 63. Chavez took the rest of the school year off at her job at Summit School of Ahwatukee to grieve and to figure out how she was going to deal with all the responsibilities that were now solely hers. "He paid the bills and did so many things for us," Chavez, 63, said. "I never had to drive very far to work so he always pumped my gas. I had to learn how to do that."
Waldo was known for his thoughtful gestures, and the staff and students at Summit School wanted to do something to honor his memory. When Chavez showed up for work last August, they unveiled a tribute to her husband. Each preschool student painted a tile in Waldo's memory because he had helped paint that building when it was built years be fore. "They knew he was a painter and wanted to celebrate that," Chavez said. The tiles are organized on a wall in the playground, now titled, "Waldo's Wall." "I have been working with kids so long and they just really make my day," Chavez said. On the eve of the anniversary of his death, the new preschoolers this year will create another set of tiles and expand Waldo's Wall. "She's our heart and soul," said Andrea Benkel, director of early childhood education. "We want to do everything we can to support her and honor Waldo." With the support of her own children, grandchildren, members of the Bridgeway Community Church and the families of Summit School, Chavez has made it out the other side. "My family is what keeps me going," she said. "And I just want to thank everyone at Summit for everything they have done and everything they continue to do for me."