Beloved LHS para Colleen Sullivan passes away


Courtesy of April Houston Patton

Lawrence High para educator poses for a photo with LHS graduate Cheyenne Graham at a graduation ceremony.

By Cuyler Dunn, Assistant Online Editor

When asking the friends and coworkers of Colleen Sullivan how they would describe her, one word was used by every single one of them: love.

Sullivan passed away on March 1 after serving as a paraeducator at LHS for six years. 

Sullivan was known for her passion for Lawrence High. From closely following the results of student athletes to buying yearbooks for kids who couldn’t afford them, Sullivan sought to make LHS a safe home for every student who walked through the doors.

“Collen was a person of love and concern,” said IPS teacher Susan Micka. “She valued relationships and made very personal connections with all students.  She was so cute and giddy when she got excited for students and their opportunities.”

According to her students, Sullivan embodied what it meant to be a Chesty Lion. She worked hard to make sure every student at LHS felt special and important. Sullivan often cut clippings out of the newspapers where students were featured and brought them to school to congratulate the featured students. 

“She adored the spirit of high school students and she really wanted ALL students to have an excellent experience at LHS,” said Micka. “She took so much joy in watching others enjoy themselves and made sure that each student got the experience of being the star walking into the room.” 

Caring for students didn’t stop at the school doors for Sullivan. She consistently met with and engaged with students outside of school hours. 

This past summer she would pick up students and take them to the farmers market and to lunch. She would also take kids to go see Micka on her front porch. 

Lawrence High receptionist Cindi McCaleb taught with Sullivan in St. Mary’s, Kansas before they moved to Lawrence. She recounts years of Sullivan bringing joy to students as a grade teacher, coach, PE teacher, and paraeducator. 

She used her role at LHS not only to be a positive influence, but also push students to their best selves academically. 

“She took her job seriously, she did research for her classroom, she wanted the best for her students,” McCaleb said. “She created worksheets, lessons that stretched her student’s thinking.  She loved LHS and LHS loved her.” 

One place where Sullivan shined was her work for the IPS classes. Although she wasn’t an official IPS para, she fervently engaged with students and recommended for them to join IPS. She handed out applications, showed students how the program worked, recommended students to Micka and much more. 

“She attended so many of our events, often bringing a student or an alum with her,” said Micka. “She would be so excited when IPS went on field trips.  She would make me accept her money every time we went to breakfast to help pay for a student who had forgotten. She called parents with reminders and made sure kids had what they needed for our activities.”  

Nolan Smith, a former LHS student, posted an emotional video on his Facebook recalling his time with Sullivan. He talked about the joy that she brought to him every day. 

“You always knew how to suck up the positiveness in the world to make me feel happy,” he said. 

Smith had a video series for the journalism staff called “Strollin’ with Nolan” when he attended LHS. The first person he featured on the show was Sullivan, a moment he recalls as the “best, happiest memory I had with you.” 

Smith spoke at length about the ways that Sullivan impacted him as a student and a person. His words echo the thought of many students, staff and other Lawrence High community members. 

“You were the best para I could ever ask for. You have always touched my heart. You always knew how to put a big smile on my face every day.” 

Sullivan had a unique ability to foster relationships between students, something that grew from her humility. She sought the best for students and made it her goal that nobody felt alone. 

“She was always doing something for somebody,” baseball coach and paraeducator Brad Stoll said. “Very selfless mindset. I thought she had such a special way of matching up students in our school with those with special needs and fostering authentic relationships” 

For Sullivan, the focus was always on those around her, not herself. Students and staff alike agreed that Sullivan pushed them to be better at everything they did. 

“If you were a para, you just wanted to be a better para,” said Dixie Freeman, a close coworker of Sullivan. “She taught me everything that I know from being a para here. I think all of the students just really enjoyed her commenting on things that she found out about them whether it was sports-related or not. She just made everyone happy.”