Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Unfried Made Room For All Boys And Girls

Kairon Unfried, left, listens as Cindy Bullock reads a poem she composed to celebrate Unfried's retirement. The pair are joined by Tracey Unfried and Father Bernie Etienne. The Message photo by Trisha Hannon Smith

Kairon Unfried has had to make a multitude of tough decisions in her life, but choosing to retire may have proven to be the toughest yet.  After 48 years of teaching and leading students and staff at Totten Hall Preschool, Unfried is ready to hang up her dancing shoes.  

    “This was the hardest decision and I’ve cried over it because I love what I do,” Unfried said. “What thrills me is when I run into a college student, and when they see me they start singing, ‘T-O-T, T-E-N, H-A-double-L!’  I want that tradition to continue to carry down.”

    It all started almost five decades ago when Unfried, a young dance teacher, received a phone call from the director of Totten Hall Preschool (then located at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Evansville) asking if she could help out temporarily in a preschool room. She agreed, only to stay on permanently, taking on the role of director 13 years later.

    The role of administrator allowed Unfried to develop closer relationships with all students and parents, not only the students in her classroom.  She wanted children to leave Totten Hall with growing confidence, something that could stay with them throughout their lives.  

    Totten Hall was not affiliated with Holy Rosary until 17 years ago.  Unfried received word right before Christmas that Eastminster would no longer be able to house their preschool.  

“Linda McDivett and I drove around at 11 o’clock one night, looking for a home for the new school,” Unfried recalls. “I knew we would continue.  God doesn’t close a door without opening a window.  That’s when I called Holy Rosary. Joan (Fredrich, principal of Holy Rosary School in Evansville) said when she got that phone call she knew it was God’s calling.”

    Unfried has watched Totten Hall grow from four classrooms housed in what was once the nuns’ living quarters at Holy Rosary to a sparkling new preschool wing opened in 2016.

    “It was the program that got the people here, not the building,” Unfried said. “I have wonderful teachers that work here and are part of my family.  That will continue with a lot of love.”

    The love for Unfried was apparent as the Holy Rosary community gathered in celebration of her retirement following 9 a.m. Mass on June 18.  Generations of Totten Hall students gathered to show gratitude for her years of dedication.  

    Father Bernie Etienne, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, recalled the guiding presence Unfried provided both students and parents at Totten Hall.  “I will always remember the images of Kairon, especially those early days of the new school year, walking down the hall with a crying mother on her arm, saying, ‘It’s ok honey, they’re going to be fine.’ So she was parenting generations at one time: the children as well as the parents.“

Joe Holtz, Holy Rosary Parish Administrator, presented Unfried with two gifts: a rosary and a wall hanging composed of pieces of the original Totten Hall Preschool, which was torn down in 2016.

“When we were getting ready to decommission the building, I went to the building,” Holtz told the crowd. “Every room had a color, every room had a name, so I went around the building and extracted things that might be memorable for her.” The end result was a piece of art stating: Mrs. Unfried made room for all boys and girls.

Unfried’s husband, children and grandchildren were present, including her two daughters who have followed closely in their mother’s footsteps.  Tracey Unfried serves as the principal of Westside Catholic School in Evansville, while her sister Trina teachers pre-K at Totten Hall. Unfried credits her daughters calling to serve children to the environment in which they were raised.

“They’ve been around students all their lives,” Unfried explains. “At one time I had as many as 350 dance students that came into our home.  It’s part of us: we love children.”

Unfried does not have specific plans for the future but does look forward to visiting her son, Troy, her daughter-in-law and new grandson in New Jersey.  Don’t expect her to be too far from Totten Hall, however.  

“I am so grateful for you all, and your children, grandchildren, and for Holy Rosary School and their staff,” Unfried said. “When I say I love your children, I truly mean it. They are God’s children and they teach us a lot - we just have to take our lessons from them.  You will be seeing me - I’ll be around!”