‘Miss Barbara is everyone’s grandma, she’s lovely’

Director Luther will retire from Early World Montessori.

Barbara Luther has been spotted swaying to the tunes at Mercer Island’s Mostly Music in the Park.

Some locals have affectionately dubbed her “The Dancing Lady,” and Luther may soon be continuing her love of movement by participating in hula lessons on Hawaii Island following her retirement as longtime director of Early World Montessori school.

Luther, 78, has served in that leadership role on the Island for the last 21 years and figured that as she approached the age of 80 it was an ideal time to take the next step in her life journey.

After bidding adieu to the school at the end of December, Luther will set her course for The Big Island where she’ll live with her son on their property. She plans to engage in volunteering and play cards, walk and dance with a group of ladies in her age range.

With a new director in Brittany Balleras and solid cook Ken Sarota on board, Luther feels that Early World will be in capable hands when she departs. She’ll soon complete her 56-year education career, which began as an eighth-grade teacher at Bellingham Middle School and concludes with 29 years of service as a director and program supervisor within the Newport Children’s School realm.

“I’ll miss my staff terribly. I’ll miss greeting the kids every day. If I’m here and not doing something else, I say goodbye to them when they leave in the afternoons. I will just miss that interaction,” said Luther, who is an 18-year Island resident and member of the Mercer Island Preschool Association.

Luther said that her goal each day when walking through the doors is to make the school a peaceful and happy place to teach and learn. Along the way, she’s developed close relationships with the students and their families.

June Kim and Darren Gold’s three daughters attended Early World under Luther’s tutelage from the ages of 2-6 over the last eight years. Kim said that Luther was the guiding force in preparing her children for their further schooling.

“We were always impressed by her kind and calm demeanor and the fun that the children had while they were at her school,” Gold said.

Six-year-old student Rosalind Plichta said that Luther helped her learn and read at Early World, which was a pleasant place to spend her school days.

“Miss Barbara and everyone is nice and kind. I liked the learning and they made it really fun,” she added.

Kim said it will be sad when Luther retires and noted that she’s loved by kids and parents.

“Miss Barbara is everyone’s grandma, she’s lovely. She never, ever raised her voice, which I was just always so impressed with. If anything, she almost whispered, but it always caused everyone to be quiet and just listen to her,” Kim said.

Fatima Kassamally has bonded with Luther during her 15 years as an Early World teacher. Luther interviewed Kassamally for the job and everything has flowed from there.

“Not every employee is lucky enough to have an amazing boss like her. She’s so inspiring and she has so much empathy for people. She listens and she brings the best out of us as a group,” Kassamally said.

It often takes some extra time to come to the desired conclusion, said Kassamally, adding that Luther calmly traverses that route and motivates her employees along the way.

“Sometimes you’re not looking for the answer right away, sometimes you’re looking for the person to listen to you. I’ve learned how to be a good listener,” the instructor noted about Luther’s impact on her.

Luther, who has walked to the school for the last 16 years from her nearby abode, touched upon Kassamally’s comments by adding that when people express their feelings or needs, it’s important to absorb their thoughts and lend a hand if necessary.

The Early World outgoing director is surely a people person, having accumulated many friends on the Island and beyond during her lifetime. She graduated from Oak Harbor High School on Whidbey Island and from Western Washington University. Her father was a Navy man, so the family moved every two to three years and lived in copious U.S. cities, Korea, Japan and Puerto Rico.

Over at the Island school, she’s a Barbara-of-all-trades, in a sense, as Kim added that Luther would take over cooking or teaching duties if employees couldn’t make it to work.

“She’ll put on whatever hat is necessary to make that school function,” Kim said.

With Luther leading the way as a consummate professional and displaying an abundance of hard work, dedication and kindness, parent Andrea Plichta added, “Her Early World legacy will continue through the teachers, students and families.”