W. Gloucester — The day after teacher Teresa LaChance passed away, her colleagues at Georgetown Middle-High School told her students in between their final exams.
The students had last seen their U.S history teacher just two weeks earlier, as she continued to come to school every day. An illness and ensuing treatment had sapped her strength, but not her will to keep teaching and finish the school year.
So, on the word of her death, the school offered students a chance to take the rest of the day off, if they chose, and make up their exam at another time.
But a remarkable thing happened: in silent honor of a teacher who kept showing up for them, every boy and girl decided to stay for their exams and finish the work LaChance had started.
“I heard it spoken by a few kids that day: ‘Ms. LaChance would want us to do this,’ ” said Peter Lucia, the high school’s principal. “She was an inspiration, no doubt about that.”
LaChance, a longtime West Gloucester resident, died on Monday, June 11, at her home overlooking Walker Creek and Hog Island. She was 55 years old.
Teaching was just one passion, LaChance’s second, maybe even third career. A Minnesota native, she came to the Boston area after college, and in the early 1980s, she was among the founding partners of the Chipper’s Restaurants in Ipswich and Amesbury, where her freshly baked breads and special cinnamon rolls were local favorites.
She was also an active supporter at the Wellspring House in Gloucester, and S.A.F.E. Studios in Ipswich.
A generous woman with an engaging wit and radiant smile, LaChance didn’t shy from much. To help overcome a fear of flying, LaChance in her 40s signed up for pilot’s lessons. She took up golf lessons a few years back, too, so she could carry her weight at Wellspring’s annual golf outing.
Her greatest devotion was to her family: husband Douglas LaChance, owner of LaChance Tree Professionals, and daughters Kate and Sylvan. Close friends were also treasured, her home always inviting with food, music and laughter.
Eight years ago, she returned to school to become a teacher, earning her Master’s degree at Gordon College and then landing a social studies job in Georgetown and its small, close-knit high school of 450 students.
Lucia, the high school principal, said he immediately recognized a woman with energy in abundance. “Right away, I could see her passion and creativity were way beyond her level of experience,” he said.
And as she grew as a teacher, he said, LaChance became one of the school’s most accomplished and popular. She taught American and World History, as well as classes in the law and contemporary affairs.
One famous lesson was from her American history class, a lesson that included a re-enactment of a Roaring ‘20s ‘speakeasy,’ with not just the teacher dressing up in period costume but the students as well. Guests included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel and Al Capone, among others.
Outside the classroom, she led the school’s Key Club, focusing on community service, by far the largest in the school. “She was not only passionate, but compassionate,” the principal continued. “We couldn’t have picked a more perfect person to lead that.”
The relationships were outside the normal structures, too, with LaChance often speaking of the hard-to-reach students that she wanted to connect with. And the connections were made.
That was evident in a giant get-well card signed by more than 60 students in LaChance’s final weeks. One student spoke of how LaChance was one of the few adults who didn’t give up on her.
Others said how she brought American history to life, not to mention a smile to their faces each day. Many fondly recalled how their teacher would start each class: “Greetings everyone!!”
As always with their teacher, there was a little humor, too. “Stay strong, Ms. LaChance. If you can put up with me all year, you can get through anything,” wrote one boy.
And all of them thanked her, not knowing they may not see her again.
“You have inspired everyone to push through struggles and have shown such grace under pressure,” one girl wrote, signed with a heart.
Last Wednesday, more than 300 students, teachers and parents returned to the school for a memorial vigil to honor LaChance. Family held a private service last weekend at their home.
In addition to her immediate family, she is survived by brother Jim Hopper of Minneapolis, Mn.; sisters Ruth Krebs of Denver, Co., and Cheryl Hopper of Montclair, NJ; and 11 nieces and nephews.
ARRANGEMENTS: Contributions in LaChance’s honor can be made to the Teresa Hopper LaChance Scholarship Fund at Georgetown Middle-High School, c/o Essex County Community Foundation, 175 Andover Street, Danvers, MA 01923.