PathStone Carbon County Head Start teachers, parents, volunteers and students bade farewell Tuesday to the woman who grew the program from a couple of classrooms to a flourishing multilevel educational system that spans two counties.

Bernetta Frantz, whose most recent title was Regional Deputy of Child and Family Development Services, was feted by about 90 people who gathered for the retirement/birthday tribute at Head Start's Lehighton Center.

Later, Frantz said she'll miss the "people I work with the most, and working with the parents. Working with a very dedicated staff over the years has been such a pleasure. Without the staff in Carbon County we would not be the quality program we are and will continue to be in the future."

She shared a few favorite memories.

"When I was observing in a classroom I was watching a child work at the art easel. She was painting a very detailed picture of a room (she told me it was her bedroom). When she had all of the room completed she painted over the entire picture with brown paint I asked her why she painted her picture brown and she told me it was her bedroom at night. This story is one I tell often; we should never assume what a child has created is nothing but something that always has meaning to the child," Frantz said.

She remembers touring the building in which the center is now housed.

The building is the former Lehighton Junior High School, at the corner of N. Third and Mahoning streets. The two-story granite and imitation limestone block school, built in 1918, has "Education is the Cornerstone of success" carved on one side, and "Knowledge is the Key to Freedom" into the other. The Lehighton Area School District closed the school in 1991, and the borough acquired it in 1996.

"(I remember) walking through our Lehighton Center with (former Borough Manager) John Hanosek before we moved to this location, and telling him this building was a diamond in the rough. I have to say it was very rough during our first walk through," Frantz said. "Today, we are using a total of 18 spaces in this building, and serving over 125 preschoolers and 42 infants and toddlers. Vision is a wonderful thing. We all need to have this to make dreams come true."

Frantz began her work with Head Start in 1979, when enrollment was only 30 children, and seven staff members conducted the program in two classrooms. Now, the program serves 282 children in 11 Head Start Children's classrooms, two Pre-K Counts classrooms, two Early Head Start classrooms. Also, 56 children are enrolled in the home-based Early Head Start option.

During Frantz's tenure, almost 5,000 children have been through the program.

The bittersweet gathering including the cutting of a birthday/retirement cake made by Head Start teacher Angela Krapf, and a "Through the Years" slide show of decades of memories of Frantz's Head Start moments, set to Louie Armstrong's "Wonderful World."

Among the speakers was PathStone Head Start PA/NJ Senior Executive Director Kay Washington.

"Today's celebration is a very good fit within our mission and vision, because of you the staff, council members, community partners, families and the children associated with our organization. We are all here to celebrate the career, the retirement and birthday of Ms. Bernetta Frantz," Washington said.

Washington introduced PathStone Corp. president/CEO Stuart J. Mitchell III, who spoke of the Carbon County program's successes over the years under Frantz' leadership.

Family Service and Community Partnerships Manager Viki DeMarco reminisced about the program's early years, when she and Frantz and other volunteers built enrollment by driving around local towns and rural areas, looking for children outside playing. They would then knock on the doors and introduce themselves, and tell the parents all about Head Start.

Frantz was also serenaded by a "Children's Chorus" of current and former Head Start students, who sang Happy Birthday, and presented her with flowers and an oversized card.

The event also included remarks by PathStone Board of directors and Parent Policy council President Tayler Gottschall; the presentation of a memory book by Jane Ryder, Tammy Haydt and Jeanette Triano-Sinn; and the recitation by Kristy Hahn of a poem, "Memories," written by Carol McKinley. PathStone officials Jane Nutter and Les Pfeiffer gave Frantz with a gift.