A Life Well Lived

Yesterday afternoon, after returning from a perfectly beautiful Easter picnic up at Purdue with my husband and children, I received a rather cryptic group text from some former colleagues that delivered the sad news of the death of a woman with whom I worked at Fall Creek Valley Middle School here in Indianapolis.  As with all news of this type, for me, at least, there’s a period of mental digestion, and then the memories begin to play back in my mind like the retrospective part of a movie that you know is going to make you cry at the end.

And the memories I have of Dottie Doxtator are some of the best memories I have of being a teacher.

Dottie was an instructional assistant for many severely disabled children at Fall Creek Valley, so I really began to know Dottie well when I had one of her former students in my regular English/language arts class.  I say she was Dottie’s student, because quite honestly, had it not been for Dottie, this student—we’ll call her ‘Mary’—would not have been able to do anything.  Mary was so severely disabled that she could not speak, was non-ambulatory, and could only move some of her body parts in reaction to whatever outside stimulus happened to, well, stimulate her.

I have to admit, shamefully, that I had my doubts about having Mary in my class (as if my doubts would have had any bearing on the stipulation in her IEP that mandated that she be educated in regular education classes—that’s P.L. 94142 for all of you unfamiliar with the ‘Least Restrictive Environment’ law.  Mary appeared to me to have very little grasp of the world around her, but, as you will soon learn, I was rather handily schooled about what Mary could do by none other than Mary herself.

It was the time of year when my English/language arts classes were reading the play The Diary of Anne Frank.  Dear Dottie had the idea that she could program the lines of one of the characters into a Dynavox machine (sort of like a tape recorder) that Mary could activate with her hand when it was the character’s turn to speak.

All of this was Dottie’s idea.  I was skeptical.  After all, it would be Dottie’s voice reading the character Margot’s lines, it would be Dottie prompting Mary to hit the big red button on the Dynavox to activate the recorded voice, and it would invariably be Dottie who lifted Mary’s hand to pound the Dynavox’ big red button when it was ‘Margot’s’ turn to speak.  But I had an inkling that Dottie knew what she was doing, and I was curious how this would all turn out, so I agreed.   I now wonder who I thought I was to have demonstrated such hubris.

On the day of Mary’s stage debut, I assigned the speaking parts in that day’s reading of the play to various students, and when I assigned the part of ‘Margot’ to Mary, none of the students reacted to Mary’s imminent participation.  Most of them had come to class either tired or already bored, never appearing curious about how this was all going to happen, but then again, eighth graders have perfected the attitude of blasé-ness, so I wasn’t at all surprised.

Once it was Mary’s turn to “read” her lines, though, all of that changed.  The students in the class and I watched in fascination as Mary’s face began to contort, her mouth twisting into the semblance of a smile as she began wildly gesticulating while Dottie very gently guided her hand toward the big red button.  The pre-programmed lines flowed from the device, and Mary became, in that instance, a participant in the class, a bona fide member of the eighth grade of Fall Creek Valley Middle School and demonstrated her happiness by loudly rendering whatever sounds her once dormant voice had previously held.  The other students in the class had already picked their heads up off their desks, realized what had just happened, and commenced to cheering, clapping loudly, whistling, woo-hoo-ing, then scraped back their chairs and gave their classmate Mary a standing ovation worthy of a rock star.  Some even approached her wheelchair and lifted up her hand to give her a high five.

Mary had amazed and mesmerized them, and she knew it.  In that instant, Mary became the teacher. It was as if she had said to all of us, “See?  See what I can do?”  Her face bore the look of smug satisfaction, and the vision of her smile is an indelible memory forever etched into my mind.

Naturally, I lost it.  To say that I cried is rather an understatement; I sobbed, bawled my eyes out, and to this day, when I remember Dottie’s gentle persistence, her devotion to Mary, and her determination to allow Mary to become a part of that tenuous, contentious, loud-mouthed, hormone-ravaged, beautiful, and hilarious collection of eighth grade kids, I start to cry again.

Dottie left this world yesterday along with her son Scotty, who was also, like many of the students Dottie cared for at Fall Creek Valley, cognitively disabled.  She talked about Scotty often to me and to others, always prefacing her conversation with “My Scotty.”  Her devotion to him was unparalleled, but then again that is not surprising.  When God chose Dottie to be Scotty’s mother, He knew what He was doing.

Sadly, after I left Fall Creek Valley, I lost touch with Dottie, but I will never forget her.  She remains one of the most influential people of my life because she, along with Mary, taught me that everything is possible when kindness, faith, and love are applied to a seemingly impossible situation.

Well done, good and faithful servant.  Heaven’s rewards await you and Scotty.


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Following my years as an elementary and middle school teacher, I decided I wanted to spend the second half of my life just writing. Currently, I work as a technical writer for a software company, fulfilling my passion for writing and editing, and in between the times I'm trying to figure out how to put really complicated ideas into words the rest of the world can understand, I write novels. The Gym Show, published in March 2014, is my first novel. I'm already half-way through with my second novel--a title soon to be revealed. The creative side of me loves to write, but the teacher in me loves to edit, so let me help you craft your message, write your articles, mend your prose, and get people to read what you've written. Contact me at kellyspringer126@gmail.com.

20 thoughts on “A Life Well Lived”

    1. I honestly loved that woman to pieces. She was amazing, and though I’m sad about her passing, you have to know that if she isn’t in heaven right now, aint none of us getting in!


  1. Thank you for sharing. Our church “Calvary Tabernacle” loved Dottie Doxator. She was a truly kind and wonderful lady. She also taught our special needs Sunday School class. We will miss her and Scotty.


  2. What a wonderful post about Dottie! I was with her son, Chris, and family tonight at the hospital. I forwarded this to him and his wife, Tracey. Thank you for sharing that memory and just another reason to celebrate her life! Her and Scotty are dancing in Glory! As Chris so elequently said tonight, “There’s no cerebral palsy in heaven, he’s dancing with Jesus!”


  3. I do not know you, but I am a special education teacher in Ohio. I grew up with the Dottie’s family and can truly say this it the most beautiful tribute! I hope it will honor both and Dottie to share this with my director of special education. God Bless you for these words so beautifully spoken!


    1. Thank you so much, Julie. I would love it if you would share it with all of the teachers you know. Dottie was truly a treasure, thus words flow easily when the subject is as lovely a woman as she.
      Kelly Springer


  4. Thank you Kelly for your beautiful tribute to our friend Dottie. She was, as you say, an amazing lady. There is no doubt, she and Scotty are dancing together on streets of gold. Scotty is walking and running and leaping for joy, I am sure and Momma is smiling!


  5. Thank you Kelly, for this beautiful tribute for Dottie. Especially touching for me as ”Mary’s” aunt…. Our Carrie loved Dottie & Scotty so much, and was truely blessed to be loved by them….Great memories, & now they are dancing together in Heaven. They will all live on in the hearts they have touched. My thoughts and prayers are with each of Dottie’s family & friends. May God Bless. Krista Tilden


    1. I am so happy to hear from you! I remember Carrie well, and she really did teach me so much. Everything I wrote in my post was true, and after that experience, I looked at Carrie through a far different lens. All three of them together in heaven…what a sight that would be! Thank you, Krista!


  6. Thank you for sharing that beautiful story. Dottie was a gem. Her testimony of love, patience and dedication to her students, her family and “her Scotty” will never be forgotten. Heaven gained two treasures.


  7. Kelly what a beautiful story that is beautifully written! Thank you! Brought tears to my eyes. I may need to share part of this during a sermon. Is it shareable? One of our parishioners here at Speedway United Methodist Church posted this.


    1. Absolutely it’s sharable! I would be honored if you included it in your sermon. Dottie will be missed, but we can all take comfort in knowing that she, Scotty, and Carrie are all together in heaven!


  8. I am so grateful for Kelly Springer’s tribute to to Dottie Doxtator. Dottie was teacher, friend, and mother figure to my daughter Carrie, who was the student you described as “Mary” in your message, Kelly. I know that you used the name “Mary” to protect Carrie’s privacy, but I would like for everyone to know her real name. Dottie worked with Carrie all day, every day, through three years of middle school. She was devoted, talented, and creative in all her efforts with Carrie. She gave Carrie three of the most wonderful years of her life. Thanks to Dottie’s efforts, occurrences like the one described by you in your English class happened quite frequently, and gave Carrie the chance to be both learner and teacher to others. Dottie and I wrote notes in a notebook every day, and it was not unusual to receive a page of notes every day from Dottie. I still remember when Dottie wrote about helping Carrie study The Diary of Anne Frank, and how touching Anne’s story was. I didn’t hear this description of Carrie’s and the other students’ behavior in class, but my husband, Steve, and I cried, when we read your wonderful description of the play done in your class. Kelly, your writing has brought both Dottie and Carrie alive to us again and is such an inspiration to everyone who knew them.
    Steve and I and our only child, Carrie, shared activities outside of school with Dottie, Scotty and Otis, her husband, including birthday parties and other family outings. Carrie was a beautiful young lady, who was much loved by everyone. When she passed away at age 20, Dottie was with us. Dottie was a special person of great faith and gave me a card stating that Carrie would be spending Christmas with Jesus, when we went through the first difficult holidays without her. Scotty, her son, was also disabled and had been in educational programs with Carrie, since elementary school. The Doxtator family were wonderful, supportive friends to us. I’m sure that Carrie, Dottie, and Scotty are in heaven together now. We are so grateful for their lives with us, and will treasure the memories forever.

    Marsha Tilden
    Carrie’s mother


    1. Marsha,

      I am so happy to hear from you.

      I was privileged to have had Carrie as a student in my language arts class, and while it is true that at first I had doubted that anything I had to offer would be of value to Carrie, it soon became apparent that God’s plan was that I would be the one who would derive value from having Carrie in my life. For that, I have to credit, of course, Carrie, but also Dottie and Helene Jongleux, who told our team of teachers in a meeting that Carrie could perceive, feel, and understand far, far more than we would ever know. From that time on, each third period when Dottie and Carrie would come into my classroom, I remembered what Helene had said and tried to include Carrie in as much of the classroom experience as possible. And it was Dottie who acted as her emissary–without fail, she patiently and thoughtfully broke down things for Carrie so that she could have the best possible educational outcome.

      Sadly, the last time I spoke to Dottie was when she called to tell me of Carrie’s death. Of course I was shocked and saddened, but then I had the wonderful feeling that Carrie is now at home with God living a life free from constraint. When I heard of Dottie’s death, I only imagined the profound beauty of a Carrie-Dottie reunion with Scotty along for the hat trick!

      Well now I am crying, but I want to tell you again how grateful I am that you allowed Carrie to be a small part of my life. For having had her as a student for only a year, she taught me a lifetime’s worth of valuable lessons. And I will never forget her stage debut as Margot Frank–oh I’d give anything to see that smile again!

      Warm regards,
      Kelly Springer


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