• Audrey Gardner

Local teacher mourned

The Iola Register

Students and staff at Lincoln Elementary School will have the opportunity to attend the funeral of a beloved fourth-grade teacher who died unexpectedly early Monday. Classes will be canceled for Lincoln students Thursday.

Audrey Gardner, who taught at the Iola school district for 16 years, died Monday morning at Allen County Regional Hospital. She was 41.

USD 257 Superintendent Stacey Fager and Lincoln principal Andy Gottlob notified teachers and staff at a meeting early Monday. Two school counselors and others joined them to talk to Gardner’s fourth grade class after lunch, then went from classroom to classroom to talk to students.

“It was very tough. Her class took it pretty hard,” Gottlob said. “We tried to comfort them, told them it was OK that they had those feelings. We let them talk if they wanted to talk or write notes and cards to the family.”

This was Gardner’s first year teaching fourth grade. She previously taught third grade, and a handful of her students this year also were in her class last year. 

“She commented to me many times how she was really enjoying the year and it was one of the best classes she’d had,” Gottlob said. “There was a lot of respect between her and her kids. They knew she loved them.”

Gardner’s fellow teachers shared their memories with the Register, recalling her as a dedicated teacher who “had a passion for Iola and the kids here.” Gardner started her career in Iola. 

Gardner also had a passion for hedgehogs. Over the years she twice welcomed a hedgehog as a class pet, naming them “Cinnamon Toast” and “Chocolate Thunder.” Though she didn’t currently have a class pet, students on Tuesday downloaded pictures of hedgehogs as their screensavers in her honor.

Many recalled how Gardner wore flip-flops every day, no matter the weather, and that she loved the outdoors and especially hunting.

She was known for creative class projects, such as building log cabins for social studies and a “Christmas Around the World” project that encouraged students to “travel” the world to learn about the holiday in different cultures.

“She made learning fun,” the teachers said. “She wanted to make a difference. She had high expectations, not just for her students to learn but to become good citizens and make good choices. She’ll definitely be missed.”

Gardner joined the district in 2002 as a fifth grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary, when the district’s elementary schools were based on neighborhoods and not grade levels. She also taught Title I math and reading at McKinley, and taught third grade since 2006, according to her profile on the district’s website.

Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Arma.

Classes at Lincoln will be canceled Thursday to give students and staff an opportunity to attend the service. Faculty members who do not attend will be asked to fill in at other schools for staff who might want to attend the funeral, Gottlob said.

The family has suggested memorials to a scholarship fund for the Iola school district. Donations may be sent to or left at the Bedene Funeral Home, 517 E. Washington, Box 621, Arma KS 66712.

An obituary can be found here.

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