Brian Hamilton: From one friend to another, thank you Teacher Debby |

Brian Hamilton: From one friend to another, thank you Teacher Debby


What: Teacher Debby’s Retirement Party

Who: Current, former Tall Pines friends and families

When: 2-5 p.m. Saturday, June 4

Where: Tall Pines Nursery School, 11228 McCourtney Road (At the Fairgrounds)

As any Tall Pines Nursery School “friend” knows, you haven’t had a hug until you’ve had one from Teacher Debby.

I don’t know how. Don’t know why. But from the very first hug, Teacher Debby has made us all feel right at home.

For 33 years, she has welcomed western Nevada County children, and parents, through the front doors of Tall Pines and provided them with an experience of a lifetime. As most parents remember, turning your toddler over to a preschool takes a great deal of trust to alleviate the anxiety — especially for first-time parents.

And that was us. My wife, our 3-year-old daughter and I had just landed in the community – after a four-day, 2,000-mile trek from Indianapolis to Rough and Ready, carrying all the possessions we had failed to purge and, of course, dreams of a better life in California.

It’s that sense of community — of “home” — that reminds me of Teacher Debby and what she has meant to not only our girls, but also our entire family, and so many others through all these years.

With all of our family back home in Indiana, we were all alone — just the three of us (OK, along with our lab and cat) — feeling excited, invigorated and, oh yeah, anxious. It was a particularly tough transition for our girl, with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles all back home.

But from that first hug, I knew we were home.

“Teacher Debby” Biddinger made that so, setting the loving tone from the top, as Tall Pines director — just the third in the school’s 54-year existence. And truth be told, she knew she was “home” when she first walked through the doors of that tiny school tucked beneath the tall trees of the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

“As soon as I walked in the door, I knew because this is a child’s place,” she told The Union in 2012, when Tall Pines celebrated its 50th anniversary. “And I’ve never looked back.”

On Saturday afternoon, Tall Pines “friends” — as Teacher Debby knows them all — will celebrate her retirement with a celebration worthy of everyone’s favorite teacher and “friend.”

My wife and daughter had actually met Tim, Debby’s husband — and favorite of all “friends” — during Victorian Christmas, just days before we actually embarked on the Tall Pines experience. Tim often tells the story how he just knew there was something special about our girl from the get-go, and couldn’t wait to tell Teacher Debby all about her. But I’m absolutely positive that whether Tim had met our girl or not, Teacher Debby would have welcomed her — and us — the same as she has all others: with love.

Being that our little family of three was so far from home, it nearly brings tears to my eyes remembering how we were embraced — by Teacher Debby, Teacher Jackie, Teacher Michelle, and all of our fellow parents participating in the co-op program. Tall Pines quickly connected us to our new community, establishing a network of “friends” that remains part of our lives to this day — about 15 years later — and was doubled in size by our youngest daughter also attending.

Those connections have meant more than “play dates” for our family. Tall Pines friends have helped us learn so much about our community, have served as solid shoulders for us to lean upon, have become some of our closest friends and even produced a great job opportunity.

The time we spent alongside other parents and grandparents as part of the co-op program — peeling apples for snack, hanging the latest finger-paint masterpiece to dry or taking down the swings — brought us all closer together, as we learned each other’s stories and soon considered ourselves all “friends.”

It’s that sense of community — of “home” — that reminds me of Teacher Debby and what she has meant to not only our girls, but also our entire family, and so many others through all these years.

And, of course, all Tall Pines friends feel as though we have that “special” relationship with Teacher Debby, Tim and their own daughter, “Teacher Amy.” She makes us all feel special. It’s why we’ve trusted her, and Tall Pines, with our children for all these years.

As she told us during the 50th anniversary of Tall Pines, it’s those personal connections, when realized, that she cherishes. Her approach is simple, yet straightforward — be firm, be friendly, be honest and have a sense of humor.

“Them just being themselves and their honesty, not being afraid to come and tell me something’s wrong or that they need help, it’s a trust issue,” she said. “And I know instantly when that transfer of trust happens. It’s the little moments when you know they trust you.

“I’ve been successful with them because I know them, I respect them and I listen to them.”

And, in turn, many of us have been successful because we’ve known, respected and listened to Teacher Debby.

Thank you for devoting three decades of your life to our community’s children. And whether or not we all see you on Saturday, surely you do know that all of your friends are looking forward to our next hug.

Brian Hamilton is editor at The Union. Contact him at or 530-477-4249.

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