Robert W. Gardner remembers his first day teaching at New Canaan High School. It was the Wednesday after Labor Day in 1968, when high school students reported to class in the building that now hosts the distict's middle school.

"I made my debut teaching in the Saxe auditorium along with four other social studies colleagues," he said. "We ran five classes in there simultaneously. It was quite an adventure."

He added, "As the rookie, I got the farthest, darkest corner of the auditorium, which also was a tremendous break for everyone's concern because no one could see how bad I really was."

In his first year teaching in New Canaan, Gardner said he quickly learned to think of the school system as "exemplary" and "forward-looking."

Gardner, who later became the social studies department chairman, retired in 2003 after 35 years in front of the blackboard. He left the classroom when he retired, but not the students who continue to learn there.

Gardner is now the executive board chairman of grant and aid to the New Canaan High School Scholarship Committee.

"We're a fairly low-key organization in town," Gardner said of the foundation, adding, "A lot of the work we do is very quiet. We are entirely need-based. And we zealously guard the privacy of our applicants, our recipients and their families. For example, you never see awards listed in the paper because, again, they are need-based and those are private matters."

Quiet it may be, but the foundation is not unappreciated by its award recipients. Neither is Gardner's dedication to its mission.

Last month, Gardner himself was the recipient of an award: the first New Canaan Public Schools Emeritus Award. The honor recognizes retired faculty who continue to support the school in the days that follow their teaching careers.

Gardner said his wife, Karen, played a big role in his volunteer work and post-retirement commitment to the school: "One of the best things [my wife Karen] has done was to let me keep New Canaan on my turf."

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