Community Rallies to Honor Beloved Teacher Who Died of Breast Cancer: 'She Had Such an Impact'
Deanna Herlihy spent much of her life giving back to her community — so when she died of breast cancer, her community made sure to spread that love right back.
After nearly 20 years in remission, Herlihy, a beloved preschool teacher, was diagnosed in 2018 with stage 4 terminal breast cancer that had spread to her bones and lungs.
She was known in her Fairfield, Connecticut town as Ms. Dee, and had spent the last few decades making her mark on local students as owner of the preschool Curiosity Corner.
When her illness forced her to shut down her school in March 2019, the community stepped up for Herlihy for the first time, raising more than $15,000 on GoFundMe.
Herlihy was her family’s sole provider, as her husband Scott was seriously injured at their daughter’s wedding several years ago and unable to work, according to the GoFundMe.
“Ms. Dee is the first teacher many of our little ones ever had,” the fundraising page read. “For the past 19 years at Curiosity Corner she taught them letters, shapes, colors, kindness, a love of nature on their walks to the park and helped them create keepsake art projects.”
Herlihy died of breast cancer on June 4 at age 61, about a year after becoming a grandmother for the first time when her daughter Megan gave birth to a baby girl named Evie.
But even in death, Herlihy has continued to impact her community, as they’ve cemented her legacy with a series of permanent fixtures around town honoring her.
First came a memorial bench at Veres Park, located across from her school, which was unveiled with a private ceremony on Aug. 8 — what would’ve been Herlihy’s 62nd birthday.
The day began with a bike procession to the park in which former students, family members and even State Rep. Brian Farnen rode together with balloons, name cards with their class year and custom bike bells featuring Herlihy’s photo adorning their rides.
“She’s had so many loving, wonderful families walk through,” her sister Debra Cingari told the Fairfield Citizen at the time. “It was a way to channel my grief.”
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Added husband Scott: “The way the kids responded to her was magical. That’s the only way to put it. She was a great woman.”
Months later, on Oct. 11, Herlihy’s memory was honored once again with a Little Free Library near the bench that was made to look like an exact replica of her distinct red home, which also housed Curiosity Corner.
Neighborhood kids and former students filled the little library with books featuring custom “Curiosity Corner Little Free Library” stamps, as Herlihy loved reading to her students.
“She was the sweetest woman,” former student Paige Bierman, 15, told the Citizen. “It was so great to know her and have her teach us. She had such an impact on everyone.”
Herlihy and Scott were married for 37 years, and had two daughters, Megan and Caitlin, according to her obituary.
She loved FaceTiming Evie “multiple times a day,” and also enjoyed nature, hiking, cycling, kayaking and the beach.
“During the winter, she would long for the many long summer days spent on her boat with her husband Scott,” her obituary read. “She cherished the close friendships she shared with many people. Deanna was loved by many being a genuine, giving, loving and compassion heart for all.”