By Emily Butler
Photos by Harper Nichols & Contributed
“Once a Waudo, always a Waudo” defined each of Diane Waud’s kindergarten classes at Brookwood Forest Elementary over the years. “I don’t know where it came from,” she recalls. “I just started calling my kids Waudos. It just came out and we started saying it all the time.” It quickly became a term synonymous for “everyone in Mrs. Waud’s class.” At the sound of the call “Waudos!” into the Brookwood Forest playground, the kindergarteners would rush towards the front of the playground to form a line in front of their namesake.
Both of Jack and Hayley Young’s daughters were Waudos, Lillie in 2007-2008 and Stella in 2009-2010. “Neither of our kids could read going into kindergarten, she had them both reading by winter break,” Jack recalls. “We thought that was terrific… Her love for the children and her ability to pull the parents into the process was amazing. She was able to love them while teaching them.”
Hallie McDonald remembers how special her 2007-2008 school year with Mrs. Waud was for her. “I had such a memorable kindergarten year,” she says. “Mrs. Waud made it so that we all felt so loved every single day.” For Sarah Inskeep, who had Mrs. Waud in 2011, “Her room was such a comfortable place and we all loved how it was Mickey Mouse themed.” In line with the all things Disney theme, when a Waudo celebrated their birthday at school, they got to be “top dog” for the day because, as she says, “Every child should feel like top dog once in their life.”
It’s no surprise Mrs. Waud always knew she wanted to be a teacher. “I used to teach my baby dolls and I just loved school,” she recalls. “I loved smelling the school supplies, and I would always try to teach my sister who is two-and-a-half years younger than me.”
She first began teaching at Brookwood Forest as a teacher’s aide for her now great friend, Janne Quinn Copeland. Janne, she says, changed her world of teaching completely. After her year at Brookwood Forest, she taught one year at Cherokee Bend before returning to Brookwood Forest for another five years. She would take a 12-year break from teaching to raise her kids with her husband, Dr. Bill Waud, before returning to teach at Brookwood Forest for another 20 years.
And the school’s community was the teacher’s own in more ways than one too. Since she only lived a couple of minutes’ drive from the school, on Halloween, which is also her birthday, the kids of Brookwood Forest would flock to her house in droves to get a piece of candy from her and Dr. Bill. Every kid nearby knew her house and wanted to make sure they could wish her happy birthday while on their trick or treating route.
Mrs. Waud remembers how close she was not only with the other kindergarten teachers, but the kids they taught as well. “We knew all the kids, I didn’t know just mine,” she says. “It was a very tight knit, unusual situation. We did life together. I miss them every day.”
Through it all there’s no doubt this was the role Mrs. Waud was born to fill. “I always gravitate towards children at events and parties,” she says. “I think they are the funniest people.” She knows first-hand that it takes much more than simply patience to be a kindergarten teacher. “You almost have to be childlike yourself, not childish, but childlike,” she says. “Kids that are 5 and 6, can’t sit there on the carpet. You have to love it, because if not, then you would just get so frustrated.”
Mrs. Waud retired from teaching in 2016, but it was no easy decision for her. Because she was so passionate about her job, it was very difficult for her. “When I say I grieved it, I grieved it,” she says today. “I missed seeing my team. When school started, Dr. Bill planned very specific trips (to Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Israel and other places).” But it hasn’t all been hard. “I call it living a new season of life. I loved my job, I retired loving it.”
And this new season has been the opposite of laidback too. She has continued to dance with a women’s tap dancing group called the Birmingham Sugarbabies, which she has been a part of since 2002. Through her connections with the Sugarbabies, she was more recently introduced in YouTube videos on the channels It’s A Southern Thing and This is Alabama by Al.com. Mrs. Waud does commentary as a southern grandmother, including videos like, “Choosing your Grandma Name is Serious Business,” which has over 1.7 million views.
Through volunteer work at her church, Brookwood Baptist, and at Brookwood Forest through iLearn, Mrs. Waud has stayed involved with children—and her own grandchildren too. At church she helps with a program that helps to provide kids in need with easy-to-prepare meals to take home with them, “The thought of children being homeless, the thought of children being hungry, anything with children will always be dear to my heart,” she says.
And no matter where she works with children, they will also be Waudos too. Hayley Young sums up her legacy well: “I always appreciated how she followed everyone outside of school, beyond the years that she taught them. She really lives out the saying, ‘Once a Waudo, always a Waudo.’”
Editor’s Note: Writer and MBHS senior Emily Butler will always be a Waudo too.