Anita Pieper was everybody’s buddy.
The beloved certified education assistant (CEA) in Armstrong, who died suddenly in October 2018, is being remembered in the community with the installation of ‘Buddy Benches.’
Three have been erected in her hometown at Len Wood Middle School, Armstrong Elementary and the third was installed Wednesday morning with a special ceremony at Highland Park Elementary.
“We are here today to honour Anita’s legacy which includes her smile, her kind heart and the importance she placed on friendship,” said Jennifer Findlay, district vice-principal for School District No. 83 North Okanagan-Shuswap.
Findlay was joined at the school-wide assembly by Shuswap Middle School (Salmon Arm) principal Wendy Woodhurst and CEA Sandi Nicholson. The trio first met Pieper and worked with her 20 years ago when all were at Len Wood Middle School.
“Anita had such a full heart with the love she had for her family, which she talked about endlessly, her love for the schools, the staffs and their families, but she had a special place in her heart for kids who were having a tough time at school, whether it was a bad day, or those who needed extra learning or extra learning on how to be a good friend.”
The Buddy Bench idea came from a trip Pieper took with her husband, Chris, to Grande Prairie to visit their son, Jeff. The Pieper’s grandson sat alone on the bench during a school day and a student came and talked to him. Another student was sitting on the bench later, and the Pieper’s grandson went and chatted with him and became a friend.
“We are honoured to be here today,” said Chris Pieper, Armstrong’s Mayor, joined at Wednesday’s ceremony by two of his kids, Chad and Sara, and two grandchildren.“You have no idea how this makes us feel, to be able to participate in this.”
As explained by Woodhurst, there are three rules to the Buddy Bench for students:
• If you’re looking for someone to play with or a friend, please sit on Anita’s bench;
• If you see someone sitting on the bench, talk to them and invite them to play;
• If you’re sitting on the bench and someone invites you to play, say “yes.”