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1:35 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

'So much more than just a teacher'

PRESCOTT ­ It was Amy Van Winkle's final performance, and to send her off, her students ­ current and former ­ offered an encore performance.

Friday evening, Van Winkle, Prescott High School's choir director, offered her last Spring Spectacular to students and audiences. She will retire this year after 19 in her position.

After a rendition of "One," which includes the lyrics, "she's the one," graduating seniors offered Van Winkle flowers as well as a necklace, and a special surprise ­ close to 100 choir alumni came out of the audience to join current students in "Lean on Me."

As Van Winkle wiped her tears, 1998 Prescott High School graduate Matt Henry read a statement reminding her of her successes as an educator, which he said are apparent in the successes of her students.

At the end of Friday evening's festivities, Van Winkle said, "All I could say is, for me, this is what it is all about. It always has been and it always will be. It's not even about the person, it's about the music. I'm sure glad that we, as people, got the chance to share our lives."

Former and current students said Van Winkle has brought spirit, energy and enthusiasm to the choir program ­ and to their high school experience.

"She's so much more than just a teacher," senior Jenny Estes, who has participated in choir since her sophomore year, said during an interview. "She's a friend."

"She's always there for helping you, no matter what," senior Lauren Cain said. "She's so much fun. She's like a mom to us."

For years, students have called Van Winkle "Mama Van," and those who will continue to take choir after she's gone said they will miss her tremendously.

Although junior Tessa Mendoza said she will miss Van Winkle next year, she said having a new instructor "will be very good for the kids who have gotten so much musical experience and advice from Ms. Van, to learn from someone new. She's taught us all to love and share our love through music."

In the time Tessa has taken classes from Van Winkle, she said, "She's been an inspiration to me."

Tessa called her "an amazing musical director and an amazing friend."

Van Winkle's retirement brings mixed feelings.

"I'm very sad to see her go, but I'm excited for her to start a new life. I know she'll make it wherever she goes," Tessa said.

"Rather than looking at this as a sad thing," Lauren said, "We're ushering her on to her next thing."

Jenny added, "She's going on to something she wants to do, and we're there to support her."

Her former students, such as Beth (Miles) Shellhart and Ann Marie (Henry) Schimberg, 1997 grads and Julie Wyma, a 2001 grad, agreed that Prescott High School is losing a fixture.

"She really gave everything," Shellhart said. "She was always there for the students."

Schimberg added, "She is just hilariously funny. She made it really fun."

Her energy and enthusiasm, Wyma said, "brought a collaborative spirit to the art department."

Alice Lange, who helped direct musicals at Prescott High School during Van Winkle's high school years (she graduated from there in 1978), said Van Winkle has always been funny and has always had a beautiful singing voice.

"I think she's very good," she said. "I've been very pleased with her and what she's done."

Van Winkle starred in "Bye, Bye Birdie" as a sophomore, "Carousel" as a junior and "Fiddler on the Roof" as a senior. Although Lange stopped volunteering at the high school in 1981, she returned when Van Winkle got a job there in 1987.

"I knew she was going to succeed in some field of music," Lange said.

Van Winkle has brought many things to the high school's choir program, Lange said, "and joy is one of them."

"She's not replaceable," Shellhart said.

Wyma added, "She's not the only choir teacher, but she's certainly the only Amy Van Winkle."

Contact the reporter at hdartt@prescottaz.com