Everyone seems to have a story about a special teacher who really made a difference in their lives. For many in the Wellington area, that person was Elbridge Gale Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Toni Koy, who died Jan. 21 at age 64 after a battle with cancer.
A beloved wife to her husband Michael, Koy was both a teacher and a friend to many in the community.
“She was the most amazing individual you might ever hope to meet,” friend Liz Heyman said. “Truly there was no one more amazing. She had an infectious smile, and any time you saw her, she made the room come alive.”
Heyman knew Koy for many years. “She taught my daughter dance, and I was lucky enough to receive one of her famous cards,” Heyman said. “She was known for making cards for special occasions.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Koy began teaching in Palm Beach County schools in 1986. In 2005, she was named the county’s teacher of the year. Koy also picked up several other honors, such as being named a “high impact teacher” and winning a number of grant proposals, such as one entitled “Razzle, Dazzle, Sparkle, Pizzazz.” More importantly, she also earned and maintained the high regard of parents and students throughout the years.
Jennifer Tobin is a teacher at Elbridge Gale who worked on the team with Koy for seven years.
“She was such a lovely person,” Tobin said. “You wouldn’t know that she even knew it was your birthday, and she would give you a heartfelt gift or one of those extravagant cards with the sparkles and jewels. It was such a gift for me to know her — you felt that she really knew you and thought about you.”
Elbridge Gale Principal Gail Pasterczyk hired Koy when she was interviewing with several schools.
“Toni Koy taught reading and writing to two groups of fourth graders,” Pasterczyk said. “But she did so much more than just teach. She grabbed their attention, motivated and engaged the students. She made them into readers and writers.”
They hit it off as friends right away.
“When I first interviewed her, we found out we shared a love for the color purple and the Miami Dolphins,” Pasterczyk said. “I learned later that she chose to go with our school because she felt in her heart that we were family.”
Creative and talented in many disciplines, including drawing, Koy would craft handmade posters promoting good works, create extravagant and intricate greeting cards that were works of art in themselves, and she was the recent author of a children’s book called A Box Of Biscuits. Plus, she would use puppets in class, her favorite being Clyde, who helped children learn writing skills. Her room was decorated like a barn with six-foot horses she had bought or made. She even had an “outhouse” sign over the restroom.
When she taught poetry, Koy had each of her students prepare their own poem that she would then compile for the class and send off to be made into a book, so each child could know what it would feel like to be a real writer.
Koy was known to send personalized, handwritten notes through the mail to each student before tests, offering encouragement. On Valentine’s Day, she made sure every one of her students got little presents.
Koy also had an additional role in the community as the longtime owner of her own Toni Lynn’s Dance Studio, where she taught dance and baton twirling. She also taught students dance and baton at the school.
An animal lover with a menagerie of horses, donkeys, burrows, four or five Great Danes and innumerable adopted animals, Koy was always busy taking care of them at her five-acre property. She was up every day before 5 a.m. to care for them before arriving at school by 6 a.m.
“She drove a Corvette with a silhouette of a horse on it, and she parked in the same spot every day, in the back, far away from other cars. We are going to paint that spot and make it a memorial to her,” Pasterczyk said.
A very private person, when diagnosed with cancer this past summer, Koy kept it secret from students and colleagues and continued to work, never letting on that she was in terrible pain. She worked remotely up to winter break. Teaching was her life, and it gave her a reason to remain positive. The work brought her great joy to be able to be with her students and do what she loved doing.
In addition to helping students and animals, Koy volunteered in the community. Koy organized an annual drive for blankets and towels for Big Dog Ranch Rescue and other local animal rescues.
Pasterczyk said that the school plans to hold a memorial service for Koy once it is safe to do so.
“We are planning to do something special with the school and invite the students and the parents to attend,” she said. “We want to recognize a truly special individual.”