When Linda Allen's students line up for hugs and hand her "thank you" notes on the last day of school today at Salt Lake City's Bonneville Elementary, it's a good bet that their homemade cards will be colored with rare crayons.

Linda didn't plan on retiring as the "rare crayon" teacher, but that's what her 23 students will remember when they look back on their third-grade experience years from now. Mrs. Allen (that's what more than 800 former students still call her) started "Rare Crayon Day" on her birthday a few years ago, and it stuck.

For one day each year, writing, spelling and math assignments were completed in the Crayola colors of raw umber, burnt sienna, cornflower, golden rod, thistle and any other unusual hues that fell beyond the ordinary color wheel.

Now that Linda is retiring after 30 years in the classroom, other students coming up in the ranks at Bonneville have popped in to ask: "Will you come back to visit and bring Rare Crayon Day with you?" They know a rare teacher when they see one.

After they learned a few weeks ago that Mrs. Allen was retiring, two of her former students, now long grown, suggested that I drop by the school for a Free Lunch chat with the beloved teacher as she packed up three decades of memories.

In her second-floor room, I found Linda standing on a counter, retrieving boxes of kids' artwork, handwritten curriculum, bulletin board supplies, the witch costume she wore every year on Halloween and, of course, dozens of rare crayons.

"It's hard to leave," she admits, "but I think it will be more strange in August, when I'll be on vacation in California instead of getting my room together. That's when it will hit me: I'm not coming back."

Growing up in Salt Lake City, where she attended the former Rosslyn Heights Elementary, Linda always thought she'd become a nurse instead of a schoolteacher like her mother. Then in college, she flunked organic chemistry and decided she was better suited for experiments with 7- to-12-year-olds.

Following a job teaching fifth grade in Richfield, she ended up at Bonneville, where she taught second, third and fourth grades while juggling life as a single parent with a mentally disabled child.

The patience and compassion she'd developed helping her daughter, Ann Elizabeth, helped Linda shine in the classroom, where she took special care to help children struggling with reading and math.

"It was always my dream to help every child become who they really want to be," she says. "I like to think that I had a small part in how my kids turned out."

In her room every morning by 7:30 and out the door as late as 6 each night, there was little time to pursue her own goals of taking art classes and voice lessons and seeing the world she taught her children about.

It wasn't until a scare with breast cancer five years ago that Linda started thinking about life beyond Room No. 201. Her students helped her through the fight, swamping her with cards and flowers and holding a daily contest to guess which colorful scarf she'd wear to school after her hair was lost to chemotherapy.

"They kept me positive — I'll miss seeing their faces every morning," says Linda. Now that her boxes are packed, she'll think of them often, "while I'm figuring out what else I was meant to be."

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