On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, dozens of kids from P.S. 114 spent their day giving a big sendoff to a nurse who will truly be missed as she retires. “Extra love and kisses” were felt all around as they bid Nurse Katie Diffendale farewell with a surprise parade on June 19.
Students, including many of Nurse Katie’s “frequent flyers,” those who visited the school nurse frequently, as well as family, school staff, and parents who were put at ease when Nurse Katie picked up the phone to let them know their child was ok as she ended calls with “give them extra hugs and kisses,” all lined up along Beach 129th Street to surprise their favorite school nurse. With the help of her husband, Pat, and her daughter, Kristen, an unsuspecting Nurse Katie thought she was attending a going away party for a family friend at the Harbor Light. So it was quite a surprise when her family told her to step out onto the patio of the neighborhood restaurant and she saw some familiar faces marching up the block.
With handmade signs, balloons, flags and more, her many patients marched past the restaurant to show their love and gratitude for the nurse who cared for them in the best way she could. Many children have gotten extra hugs and kisses from Nurse Katie over the years. Katie Diffendale retired after a 26-year career as a nurse, starting out at P.S. 47 in Broad Channel and then 22 years at P.S. 114.
Seeing her leave was bittersweet for many of the students and parents who came out on Saturday. “She helped me when I got my elbow stuck in the railing. She gave me an ice pack and told me extra love and kisses, which made me feel better,” one of her patients, Frankie Arisin said. His mom, Christina Arisin spoke about the impact Nurse Katie had. “It’s hard to send your kids to school but when you know they’re protected, it makes you feel that much better. It’s very sad to see her leave, but we wish her a wonderful retirement and I’m sure we’ll see her on the beach,” Arisin said of Nurse Katie, who lives within half a mile of P.S. 114.
“We’re here to celebrate that she was a giver and she’s retiring but I wanted to show that I like that she helps us,” third grader Charlie Stietzel said. “She takes care of us and if it wasn’t for her, some of us would’ve been in pain. She really does her job good and that’s what makes me feel better.” On her retirement he said, “It’s good for her but bad for me.”
Brooke Pompeo, a parent and Girl Scout leader for Troop 4426, of which Nurse Katie’s granddaughter is a member, said, “She’s lovely. You can always count on her. We’re sad she’s leaving. She’s like family. It’s going to be hard to make the adjustment and get used to somebody else. Hopefully we get someone just as good as her.”
Arika Shakir, a parent of two boys who attend P.S. 114, one of which is a “frequent flyer” of Nurse Katie’s as an allergy kid said, “When you’re an allergy kid, she has everything you need. She took extra good care of him. Her favorite line when she calls is, ‘it’s not an emergency, Colton fell, it’s okay, I gave him extra hugs and kisses.’ She’s so good. We’re going to miss her.”
Marianne “Skippy” Doyle, a mother of two at P.S. 114 said, “She’s the absolute best. When Owen has a headache, or Brian fell, whatever it may be, she is so caring. She knows everybody by name and she’s so kind on the phone. It’s sad she’s leaving. You’re losing part of the school community. Who takes the spot of someone that has such a connection with the kids? It’ll be hard to replace her.” Her son, Owen, added, “Nobody is going to be better than Nurse Katie.”
Elizabeth Welsome, principal of P.S. 114 agrees. “Katie is extraordinary. She goes above and beyond. She is an incredible support to everybody and when she told me at the beginning of the year that it was going to be her last year, I was heartbroken. I’ve done everything I can to convince her to stay a little bit longer. Everything she does, she does with 100% love and compassion and care and that can’t be easily replaced. Her retirement, although amazing for her, is a huge loss for our school. We are going to miss her terribly,” Welsome said.
Saturday’s surprise came as a huge shock to the beloved Nurse Katie. “This is unreal. I wasn’t expecting any of this,” she said, adding that retiring is bittersweet. “I always say, how lucky am I to have something where saying goodbye is so very hard? I promise everyone that it’s not goodbye, it’s until we meet again," she said. "I love my job. How many people can say they love their job? I love all these kids. Once they walk through that door, they’re mine. I love seeing those smiling faces and sometimes when they’re scared, they just need a little extra hug and a little extra kiss, and a little reassurance and I’ll miss that.” Nurse Katie says that after retiring, she’ll be enjoying the Rockaway summer, but with more free time in the fall, she plans on spending a lot of time traveling.
Nurse Katie’s daughter, Kristen Diffendale Keane, who helped organize the parade, said it was a nice treat for her mom after a tough year. “My mother knew retirement was approaching and I think for the past two years with the pandemic, she couldn’t do everything she wanted to do with the kids. She missed Halloween and the kids dressing up and parading around, so what better way to give her extra hugs and kisses than with a parade?” she said. Knowing the impact her mom has had on the school community, Kristen wasn’t surprised by the big turnout on Saturday. “It speaks volumes about who she is. She treats every single one of these children like her grandchildren—with the utmost respect, love and kindness. She’s just amazing.”
By Katie McFadden
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