Photots by Ryan Mooney
She has been a fixture in the Peabody school system for the better part of five decades, and now Carol Papi's name will officially live on at Welch Elementary - where she has spent the last 38 educating Peabody's youngsters - for years to come.
Papi retired this year after 48 years in Peabody schools. Teachers, administrators, city officials, and community members met on Wednesday afternoon behind Welch to name the future site of the school's playground in her honor.
"I'm just overwhelmed," Papi said. "This is such an honor. To think that my colleagues, people on the playground committee, parents of the children that I had all were agreeable to this, I thank you very much."
"Nothing gives us greater pleasure than having this dedicated to you," Dr. Monique Nappi, principal of the Welch School, said to Papi as she addressed the crowd.
People who know Papi find her impact hard to put into words. It is hard to overstate her contributions to the city's public education system, and to Welch in particular since joining the staff when the school opened its doors in 1974.
But the depth of people who came out for the dedication ceremony on the blacktop lot behind the two-story school is a testament to her influence among the school community - from current students and parents, to former colleagues, to former students such as Kyle Multner, a 23-year-old construction worker who had Papi for a teacher in second grade.
"Look at the turnout, I mean that's a tribute to her," Multner said. "It's just incredible."
"I have four kids that had Mrs. Papi and they're all here," said Peabody resident Leanne Labrecque-Brown. "She's a legend. She is solid, she knew her stuff, and she was the old-school style, which is refreshing."
Interim Superintendent Dr. Herb Levine described Papi as the "soul" of what he considers to be the most important job one can hold.
"The things that Carol has been able to teach children, generations of children, cannot be measured," Levine said.
Papi has no special plans for retirement. The only certainty in the future of the nearly lifelong Tanner City resident is a longing to interact with hundreds of Peabody children every day, a personal joy from which she built and long and fulfilling career.
"It was a pleasure to come everyday, to help these children," Papi said. "It's so thrilling when you are working with a child and they're having difficulty, and then they get it and they go 'now I see.' I'm just going to miss that, it's a thrill to have that happen."
Welch is currently the only elementary school in Peabody without a playground, after its 15-year-old playground was torn down two years ago due to safety concerns. A volunteer group called the Friends of the Welch School Playground is currently working to raise $200,000 by next April to build the Carol A. Papi Welch School Playground.
The group submitted a video to the community partnership group "Let's Play" for a chance to win one of five $15,000 grants from a nationwide contest that ends Friday. They currently sit in third place - based on online votes - out of 10 finalists, behind the Millis/CFB Playground in Millis and the Gretna #2 Academy for Advanced Studies in Gretna, Louisiana.
The five videos with the most votes win $15,000 to put towards playground construction.