After 42 years teaching at Madison Elementary School, Honey Neff is retiring and the school had a surprise celebration in her honor Monday afternoon. As she walked into the gym, she was greeted by the entire school and by family and friends who came to see her honored. Her family presented her with flowers, balloons and hugs. Pictured is Neff receiving a hug while her daughter, Monica, and Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert look on. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
After 42 years teaching at Madison Elementary School, Honey Neff is retiring and the school had a surprise celebration in her honor Monday afternoon. As she walked into the gym, she was greeted by the entire school and by family and friends who came to see her honored. Her family presented her with flowers, balloons and hugs. Pictured is Neff receiving a hug while her daughter, Monica, and Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert look on. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
The “mother” of Madison Elementary School was surprised with a celebration convocation in her honor Monday afternoon.

Honey Neff is retiring at the end of this school year from teaching 42 years at the Warsaw school. She also is a former Madison Cardinal.

When Neff walked into the gym for the convocation Monday, she was surprised to see her children, grandchildren, sisters and brother-in-law greeting her with flowers, balloons, tears and hugs.

After everyone took their seats – with Neff sitting in front of everyone next to the podium – Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert introduced her.

“The person I want to introduce is somebody who has dedicated her life to Warsaw Community Schools and Madison Elementary School,” Hoffert said in his remarks, noting how long Neff has been at the school, which resulted in thunderous applause from everyone. “That is absolutely amazing at that amount of dedication. Think about how many students have gone through Mrs. Neff’s class through those 42 years.”

He then pointed out how she also was a Cardinal graduate.

“We tried to convince her for more to make it a nice even 50 years, but I think she has a couple of other things in store because she has a big heart and, of course, her mission work in Haiti. To spend some time with some special grandchildren along the way, and I heard (she) may be doing some traveling,” Hoffert said.

He told Neff, “We are so thankful for you. We are so thankful for the legacy you are leaving Warsaw Community Schools. ... Your incredible dedication. It’s hard to put into words how much that you have meant ...  So, thank you, so much for that.”

Former student and teacher Eleanor Williamson then spoke about the “amazing” work Neff has been able to do in students’ lives, including her own.

“There was never a day I didn’t want to be in school when I was in your room,” she told Neff. “It’s rare that you find people like that, that you want to go back to their classroom. I know that there’s only a few teachers in my whole life that I ever had that feeling and you’re one of them. You devote yourself to each student wholeheartedly.”

Parent Karla Shepherd spoke about the positive impact Neff had on two of her three children.

“Mrs. Neff is the kind of teacher that can change a child’s entire outlook on school,” Shepherd said.

“You really give your whole heart to students and everyone you meet. I am so grateful for the gift you have, treating each child like a rare and precious diamond,” she told Neff, adding she thinks Neff is the diamond. “You’ve shown so many children how valuable and precious they are. And I know you will continue to touch so many lives through your work in Haiti and the things that you do.”

Veronica Helser, one of Neff’s children, took the podium next to reflect on her mother’s influence on her.

“It is a privilege to honor the greatest role model I have ever had, my mother, Honey Neff,” she said.

Helser said growing up in her mom’s classroom was like a second home to her. She would watch her mom as she “masterfully” taught and inspired children, and that led her to wanting to be a teacher, too.

“She has taught me lessons that not only help me in my teaching profession, but lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life,” she said.

The number one lesson she taught her is to be generous – with her time, love and support of others.

“A great mentor once said, ‘The greatest investment you can make is in the life of another human being.’ My mother has lived that philosophy. From the beginning, we were taught to serve others. At the age of 3, I remember passing out food to people in Haiti. Helping others was never a burden or a chore, it was simply a way of life in our family. Mom always said that we are blessed, so that we can bless others,” Helser said.

Neff has worked in orphanages, schools, churches and in family homes. Her most recent work has been building and supporting an elementary school in a rural area called Desarmes. She has been ministering to and blessing hundreds of children and families in Haiti for the last 14 years. Helser said in Desarmes, the local people love her so much that they call her “The Mother of Desarmes.”

“Mr. Barkey also said that she is like a mother at Madison, and I have seen the same generous heart for her kids at Madison. She continually blesses and prays for her students. No child in her classroom will go without a pencil, a circus sweatshirt, a Bambie costume, or money for a field trip. She has also been know to bring in or send home food for a child. She has taught me that you have purpose, and the greatest purposes in this world is to enrich the lives of others,” Helser said.

After a photo and video presentation, Principal Ben Barkey joked that he’s only been the school’s head administrator for two of Neff’s 42 years of “awesomeness” and she couldn’t leave now. “I could use your help,” he said.

He told her she was welcome back anytime without a need to scan in the school for a badge. “Like you’ve heard, you’re the mother of Madison, I think that’s official,” Barkey said.

On behalf of all the staff, Barkey then presented Neff with a donation to the orphanage in Haiti.

Neff thanked everyone for everything. She said growing up as a Cardinal, the school was like a home to her and her dream was to one day teach at Madison.

“It was my dream. My ultimate dream to come back to Madison School and be a teacher. Dreams do come true because that’s exactly what happened,” she said.