Stranger surprises teachers with more than an apple
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 30, 2013

The guy was a stranger.

He did not live in town, either, but Reid’s Beans owner Laura Rierson did say she spoke to him and that he mentioned he stopped by to visit his daughter.

And who knows what he heard of the conversation of the eight women who also stopped by for lunch on Aug. 20.

One thing for sure, though: He figured out they were teachers.

And he paid for their lunch.

“We were shocked and surprised,” Grace Varnum said the next day. “And we were happy that someone would do something so nice for us.”

Varnum, who teaches special education, said she visits the coffee shop and restaurant to eat, but mostly for her weekly coffee. But the day before school started, she and other teachers decided to take a break from preparations to gather for lunch.

“They didn’t have just 28 minutes for lunch yet,” Rierson said, referring to school lunch periods. “They were spoiling themselves.”

They did not all go together, but two separate groups of four teachers made the same lunch plans and, when they ran into each other at Reid’s Beans, decided to sit together. Around the table were Varnum; second-grade teacher Mandi Smith; special ed teacher Miranda Palmer; teaching associate Lindsay Seydel; fourth-grade teachers Christa Diemer, Wendy Stevens and Dina Hull; and reading/math support teacher Lacey Becker.

Rierson said the man “just heard” they were teachers and gave her his credit card to pay.

“Usually I know who they are,” Rierson said of her customers. “This person was just a random visitor.”

And he asked that she keep it that way, having her promise to allow him to remain anonymous.

“He was a secret, surprise benefactor,” Rierson said. “Who said he was ‘Grateful for their service to the youth.’”

Rierson did not say how much the bill came to, but that each woman ordered a lunch and beverage. The man did not ask, either, she said.

“He just wanted to pay,” the restaurant co-owner said. “It was a random act of kindness and appreciation.”

Rierson said she has had other customers pick up someone’s bill anonymously, but for someone they know -- like a person celebrating a birthday, or a veteran returning from overseas. Varnum said the mystery man made an impression, and that the teachers want to say, “Thank you for your kind deed.”

“We will pay it forward,” she said.

Those eight teachers, as well as others in the district, also got a free dessert.

Superintendent Kevin Hatfield said Cookies by Design of Coralville donated cookies to every staff member.

Hoover Elementary secretary Connie Laughlin said the cookies were decorated with messages like “Welcome Back” and shaped like school houses or school buses.

“They went above and beyond” to make the cookies, she said.

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