For 26 years, Mary Mackbee, principal of St. Paul’s Central High, not only walked hallways but attended band and choir concerts and cheered on athletes in the chill of fall sports.
So as the 74-year-old educator winds down her career, the school district that has been her home for more than 50 years thought it only fitting that her name live on in an extracurricular way.
This week, the school board agreed to name Central’s auditorium in her honor.
The action item was on the board’s consent agenda Tuesday, meaning it could be approved without mention. But Board Member Mary Vanderwert pulled it off for discussion to make sure Mackbee — there for recognition of the district’s winter athletes — could hear the praises.
Vanderwert said all three of her children attended Central and have become strong adults thanks to Mackbee’s influence. Vanderwert joked that only once did she as a parent have to meet with the principal for a conference involving one of her kids.
Board Member Steve Marchese, who still has a child at Central, said she made the school a “light to the community. … This place will never be the same.”
John Brodrick, the board’s longest-serving member and a retired district teacher and coach, noted how their careers paralleled each other’s.
He said teachers aren’t always members of a “principal’s fan club,” but that Mackbee had a huge one across St. Paul.
The name Mary Mackbee is “magic,” Brodrick said.
Board Member Jeanelle Foster, who grew up in Frogtown and went to Highland Park High School, said: “ ‘Thank you’ just doesn’t seem enough.”
When it came time for her to speak, Mackbee kept it short, saying she wanted to thank the district for taking a chance on her as a teacher at the long-closed Mounds Park Junior High and for the continued support throughout her career.
After the school year ends, it is anyone’s guess, however, how soon and how often she returns to Mary Mackbee Auditorium.
She wants her successor to choose his or her own course, she told the Star Tribune in October.
“I’ll try not to be a strong presence,” she said then. “I’ll try to be a memory.”
The community will have the opportunity to celebrate Mackbee’s work at a gala at St. Paul College on April 14.
Proceeds from the event will go to a Mary Mackbee Legacy Fund providing scholarships to students who “exhibited leadership, scholarship and service” during their time at Central.
Event information is on Facebook under “Mary Mackbee: Continuing the Legacy.”