Dowagiac community invited to celebrate the life of beloved elementary principal

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DOWAGIAC, Mich. (WNDU) – Heather Nash, the principal at Patrick Hamilton Elementary in Dowagiac, died Thursday morning.

The announcement, which was made on Facebook by Dowagiac Union Schools deputy superintendent Dawn Conner, has students and staff at the school mourning the loss, according to our reporting partners at WSJM.

Nash's death comes after she underwent what was described as a routine knee surgery earlier in December. The school held a prayer vigil Sunday night.

Nash had been the principal at Hamilton for more than 10 years.

She was also a wife and the mother of a 17-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl.

Leslie Malin says Nash was her best friend. Nash was the first public school teacher for one of Malin's sons.

“She was an advocate not only for my child,” Malin said. “With Tyler being in special needs, she was so full of knowledge and willing to help.”

Cindy Bennett, another close friend of Nash’s, was the secretary at Patrick Hamilton Elementary while Nash was the principal. Bennett says Nash had a bubbly personality.

“She was always laughing in the hallways,” Bennett said. “She always made sure she was at the door greeting kids every morning when they were getting off the bus or getting dropped off by their parents.”

“She loved the kids, she loved the teachers,” Malin said. “[Hamilton Elementary] is a family - principal, teachers, aides, everybody and the kids. That's what makes it so hard.”

“I just want everyone to know how wonderful of a person she was, and I want to do her justice on how much she loved children,” Bennett said. “There's not enough that we can do to honor her, because she was one in a million.”

“She's grown up here, she's worked here her entire career as a teacher and principal and impacted so many peoples' lives,” Malin added. “I'm proud to call her my best friend.”

A celebration of Nash's life will take place this Sunday at 2 p.m. at Sister Lakes Community Church at 67119 M-152 in Dowagiac.

The entire community is invited and asked to bring a sweet treat, because Nash loved to bake.

Here's what others in the community had to say about Heather Nash:

I would like to honor our principal Heather Nash by saying that she was the type of person who went the extra mile to make you feel loved and encouraged—everyone mattered to her—students, parents, and staff alike. She listened to our ideas and would actually put them into action if at all possible. She allowed each of us to “be ourselves” in the classroom. We felt free to try new things and be creative in our instruction. She believed in each of us—and we truly KNEW it. Because we knew she believed in us, we felt competent and capable to handle the rigors of teaching. She kept our staff united in our purpose of caring for and educating kids and united in our care and concern for one another. She will be dearly missed by us all!
-Jon Leazenby

I have been a teacher at Pat Ham for 9 years, starting first as a part-time interventionist and half day kindergarten teacher. Because of Heather’s leadership and support, I’ve become a better teacher each year. Heather had an infectious laugh, and loved practical jokes, whether they were played on her, or if she was the prankster. She loved to have fun. She was incredibly intelligent, and could analyze and explain educational data like no other. She had an assuring way with words, whether it was to quell fears in one of her staff, or even to parents. As one of my colleagues said, “She brought a group of misfits with her when she became principal at Patrick Hamilton (a year or two before I became a part of the staff), and built a strong, supportive, team and family among our staff, as well as a loving environment for each of our students." To say returning to school after the Christmas break, and continuing the year without her cheerful, loving presence will be difficult is an understatement. Heather will be forever missed.
-Jayme Wolf