C-I mourns loss of beloved teacher Norene Callahan

Rachel Kytonen

After the students left for the day, Norene Callahan realized she forgot to remind them that tomorrow was “wear your slippers to school” day. So she spent the evening calling every one of her students to remind them to wear their slippers to school the next morning.

Cambridge-Isanti School District Superintendent Bruce Novak explained that example is just one of many when describing the kind of care, dedication and passion Callahan showed each day as a second-grade teacher for 31 years with the Cambridge-Isanti School District.

Norene Callahan had taught 2nd grade at Isanti Primary School for 31 years.

He said he was unsure about which year the “slippers” phone call took place, but mentioned it was during “February’s I Love to Read Month,” where students have different dress-up days.

Callahan, 54, of Shoreview, was killed in a car accident in Ham Lake on her way to work Friday morning, Feb. 17. She was pronounced dead at the scene by first responders.

The accident occurred on Lexington Avenue near 153rd Avenue in Ham Lake.

According to the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, Callahan was driving northbound on Lexington Avenue around 7 a.m. when she apparently lost control of her Honda sedan because of the slick road. The sheriff’s office said her vehicle slid into the southbound lane where it was struck by a full-size Chevy pickup truck driven by a 33-year-old Hugo man, who was not injured.

Supt. Novak said the school district began realizing something was wrong Friday when he got a call from IPS Principal Kris Stueve around 8:10 a.m. informing him that Callahan had not shown up for work and hadn’t called, which was unlike her.

He got a second call from Principal Stueve around 8:30 a.m. informing him that Callahan had been killed in a car accident that morning.

“This tragedy has really shocked everyone,” Supt. Novak said. “This is a terrible loss for us and we are very concerned for Norene’s family as well as the children she had in class. It’s hard to explain to second-graders about what happened.”

Supt. Novak said after the district was informed about the tragedy, it called the parents of Callahan’s students to inform them, and told them they would be telling the students around 1:30 p.m. The district invited the parents to be with their children at that time.

“I think with the exception of one or two students, every student had a parent with them at the time we told them,” Supt. Novak said. “And the students who didn’t have parents with them had a counselor or social worker by their side.”

Supt. Novak said he is very appreciative of how district administrators handled the events of Friday morning.

“After we learned the news, I informed the district administrators in all the school buildings and asked them if they could send any counselors or social workers to Isanti Primary because I knew we would need them,” Supt. Novak explained. “Within 15 minutes, we had extra support at the school, and again on Tuesday morning when the students returned from their extended weekend.”

Principal Stueve, who worked with Callahan for 14 years, shared a comment from one of Callahan’s colleagues at IPS.

“This colleague told me Norene loved every second of her job,” Principal Stueve said. “She said Norene treated each year of teaching like it was her first. That says a lot. When you can teach for 31 years and be as excited about it as when you began, that’s very impressive.”

Callahan’s colleagues had a lot of respect for her.

“Many people think that a teacher who has been working with kids for 31 years must be ‘burned out’ or ‘just waiting for retirement.’ That was not the case with Norene Callahan,” said  Jennifer Ryan, IPS second-grade teacher. “She was so full of life, excited to be teaching second grade and loved her students so much. She was eager to try something new and always willing to share her great ideas with the rest of us. The teaching profession has lost a true gem and I have lost a wonderful friend.”

Dedication is a word used to describe Callahan.

“Mrs. Callahan was a highly dedicated teacher that loved her job,” said Christine Bistodeau, IPS first-grade teacher. “She adored her students. The staff and students will miss her dearly.”

Callahan had an excellent relationship with her students.

“She was their teacher,” Principal Stueve said. “The students loved her and are missing her already. One thing that always impressed me about Norene was her ability to work with parents in the classroom. She always had a volunteer in her classroom and always had a good relationship with the parents of her students.”

Callahan was well-respected among her fellow teachers.

“This really leaves a huge gap within our second-grade team,” Principal Stueve said. “Our second-grade teachers are a very close-knit group and worked extremely well together. She was a big part of that and will be missed.”

All of Callahan’s colleagues within the district will miss her.

“Norene was a great mentor,” said Liz Klar and Julie Peterson, IPS kindergarten teachers. “She was willing to go the extra mile for her students. She was a warm and nurturing person and loving mother.”

Callahan was a wonderful teacher who made a difference in the lives of many students.

“I believe caring, passionate, dedicated and always thinking about others are ways that made Norene stand out,” Supt. Novak said. “When you look at Norene’s school picture, you see her smiling. And that’s what you would get from Norene; she was always smiling.”

Memorial services for Callahan were held Tuesday, Feb. 21, at St. Louis Park Evangelical Free Church.

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