The calling to teach struck Gina Harding at an early age.
She would take extra workbooks home during summer vacation so she could play school.
“I always wanted to teach, and I like to help somebody learn. It’s still exciting to me, and I love seeing that light bulb go off,” she said.
Harding is the director of early learning for O’Fallon School District 90. She is also in charge of before- and after-school care.
When she began 24 years ago, she had four rooms total; now she has 14 rooms: two early childhood and special education; two preschool and 10 tuition-based pre-kindergarten rooms.
“I majored in elementary education. My first job was with preschoolers, and I fell in love with the youngest students. I will be in preschool forever,” she said. “It keeps you busy, keeps you young. I’ll probably be here for the next 24 years.”
She has a great affinity for the little ones.
“At 3, 4 and 5 they are pure innocence. They still like learning; they love you; you are teaching them something,” she said. “They say what they think; they are very literal.”
She moved to the area when her first husband was stationed at Scott Air Force Base.
“We loved the area. We stayed when he got out of the service,” she said.
She grew up in upstate rural New York, in a big Italian family.
“It was right on Lake Ontario, very rural and winter nine months of the year, at the tip of the Adirondack Mountains,” she said.
Her love of Christmas began early, too. “I think it was always a lot of people, a lot of food, the whole hustle and bustle, everybody being together,” she said.
Her father is a retired bridge-builder with the New York Department of Transportation, and they all are very close.
Her brother Frank is retired from the U.S. Navy and lives in St. Marys, Ga. Her sister Lisa is in North Carolina, and her husband, stationed at Fort Bragg, will be coming home after spending a year in Jordan.
Gina Harding is now married to Daren Harding, whom she met at work 14 years ago. He was a custodian in one of the elementary buildings, and they became really good friends. She moved to another building and didn’t have much contact with him until a few years ago.
They went through his cancer treatment together, and he is now in remission.
Because it was the second marriage for both, they were wed in Las Vegas in October 2015 by an Elvis impersonator.
“It is something I highly recommend. It was lighthearted and made us smile. Because it was our second time around, we said, ‘Let’s have a good time.’ We kept it a secret. I think people were shocked, but it was really fun. I never laughed so hard in my life.”
They live in Freeburg now. Daren Harding’s 13-year-old daughter Sierra also lives in Freeburg. Gina Harding’s son, Steven Chorma, 21, lives in Collinsville.
In her spare time, Harding enjoys scrapbooking and card-making — “Crafty kinds of things. I find it relaxing,” she said.
Her enthusiasm for teaching is evident, and she is driven to inspire.
“If I can make a difference in the life of one child, that’s my goal every year. When I reflect on the school year, and I have, then every minute has been worth it. Keeps me going,” she said.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: “Always be kind and help others. You never know the journey others are on. I believe in trying your hardest and doing the best you can (no matter what that may look like).”
Q: Whom do you most admire?
A: “My father, Ed Galluccio. He has the strongest work ethic of anyone I know. He taught us to always do our best, have faith, and always remember family comes first. I have watched him provide for his family, raise his children, take care of my mother who has been in poor health her entire life, and be there everyday whenever we need him. A great role model for a true and caring individual.”
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
A: “Bing Crosby. I would love to watch him record White Christmas.”
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A: “‘Shifting the Monkey’ by Todd Whitaker was the last work-related book I read and I’m reading the ‘Inclusion Toolbox’ right now. For enjoyment, I read, ‘The Fatal Funnel Cake’ by Livia Washburn.”
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: “I have always been a big reader (those fun and quirky cozy mysteries — like “Rest ye murdered Gentlemen”) and I am also huge fan of card making and scrapbooking. Although I think I am more of a collector of stuff than a creator of items.”
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A. “Piles. I have lots of piles and I know where everything is. But it looks kind of messy.”
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: “I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I was that kid that asked the teacher for the extra workbooks at the end of the school year so I could ‘play school’ all summer long.”
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
A: “I guess I would say — caring. I am a great caretaker. I learned from a very young age, when my mother was not feeling well, how to take care of others and help my father with my younger sister. I do the best I can from long distance still with them all. I make sure I am always there for my son (although at almost 21, I am not needed as much anymore) and I took care of my husband when he went through cancer last year.”
Q: What irritates you most?
A: “Entitlement. I guess I got that from my dad. We shouldn’t get things just because... but rather because we work hard for them.”
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: “I would listen to Christmas year-round (well I kind of do sometimes). I love the warmth and happiness it makes you feel. Otherwise, it’s ‘50s music on the iPod.”
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: “The kids. There is nothing better than a hug and a smile and unconditional love from a preschooler. If I can make a difference in the life of a child, somehow, whether it’s a hug, working with a teacher, planning a program, talking with a parent ... it is worth coming everyday.”
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
A: “I would have a little coffee shop or breakfast place. A place to visit and make some yummy treats.”
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A: “I have no idea. Maybe Sally Fields? She seems pretty down to earth, and I’ve always enjoyed watching her in movies.”
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A: “My family and my cats.”