For a quarter of a century Sandee Leibson has been a fixture at Bond Mill Elementary School, first as a substitute teacher and then as records secretary.
But now after 25 years in the school community she calls family, Leibson is retiring and moving to St. Augustine, Fla., with her husband.
"It's scary. It's really scary," Leibson said of leaving her community behind. "But I'll be OK. I know I'll be OK."
Leibson, 62, who lives in West Laurel, first came to Bond Mill in 1987 as a regular substitute teacher, starting when her daughters reached elementary-school age. She got to know the staff and the principal, and when a job opened up in the office, she jumped at it.
"I figured, well, I'm here all the time anyways," she said.
For the past 21 years, Leibson has been the records secretary, the first face many visitors see when they walk into the front office.
It's a boring title that fails to describe Leibson's place at Bond Mill, said Principal Justin FitzGerald. She fields emails and calls from parents, delivers messages and gets students on the correct bus. But her job is more than that, FitzGerald said.
"She's such a key member of our community," he said. "She has such a way about her. I've never heard her raise her voice or get angry. She has such calmness about her, and she's very reassuring. In stressful situations, that's when Sandee is at her best. She does so much every single day, and she's the hardest worker you will ever find."
If someone mentions Bond Mill, they undoubtedly mention Leibson in the same breath, FitzGerald said. During her time at the school, she has worked with three principals and seen children leave elementary school, grow up and have children of their own.
"I've seen generations here," she said. "It's fun to see the kids grow up. They're such a hoot while they're here, and they grow up and start their own families. This is a family, in its own way. You get a family feeling here."
Leaving Laurel for St. Augustine is a hard transition, Leibson said. But she's looking forward to becoming a part of her new community in the way she's a part of Laurel. An active member of the Bond Mill PTA for years, Leibson is also involved with the Women's Club of Laurel. She's taking the mindset of giving back to her community with her to Florida, where she hopes to get a part-time job or volunteer position in the history-rich area.
"I'll meet people there, but it won't be the same for a long time," she said. "It'll be different kinds of friendships. Leaving is hard. I'm not quite ready, but I'm getting there."
She and her husband, Richard, are already making plans for return trips to Laurel, and to visit their daughters — both of whom now live near Charleston, S.C., and one of whom now has two daughters of her own. Leibson will be much closer to them, and to her parents who also live in Florida.
With the last day of school rapidly approaching — Friday, June 7 in Prince George's County — Leibson's time at Bond Mill is nearing its end. It's bittersweet, FitzGerald said, and it's going to take a lot of adjusting to move forward. In a way she'll always be around; FitzGerald said last week Bond Mill named a suite of rooms in her honor. She brings so much cheer to the building, he said, and the Bond Mill experience will be different in her absence.
"The situations may change and the people may change, but Sandee is the one constant connecting everyone and everything together," FitzGerald said. "That's not someone you can replace."
Leibson said she'll miss Bond Mill — she says it's been a fun place to work, and she feels blessed for being a part of the family for so long.
"There aren't many people who enjoy what they do, enjoy the people they work with and have a boss that appreciates everything they do," she said. "Leaving here is hard. We've raised our children here. This is the village that raises its children. You hear that all the time, that it takes a village to raise a child. This is that village."