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For Andover resident Rita Arsenault, who just celebrated her 90th birthday, the Sanborn Elementary School has become her second home. Since 1990, when Rita retired as Sanborn’s secretary, she has been volunteering at the Sanborn School every week - twice a week - in the media center and assisting fifth-grade teacher Suzanne Crowley with various classroom duties and clerical work.
As a thank you for her volunteer efforts, the school community came together last week to surprise Rita with a 90th birthday celebration, featuring a luncheon, followed by student musical and theatrical performances. Rita’s family also attended the celebration, as well as Andover Superintendent Sheldon Berman, who presented Rita with a special citation from the Andover Public Schools and the Town of Andover honoring her for her many years of volunteer service to the district.
“Rita is truly a remarkable individual who has touched the lives of so many people in our community,” said Dr. Berman. “We are incredibly thankful for her volunteer service and wish her a very happy 90th birthday.”
The highlight of the celebration was when Mrs. Crowley’s fifth-grade class brought Rita’s timeline to life with a creative performance depicting her milestones. The students acted out scenes when Rita Hamel was born in South Lawrence on December 30, and attended Sacred Heart Elementary School. They also told the story of when Rita first met her future husband Raymond Arsenault, who was the family’s paper boy delivering the Eagle Tribune. Next, came details of Rita’s move to Andover, and her school days attending Punchard High School, which is now Andover High School. Before Raymond reconnected with Rita, he served in the Navy for four years during World War II. After the war, the couple reunited after church one day and the rest, as the students said, was history. After they were married, the couple lived in Andover, and Rita began working at the Shawsheen School, then later as secretary at the Sanborn School. The couple had two children, Richard and Russell. Rita retired from the district in 1990 and returned shortly after to volunteer her time at at the Sanborn School.
The performance ended with the entire class reciting the line, “And so Mrs. Arsenault’s timeline still lives on to this very day and we would just like to say to you…Thank You for volunteering in our beloved class and we would like to wish you a happy 90th birthday.”
“There are no words to express the feelings I have right now - all these people who came today and who are interested in my life,” said Rita. “I love everyone here, especially the children.”
Rita lost her husband Raymond 15 years ago, but said that she is thankful that she is able to keep herself busy through her volunteering with the schools, “They treat me well and keep me very busy,” Rita added. “It’s important at my age to stay active.”
But the real thanks, according to Suzanne Crowley, goes to Rita for the contributions she she makes each week. “Rita is a very special person and is very much loved here at Sanborn.”