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A Tribute to Waterford Founding Faculty Member Merrilee Hanson

It is with sadness that we share the passing of Merrilee Hanson, dear friend, colleague, and mother to our beloved Lower School Science Specialist Kristi Watabe, on September 20, 2023, succumbing to a 10-year battle with dementia. Merrilee was a founding faculty member — one of the “Original Six” Homeroom Teachers — when the Waterford Provo campus opened in 1981. Merrilee retired from Waterford in 2005, having overseen the Lower School campus renovation and expansion — a project imperative to support the thriving Lower School program.

Merrilee was a legendary teacher and administrator. During her tenure at Waterford, Merrilee served as a Class IV Homeroom Teacher until she was appointed as the Lower School Director in 1993. Merrilee served in this capacity for the next twelve years until her retirement in 2005. As evidence of her visionary leadership, Merrilee cultivated and nurtured the three succession leaders who followed her in the Lower School — Mary Kimball, Deanna Williams, and Susan Johnsen — all Class IV educators with whom Merrilee worked in close collaboration during her Class IV teaching assignment.

Merrilee oversaw the rapid expansion of the Lower School and its programs, leading the effort to develop a coordinated vertical curriculum that would scale and ensure cross-grade consistency throughout all sections of the Lower School.  Merrilee also dovetailed the literacy research that was taking place at the Waterford Research Institute to ensure Waterford’s Lower School curriculum was at the forefront of cutting-edge research and pedagogy.

Beyond her impactful leadership as our earliest Lower School leader, Merrilee will be remembered most for her generous gifts of curiosity and kindness, and for her abiding commitment to her students, her colleagues, and her family.

Merrilee was a kind and thoughtful educator, with a keen sense of humor and amazing wit.  Deanna Williams, who worked side-by-side with Merrilee for many years shared this impression, “Merrilee was a master teacher who held the bar high for all those in her stewardship. She loved to learn and share her knowledge with others. She loved teaching and she loved Waterford School.”

Merrilee left behind a profound imprint on Waterford. Her influence was deep and generational. She truly personified the best attributes we seek for our students — by pursuing a life of meaning and purpose.

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