When Sandy Epplett started teaching in 1977, Whistler was altogether a different place. The liquor store for the resort was in the only school's parking lot, food was bought from the two gas stations in town, and the community club — which had already been a meeting place for decades — was falling into the lake.
There was no high school and Whistler was a tiny mountain town. Many of the community's founders were still alive, and to Epplett, now 59, they were part of the community and not history. Myrtle Philip, who came to Alta Lake in 1911 and who did so much to build education in the resort, was Epplett's neighbour.
"I used to go to Myrtle's house for rum cake at the end of every year and she would come and talk in my classroom, and it was wonderful. She would come and tell stories to my kids about early Whistler," Epplett said.
All Epplett's teaching practicums were carried out in East Vancouver but she came to Whistler for a year, and stayed. She has never taught anywhere else, and married and raised her two children here.
"When I applied I didn't know where Whistler was (Epplett had grown up in Vancouver). I moved into the teacherage and the old school was still there – it was used for storage – and Myrtle just lived down the street," she said.
Epplett started her career at the original Myrtle Philip Community School and ends it this month at Spring Creek Community School. When she started, she had a split class of three elementary school grades with 22 students. There was one school with about 56 students overall.
In 36 years, she taught children of all ages at the resort, from high school to her most recent experience with kindergarten cuties, with her teaching partner Melissa Friend, who was her student teacher in 1990.
"It's so bittersweet right now. My husband retired five years ago and he's been waiting patiently. It's so hard to think I won't be doing this next year," she said. "I'm very passionate about what I do. I live and breathe school."
Education wise, things have come full circle, she observed. For example, the current emphasis on cooperative and differentiated learning is something she was teaching in the 1980s.
"Everybody's talking about all these new terms and I'm getting excited but I learned about them and I think 'I did that!'" she said.
Epplett's impact has been far-reaching and spanned generations. In 2011, she was recognized for her dedication, winning a National Excellence Award for Teachers from Heritage Education Funds. She was nominated by the parent of a student four years after they left Whistler.
Whistler school board trustee Chris Vernon-Jarvis said Epplett taught several of his children, and had a particularly positive impact on his son Blaine.
"Her reputation is absolutely sterling, she's just wonderful," Vernon-Jarvis said. "She manages to reach individual children, especially those who need to be reached. She manages to be still caring, still loving after 35 years... always smiling and she transmits that to the kids."
With just a few weeks to go, Epplett has been putting together scrapbooks for her kindergarten students, like she has for so many other youngsters and contemplating leaving a job she loves and a profession she respects.
"Teachers get a bad reputation sometimes, but 99 per cent of the teachers I've met spend their own money, spend their time and hours coaching teams and other group activities because they are passionate about what they do. I am," Epplett said.
"That's why it is so hard. I want to go to school every day. Every day is different. You might have a bad day but then the next day something great happens. In 36 years I don't think there has ever been a day that I didn't think that I've got a great job."
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