Barb Westmoreland celebrates 28 years in Hopkins School District
By Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
“Bittersweet” is the first word that comes to mind for Barb Westmoreland, who is retiring after nearly 28 years of working for the Hopkins School District as a volunteer coordinator.
“The years just flew by. I have really enjoyed my career at Hopkins Schools. It’s all about the people,” she said.
For both Westmoreland and the countless people around her, those memories aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.
“It’s like an archaeological dig. I’ve found so many interesting things from over the years,” she joked about the process of cleaning out her office. “It’s been a very slow goodbye; I’ve had people stopping by my office to talk, and to just hang out.”
It’s common knowledge in Hopkins and the surrounding area; everyone knows Westmoreland and her work. Some have called her the unofficial “queen of Hopkins” for her seemingly omnipresent involvement in everything volunteer-related.
A lifelong resident of Hopkins, Westmoreland’s history in the community goes far beyond the confines of her desk.
Born to the Blake clan, Westmoreland’s grandparents were among the early residents of Hopkins, her grandfather one of the first pioneer doctors of the community. The family established the Blake Clinic, and a legacy of community involvement in both medicine and in education.
Coincidentally, Westmoreland decided to pursue a similar path.
“Education was just a perfect fit for me,” she said.
She graduated from St. Kate’s University and began her teaching career at St. Joseph’s Catholic school in Hopkins.
“That was my first taste of how important the whole community is — you’re working with a whole lineage of people who influence each other across generations,” Westmoreland said.
Her favorite part of teaching was outside the classroom, bringing students into the community for service learning projects to benefit those in need.
“That’s the kind of teaching I like, when kids are inspired,” she said.
Her passion for volunteering prompted Westmoreland to seek a role in the Hopkins Schools Community Education program
“I knew that was it, my perfect fit,” Westmoreland said, describing the program as “innovative” and “award-winning.”
Through her work as an activity coordinator, and later as district volunteer coordinator, it’s no exaggeration to say she’s touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Hopkins residents over the years.
Though Westmoreland has shown up at Hopkins City Hall many times before to garner support for various events and projects, she made a very special appearance at the June 6 meeting. In recognition of the many peoples, places and events she’s influenced, the Hopkins City Council proclaimed July 1 to be Barb Westmoreland Day in the city.
“This lasting legacy you have in the city of Hopkins goes unparalleled. Even if you aren’t aware of it, you have been a mentor to everyone around you,” said Councilmember Jason Gadd. “You can’t say no to Barb Westmoreland.”
Westmoreland, with her typical humble good humor, joked that she should wear a tiara and march up and down the street to celebrate.
“I hope you’re accepting every accolade, because you deserve all of them and much more,” said Mayor Molly Cummings. “You have made our community a place people want to raise their families. We’re really, really lucky.”
Among the credits on Westmoreland’s resume are membership in the Rotary Club, Woman’s Club, and Hopkins Business and Civic Association; one of the founders of the Hopkins Race and Equity Initiative; an initiator of the Blake Road Corridor Collaborative; and a founding member (and oft-serving interim executive director, as needed) of ResourceWest, a nonprofit providing a wide range of services to low-income families in the community.
It was at ResourceWest that Westmoreland pioneered the Empty Bowls event in Hopkins, which has been going strong for 20 years, with more than $1 million in funds raised. The concept was based on a similar event Westmoreland had heard of in Duluth, and wanted to bring to Hopkins.
“The idea was, how do we give back to the community that is so supportive of our students?” she said.
Empty Bowls epitomizes what Westmoreland has become known for in the community; bringing many people to the table to work together on something great for the community.
“There’s a place for everyone in the community to have a role and take part,” she said. “That’s what I really love is that synergy.”
This synergy seems to be part of the secret to Westmoreland’s success, as work, community and family make a formidable recipe for leadership and lifelong learning.
“I realized early on that if I felt passionate about something, why not bring my children and husband right along with me,” she said.
A common phrase at the dinner table was “What are you up to now and what are you getting us involved in?” she recalled with a smile.
Westmoreland met her husband, Dan, on a blind date at age 25. She remembers the first words out of his mouth were a silly pun, 40 years later, that sense of humor is part of what’s kept them together.
“It’s been that way ever since and thank goodness for that,” she said with a laugh. “I feel very blessed.”
Director of musical liturgy at St. Hubert’s in Chanhassen, Dan was planning to retire last year, but held off so the couple could celebrate together. The couple’s two children, Jen and Annie, followed in the family’s footsteps as a teacher and nurse, respectively.
Educating and healing are common threads in the family, as is a deep commitment to social justice, which Westmoreland said she learned from her parents at an early age, and continued to develop throughout her life.
“In the last 10 years or so, I’ve gotten more aware, and more curious, about how community systems, state systems and national systems work to keep the same patterns of problems happening across generations.”
Working with families across the community, Westmoreland has seen first-hand the effects of systemic oppression as well as its counterpart, privileges of race, class or gender that give some an advantage in life at others’ expense.
“As I’ve gotten to know these families, worked with each generation, I’ve learned that privilege is like a cloud — you don’t even see it or realize it when you’re in it.”
This has prompted Westmoreland to work for justice and equality, using her own privilege to help people in need.
It’s also inspired a lifelong love of learning, as Westmoreland takes the time to hear the stories and take in the perspectives of everyone she meets, no matter how different they may seem.
She hopes to continue expanding her horizons through retirement, with a trip scheduled next May to Senegal.
Although Westmoreland will likely remain involved in the community (“We’ve already had people asking,” she said.), she has a long list of things she’s always wanted to do and never had the time for.
“We decided we’re not going to do anything we’ve done before, let’s do something totally different,” she and Dan agreed. This includes things like the Hopkins Historical Society, to which Westmoreland hopes to contribute more of her family’s history and community involvement.
All of that can wait, however, as it’s not her first priority on retirement day.
“The first thing I’ll do is, I’m going to call my granddaughter, Lyla, and see what she wants to do,” Westmoreland said. “We’re probably going to go to the beach.”
Hopefully, a long summer of many pleasant days at the beach awaits. After that, however, Westmoreland said she’s ready for whatever new experiences the future holds.
“I’m going to take it a step at a time,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the freedom. Every day it will be: What new things will I learn? Who am I going to meet that will become dear friends?”
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]