After decades of helping Gallatin children discover a love for learning about the world around them, Union Elementary S.T.E.M. and Demonstration School teacher David Collins celebrated retirement last week with hundreds of former students and countless others he impacted during his 45-year career.
“It has been awesome to renew acquaintances and see folks who have come in from a long way away,” Collins said about the event held Friday at Triple Creek Park. “The most special thing for me was to just see all of the students, their parents and get the hugs.”
During the program, National Life Group revealed that Collins had won the LifeChanger of the Year Spirit Award out of 825 nominations from across the county. The recognition is given each year to the K-12 educator or school employee whose community demonstrates the most support for their nomination.
The award comes with a $5,000 cash prize, which will be split between Collins and the school.
“This is the most ultimate example of the Spirit Award that we have ever seen,” LifeChanger of the Year representative Mallorie Manosh said about the community support of Collins’ nomination. “You are an inspiration David to literally thousands of people. You’ve answered the call to help others and inspired your students to do the same.
“People are here today because you have touched their lives and the lives of so many that they love.”
Collins, who began teaching in 1973, has overseen Union’s vegetable garden, greenhouse and chicken coup in addition to helping establish a butterfly garden at Triple Creek Park and on-campus rain garden at the school.
He has also been involved in the harvesting and release of more than 10,000 butterflies through an annual monarch butterfly launch and has helped secure more than $100,000 in grant funding for the school.
“Nobody has done more for Union S.T.E.M. than this man,” Principal Lance Taylor said Friday. “He is a man that has a servant’s heart and a man who has taught us how to work and what real hard work really means.”
In addition to his time in the classroom, Collins has also donated vegetables and more than 5,000 eggs to help feed hungry families through Gallatin C.A.R.E.S. and the Sumner County Food Bank. He is also an active member of his church helping organize church camps and going on mission trips regularly.
Collins’ impact on countless lives can be seen in the nearly 500 comments from former students, parents, colleagues and other community members who have posted messages on his LifeChanger of the Year nominee profile online since December.
“He truly creates an academic environment in which students truly want to learn for a lifetime,” former Union Elementary student Josh Neal wrote. “Mr. Collins also showed an interest in helping to develop students into responsible, caring individuals and he has created a lasting impact on every student he has come across.”
In addition to the Spirit Award, Collins was presented with a proclamation Friday from State Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) and a key to the city by Mayor Paige Brown who also proclaimed April 6 as David Collins Day in Gallatin.
The 66-year-old, who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer last year, began the first of 12 chemotherapy treatments last month.
In his closing remarks Friday, Collins asked those in attendance to continue to keep him in their thoughts and prayers.
“I love you,” he said. “The Lord has richly blessed and will continue to bless. I want you to dream big and be patient. It took 40 years to get a greenhouse on campus.”