Phil Zellner and David Langer got their long-awaited gold watches as a part of their retirement from the School Board during their final meeting Tuesday. But those timepieces may be tough to wear on the wrist.
The clocks were "golden gophers" _ school-made wooden gopher tortoise clocks _ presented by two students from Rock Crusher Elementary School.
The gifts were the first of many presented to the retiring board members, who have served a combined 40 years, during a day of honors Tuesday.
Wearing red roses on their lapels, the two smiled while children paraded past, presenting them with huge cards, hand prints, poems and other tributes for their years of service.
Langer's wife, Karyn, sat in the front row of the board room, dabbing her eyes constantly with a tissue.
Crystal River High School student Lannie Hough presented each with a school shirt. "We'd be most proud if you'd wear them, and we are most grateful for your work," Hough said.
Langer chuckled and commented, "We do have children in school today?"
Later in the program, one girl urged the retiring board members, "Please don't leave," prompting both board members to swallow deeply and smile sadly.
After the presentation and a short talk by Superintendent Carl Austin, Zellner and Langer addressed the crowd.
"This is the last shot in my life at a captive audience," grinned Zellner, who retires after 24 years on the board.
He said that while he had looked forward to retirement, the last few weeks had made the decision more difficult. "I've suffered quite a bit of nostalgia," he said.
Zellner said he enjoyed working on the board and especially enjoyed the children's presentation Tuesday. "That really made the day super," he said.
Langer noted how hard it was to speak while his wife cried in the audience, and board member Karen Johnson cried at the board table. He, too, said the presentations by the children were special. But then he directed his words to the many board candidates in the audience.
"Luckily the School Board has not become a political entity .
. and hopefully it never will become a political entity," he said.
"The most important part of the job, I think, for anyone on the School Board, is to sit up here and be sure there are adequate funds for the school system," he said. Then he nodded to the school system staff and said, "Let these fellows run the school system."
Austin closed the program by prompting a standing ovation for Zellner and Langer. Other school administrators and contractors congratulated the two throughout the meeting.
The board members then proceeded to a private luncheon in their honor, followed by the ground-breaking for the new administrative building and a public reception.
Before leaving, board members paused as Zellner moved to adjourn the three-hour meeting, his last as a board member.
Langer, in his last official act, seconded the motion.