Above Photo: River Hills resident William Vandervalk celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday with Bevis Elementary School Media Specialist Michele Wolfe and kindergarten and first grade students.

Some lucky students at Colleen Bevis Elementary School in FishHawk Ranch have a new adult on their side this month, helping them learn and making them laugh, all to keep the memory of a special lady alive.

River Hills resident William ‘Bill’ Vandervalk began tutoring at Bevis, where his daughter-in-law is a third grade teacher, recently, only months after losing his wife Eileen to cancer. Eileen, who Bill referred to as Pet for their 42 years of marriage, worked for many years as a preschool teacher, so the decision for him to help children after she passed away was easy.

“She had such a gift with children,” said Vandervalk. “You can’t get what she had with a PhD. It was a natural direction for her and the best way I could think of to continue her legacy.”

He now meets with second grade math students and third grade reading students twice a week for tutoring and extra help.

“They are all great kids,” said Vandervalk. “And I am thankful for the opportunity to give them the extra push and help them see that they can do what they set their minds to.”

After months of background checks and paperwork, Vandervalk, who retired in 2008 after spending his career in the biotech industry, began tutoring in March, just in time for Dr. Suess’s birthday. He took this opportunity to brighten the days of even more students by dressing as the famous Seuss character The Cat in the Hat and reading to kindergarten and first grade classes.

“I met with 14 classes, 280 students that day, and did six performances of the book,” said Vandervalk. “It was so much fun seeing the smiles on their faces and now I am even sometimes recognized around campus out of my Cat in the Hat ‘uniform.’”

Vandervalk hopes that through his tutoring he is passing on part of his wife to the next generation.

“Pet touched so many children in her career, I am hoping to do the same now,” he said. “I want the children to know that I see they have the ability to do what they are aiming for, they just need a little encouragement.”

Anyone interested in volunteering at their local elementary school should contact Hillsborough County School District at 272-4000 or visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us.