WATSON, La. (The Livingston Parish News) — Kim Habhab stood in front of her home, waving at the procession of cars that passed by.
Some people waved back as they hung out of rolled-down windows, while others waved from atop truck beds. Dozens of decorated cars passed Habhab on this day, including many with signs taped to their sides. Some of the colorful posters read “Congratulations,” while others had short phrases like “We’ll miss you” and “Happy retirement.”
It wasn’t the send-off Habhab had planned for, but it was better than she could’ve dreamed.
“This is the greatest party ever,” she said through tears.
Hundreds of people from the Live Oak community and beyond participated in a surprise retirement parade for Habhab, whose four-decade teaching career will officially come to an end at the conclusion of this school year on May 22.
Habhab was supposed to have a proper retirement party on April 22, but those plans were nixed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
So instead, the party came to her.
People of all ages gathered at Live Oak High as early as 9 a.m., an hour before the parade was supposed to start. Many spent the idle time decorating their vehicles or swapping their favorite Habhab stories, of which there are too many to count.
Habhab’s daughter, Jaclyn, used the time to thank people for coming to celebrate her mother’s achievement. Next to her was her own daughter and Habhab’s “pride and joy, Zoey, who was ready to celebrate her “Yaya.”
“I’m already in tears,” Jaclyn said. “I’ve been crying since I heard they wanted to hold a parade for her. We literally have ages from 12 to God knows how old here. She impacted a lot of people over the years.”
The parade, held April 15, was a party 40 years in the making.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Southeastern Louisiana University, Habhab began her teaching career at Belle Chase High School in Plaquemines Parish in 1979.
Five years later, she headed over to Livingston Parish to teach health and physical education at the former Live Oak Middle.
She never left.
“This is her home,” Jaclyn said.
At Live Oak Middle and later Live Oak Junior High, Habhab taught physical education, history, and health, among other subjects. She coached sports for most of her career, including basketball and softball while also helping out with cheerleading and serving as announcer for home football games.
Habhab was the head of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) club, making her chapter one of the largest in the state. She’s also partnered with local businesses to provide food and presents to families in need for Christmas and has organized collection drives for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“She did everything,” Jaclyn said with a laugh.
For many, including former student and parade organizer Alice Shoemaker, Habhab is Live Oak.
Shoemaker first met Habhab when her family moved to the Watson area when she was in seventh grade in 1987. Being “the new kid on the block,” Shoemaker said Habhab was the first person to make her feel welcome at the new school.
“She took me under her wing and just loved me from day one,” said Shoemaker, whose daughters were also coached and taught by Habhab. “She mentored me through all these years. She just made an impact.”
Shoemaker said Habhab was “more than a P.E. coach” — she was “a friend, a confidant.” Habhab helped countless kids through tough times, she said, and she’s been someone that younger teachers “look up to.”
Habhab’s impact on her school and community for nearly 40 years is why Shoemaker felt something had to be done when she heard that Habhab may not be celebrated the way “she had earned” due to the coronavirus.
Shoemaker put the word out on Facebook and got a huge response “not even five minutes later.”
“People just wanted to show their appreciation for her,” Shoemaker said. “When you think of Live Oak, you think of Mrs. Habhab.”
Michelle Crochet, instructional coach for Live Oak Junior High, can attest to that.
Crochet said Habhab has been her go-to person anytime a kid needs something, saying that, “If Habhab can’t get it, she knows the person who can.”
Minutes before the parade started, Crochet recalled a story about a “a quiet little girl” who was a special needs student. The girl wouldn’t talk to anyone, but she’d talk to Habhab, who learned that the girl wanted above all else to go to Disneyworld but couldn’t because she came from a low-income family.
Eventually, Habhab was able to get the Make a Wish Foundation to send the girl and her family to Disneyworld.
“When a child needs clothes, shoes, food, anything, she will go above and beyond to get what they need,” Crochet said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent a child to Habhab, just to talk to her. She has helped numerous kids through some rough times, and she gives the shirt off her back.
“You’ll see it today in these teachers and kids who are here to celebrate her. Everybody wants to be like her.”
David Gray | The News