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Norwood-Norfolk mourns loss of elementary principal

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NORFOLK - Joanne M. Bigwarfe’s Facebook page immediately began filling up with condolences as friends of the Norwood-Norfolk Elementary School principal learned of her death Tuesday night at age 43 after a battle with cancer.

“I’m so sorry to hear about Joanne. After all these years, I can picture you so clearly. Such a sweet person and a beautiful soul. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. LOVE,” one person wrote.

“An amazing person, mother, educator, friend, sister, aunt, taken too early. God must have needed an angel, just wish it wasn’t you. My thoughts and heart go out to your family. We will miss you, Joanne!” another wrote.

Others shared the same sentiments, leaving messages such as, “What a wonderful soul taken way to soon!” and “My heart is so Sad for Joanne Bigwarfe I can’t help but to cry.........”

It was a somber day when students and staff returned to Norwood-Norfolk Central School on Wednesday, according to Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie, who received a call from Mrs. Bigwarfe’s family informing her of the news following a board of education workshop Tuesday night.

“Before she was our elementary principal she was also our special education administrator. She touched the lives of many young people. She was certainly an important part of our staff. Everyone is just struggling to come to terms,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

Prior to her arrival at Norwood-Norfolk, Mrs. Bigwarfe taught special education in the Parishville-Hopkinton Central School District from September 1999 to August 2006. That district’s staff and students also struggled with her passing on Wednesday, according to Superintendent Darin P. Saiff, who noted they had also recently lost board of education member Steven H. Wilson and class of 2011 graduate Amanda L. Lashomb.

“I think it was difficult news for out staff and our students. Even though she left six years ago, she was the type of person that left an indelible, positive mark on our district. She was very vibrant, kind and compassionate, someone we’ll miss as a colleague. She was always such a positive person,” Mr. Saiff said.

“There seems to have been a lot of that type of thing going on here with the loss of a board member, a recent graduate and now Mrs. Bigwarfe,” he said.

Mr. Saiff, who had worked with Mrs. Bigwarfe for two years, remembered her as “such a positive, outgoing energetic person and a true professional educator. She took some leadership roles while she was here as a teacher. She did a great job in everything she was involved in, everything from helping with professional development to mentoring people to being the advisor of the National Honor Society. Certainly all of our prayers go out to her husband, Brooks, her two children and her family.”

Mrs. Kirnie said that after receiving word about Mrs. Bigwarfe’s death, administrators immediately activated their phone trees to let staff know the news.

“The administrators have been wonderful. They immediately activated the phone trees,” she said.

Representatives from Hospice and Palliative Care of St. Lawrence Valley were also called in to the school on Wednesday to help the staff and students deal with the loss of the principal.

“We have enlisted the help of Hospice and Palliative Care of St. Lawrence Valley. Mary Jones (a Hospice grief counselor) is here. They are helping us guide the staff and also helping us with what words to use with students,” she said.

“Our counseling staff is doing a marvelous job, as is our BOCES counselor and the grief counselors from Hospice, to keep things upbeat for the kids and help them express their feelings. Usually they (Hospice counselors) will bring crafts. This time they brought crafts for the staff,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

Mrs. Bigwarfe had been at Norwood-Norfolk for approximately six years, the last two years as elementary principal. She took over for Jonathan R. Sovay, who became middle school principal after the departure of Robert Stewart. Rebecca Kingsley moved into the elementary principal position when Mrs. Bigwarfe became ill.

“The last several months Rebecca Kingsley has moved into that position. Certainly Jon Sovay has been a wonderful help and support in keeping both the middle school and elementary school operating smoothly,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

Her death will leave a void among the staff and students, according to the superintendent.

“Joanne was a very special person. In some ways, she will be a part of this school for a while. I think she was always a very energetic, upbeat and positive person. That is certainly part of her legacy in the school,” she said.

A Mass of Christian Burial for Mrs. Bigwarfe will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Mary’s Church in Potsdam with the Rev. Monsignor Robert Aucoin celebrant. Burial will follow at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Potsdam.

Calling hours will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Garner Funeral Service in Potsdam.

Online condolences can be sent left at www.garnerfh.com.

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