Milaca Public Schools teachers, paraprofessionals and administration are mourning the loss of longtime special education teacher Cindy Zillmer after she was killed in a car crash Friday night, May 31.
As the news of her passing spread throughout the school, several of the staff have recalled their time with the 57-year-old Zillmer who started in Milaca nearly 30 years ago.
“Cindy and I both came to Milaca in 1984, and we have been in special ed together for 29 years, so it has been a tough couple of days,” Dave Dillan said.
Others may not have worked alongside Zillmer for quite as long, but the friendships they formed lasted more than a decade. Brenda Rueckert worked with Zillmer as her paraprofessional for the past 14 years.
“She was a very caring, dedicated, dependable person. She always had the students’ best interests in mind and made them accountable,” Rueckert said. “She would work endlessly to get her kids to pass their classes. She rewarded the students for their hard work. Manners were very important to students. She wanted them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you.’”
Fellow paraprofessionals Peggy Timmer and Sandy Lanz will remember Zillmer for being a fun and supportive teacher who made coming to work enjoyable as well as accountable.
“Cindy made working at Milaca fun,” Rueckert said. “She knew when to make us laugh and when to correct our behaviors. She loved her own kids as well as all of the kids she came in contact with. She made her students feel special and spent time getting to know them. She loved to play games with them, but only if they had all of their work completed.”
Special education teacher Belinda Ash echoed those sentiments.
“Cindy has worked in the Milaca district for many years, and she has touched the lives of so many children,” Ash said. “She will be greatly missed.”
The sudden and tragic death of their coworker has Milaca educators not only grieving the loss of a vital team member, but a friend.
“Personally, I don’t know how I will manage without her,” Rueckert said. “She was one of my best friends. She knew when to rein me in. She knew when to be professional and when to be a friend. We spent a lot of time together both in school and outside of school.”
Rueckert will also remember Zillmer’s sense of humor.
“Cindy loved practical jokes. In fact, on my birthday this year she thought it would be funny to have students fill my desk with packing peanuts,” Reuckert recalled fondly. “I am so happy that I was able to spend her last night with her.”
Lanz, Timmer, and Rueckert were golfing with Zillmer the evening before she died.
“The three of us spent some time telling her how much we appreciated her and about the plans we had for her retirement party. She made us promise to be nice to her and not too embarrassing,” Rueckert said.
Visitation was from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, at the Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in Foley and will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 6, at Foley High School prior to the services at 11 a.m. at the Foley Funeral home. Zillmer is survived by her husband, Ron, son, Zach, daughters Rachel and Kaitlyn and numerous family and friends.