Belmont resident and longtime sister of Notre Dame de Namur Helen Dugan celebrated her 100th birthday Wednesday surrounded by family, fellow sisters and friends.
Dugan grew up in San Francisco, joined Notre Dame de Namur at the age of 19 and went on to teach elementary school for roughly 40 years in Santa Clara, Carmel and in Oregon, among other locations.
Dugan’s ministry extended beyond the classroom and, starting in the 1970s, she counseled and supported seniors at the Notre Dame Villa Infirmary in Saratoga and John XXIII Center in San Jose, according to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur website.
After retiring, Dugan volunteered as a classroom aide for Notre Dame Elementary School in Belmont.
“[The children] love her humor, her heart, her smile, her silliness, her attitude (always positive), her spirit, her faith, and clearly, her ability to listen and support not only her students but her colleagues as well,” according to the website.
Dugan today lives at the Notre Dame Province Center, located on the Notre Dame de Namur University campus across from Ralston Hall. And every morning she still walks nearly half a mile to the elementary school.
“Being 100 hasn’t stopped her one bit,” said Sister Aileen Bermingham, who lives in the same building and taught with Dugan for decades. “Her mind is still quick.”
Asked during the party how she’s feeling, Dugan said “I’m tired, but I’m happy.”
Dugan said her favorite part of teaching was her rapport with her students.
“I’d make jokes and if the kids had sad stories I’d try to find something silly to talk about and they would forget about their sorrows,” she said.
Some of Dugan’s students, including Karen Crummey, attended the birthday party.
“She was always my favorite and still is,” said Crummey, who was taught by Dugan in the third-grade. “She was my inspiration because I went on to be a third-grade teacher for 30 years.”
Seventy years after being Dugan’s student, the two send each other Christmas cards every year.
Anne Kimbell, another student of Dugan’s, was also at the party.
“She was a great teacher,” said Kimbell, who was taught by Dugan during kindergarten, first- and second-grades — all in the same room.
Bermingham said Dugan was a “marvelous teacher,” and always the first to show up for work each day. She said the children loved Dugan’s sense of humor, adding that she was not a good singer.
“So she’d tell the kids if you don’t behave I’m going to start singing,” Bermingham said. “She’s been a marvelous person all her life.”
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