Shelyn Elementary School

Shelyn Elementary Principal Remembers Former Teacher in 'Ice Bucket Challenge'

Shelyn Elementary principal remembers former teacher in ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’


The ice cold water didn’t chill the warm memory of Louise Stellmacher at Shelyn Elementary in Rowland Heights. The longtime teacher passed away nearly five years to the day from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

The entire school turned out for the Ice Bucket Challenge to see Principal Sarah Opatkiewicz get doused. And they took a moment to reflect on the personal price the school had paid with the disease.

The Rowland Unified administrator didn’t mind the ice water if the money raised speeds a cure for the disease that claimed her friend and colleague. “Louise was an exceptional teacher whose caring heart affected many students,” the principal said. “She was very creative and loved to share her joy of learning. But Louise would also show great ingenuity by using technology in her class.”

The longtime educator began working in the local school district in 1988. Stellmacher transferred to Shelyn in 2003.

“When she started losing her voice at the end of the school year, the doctors thought it was something else,” Opatkiewicz explained. “But later they diagnosed it as an aggressive form of ALS.”

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The ALS Foundation notes that patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

When her friend wanted to continue teaching, the principal called the district leadership.

“The district was wonderful about it,” Opatkiewicz recalled. “Then Superintendent Maria Ott and Deputy Superintendent Rob Arias said to do whatever we could to support her.”

The wheelchair-bound instructor returned for the first day of school. A substitute teacher was brought in to speak for Stellmacher, who continued to monitor her sixth graders closely. Click HERE for entire story!