ELLICOTT - The grieving and mourning period marking the unexpected passing of Ellicott Middle School Principal Diane Garduno left colleagues at a loss for their leader - and her loving touch in challenging times.
Those who knew longtime teacher and administrator said Garduno would have been comforting the affected family, students and staff. She would have rallied others to cook meals for the bereaved. She would have lent a shoulder to cry on.
"She was just there for everybody," said school board president Jackie Chambers, holding back tears. "It's one of those things I wish we could get back."
Garduno, 48, died Nov. 21 when her car was hit head-on by a vehicle that was passing another motorist near the intersection of Bradley and Marksheffel roads east of Colorado Springs.
"She was in every sense of the word the fabric of our district," Ellicott School District 22 Superintendent Chris Smith said Monday at a news briefing.
"She was the person who brought everyone together."
The school district will be closed Thursday and will host a memorial service at 1 p.m. in the high school gym, followed by a reception at the middle school.
A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs.
A gofundme account as of Monday afternoon had raised $6,770 toward a $10,000 goal. The money will go toward funeral costs, the appeal states.
Garduno had five children. Two graduated from Ellicott High and one is a freshman at the high school who plays football, basketball and track. Two are in college.
"Their family did so much for this community, it's time for us to give back," Chambers said.
Garduno started working for D-22 in 1998, as a first-grade teacher.
Former school board president Gary Dahn said his adult daughter fondly remembers Garduno as her teacher.
"She would take the time to ensure that everyone understood the lessons, while making learning fun and exciting," he said. "Mrs. Garduno created a loving environment that had children wanting to come back to school the next day and the next."
Garduno advanced to the administrative office where she tracked student success and facilitated reports for state accountability.
She became an assistant principal at the middle school and was promoted to principal when Smith left as middle school principal earlier this year to become superintendent.
She also served as a reading coach and was known to be at every sporting event.
"She was a big supporter of all of the teams," said bus driver Debbie Jimeson. "The bus drivers will miss her."
The small eastern plains district of about 1,000 students, of whom 227 attend the middle school, has come together in this time of need.
"I feel bad for the family, especially during the holiday season, when loss is the hardest," said D-22 parent Amanda French. "I'm glad to see the support, showing people care."
About 25 specialists from agencies such as victim assistance programs from El Paso County and the Colorado State Patrol, the county chaplain's office, the Pikes Peak Board of Cooperative Educational Services and others, were at the school on Monday, the first day back after Thanksgiving break, to provide counseling, Smith said.
"It's not just the middle school that's grieving," French said. "The whole district is tight-knit, and everybody knows everybody. I'm glad they're not just shrugging it off as another day."
Some parents chose to not send their students to school Monday, Smith said. The start time was delayed by two hours so staff could meet and talk before students arrived.
"Today was hard. Thursday will be really hard," Chambers said. "But we're going to get through it."
The district also lost a student to suicide in October and another to a car wreck earlier this semester.
Dahn said Garduno's passing has "left a huge fissure in this community that will never be filled. Nor would we want it to be."