CARTHAGE, Mo. — Any award is a big deal for local teachers. They mean even more when an educational icon personally hands it to you. That’s what happened in one Southwest Missouri school district.

Before her retirement last year, Laurel Rosenthal had been at Mark Twain Elementary School as a teacher and principal for more than a half-century.

She returned to that building on Tuesday, much to the surprise of one of her former students, Jennifer Simpson, who now teaches at Mark Twain Elementary.

Simpson received one of the inaugural “Tiger Pride Kindness Awards”.

“It just means everything to me, it’s very emotional, Mrs. Rosenthal is a big part of my life, and I was just so glad to see her, I thought maybe she just came in to say hi, I didn’t know all of this was going to happen, it’s quite an honor,” said Jennifer Simpson, Award Recipient.

“So excited to come to Mark Twain because of having her in Kindergarten, having her sister and her brother, her sister Holly and her brother Jeff, knowing her dad Carl so well, and her mother was such a wonderful wonderful help to me through the years,” said Laurel Rosenthal, Retired Teacher, Principal.

The award, which will be given to three teachers each year from now on, is in recognition of Rosenthal’s service to the district, although she didn’t have any say in selecting the winners.

“They’ll get 250 dollars to do their project in their classroom, and then 250 dollars for them, and for me, it’s very important that they spend it on themselves, as a former teacher and principal, I know you spend an awful lot of your own money on the children of your school,” said Rosenthal.

The other two winners both teach fourth grade at Carthage Intermediate.

“I’m planning on purchasing a program called “Thrively”, it’s a web-based program that allows students to do a survey about their interests, it can be interests in future careers, colleges, or just other things that they might enjoy,” said Christina Landburg, Award Winner.

“Trauma is pretty rampant in my class, and we have lots of times where I wish I had a safe place just for the students to go take a minute to take a deep breath and relax and re-regulate themselves,” said Evelyn Odum, Award Winner.

The Tiger Pride Kindness Endowment honors not just Rosenthal, but her longtime friend, Helen-Louise Ellif, who has since passed away.

“I know she’s looking down today and smiling, super happy about our two teachers she didn’t know, especially about Jennifer because she was our daughter’s second-grade teacher,” said Lee Ellif Pound, Helen-Louise Ellif’s Daughter.