Retta Havird's large family joined her at the Aiken County School District's annual luncheon on Thursday, welcoming new teachers, those new to the school system and their teacher-mentors.

Selected as the Aiken County Teacher of the Year in April, she clearly had no idea why her family was actually there.

She didn't find out until they joined about 200 educators in front of Midland Valley High School on Thursday.

That's when representatives of Bob Richards Automotive – including Bob Richard himself – surprised Havird with the loan of a new car for two years.

A grateful Havird actually tried out two sedans. The company sells Toyota vehicles in North Augusta and Nissan vehicles in Beech Island.

Havird was given her choice of model and color.

“I don't really know yet,” she said with a smile, expressing her appreciation for the firm's support of education.

Jack Brennan, the dealership's chief operating officer, said, “We want to be a big partner with the school districts – not just in this county, but also Richmond and Columbia counties.”

Havird has been a teacher for 28 years – the last 15 years at Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary School, where she teaches kindergarten.

She got warm hugs from her family, Principal Callie Herlong and several of her friends from school.

During her remarks at the luncheon, Havird encouraged the teachers – especially those in their first year – to take advantage of such a rewarding career.

She described how a big, red heart can be found in her classroom with the message, “Love each other.”

“It's my hope that you go home each day with (your students) in your heart,” Havird said. “I don't care how old they are. They want to know you care about them.”

Brennan told Havird how much he, Richards and Nissan dealer Terry Lambert appreciate her work on behalf of local children, as well as all those in the Aiken County School District.

“Teachers are the cornerstone of our community,” Richards said in a press release. “They should be commended for their dedication and rewarded accordingly.”

Brennan said the company is also working with the School District on a Facebook contest that could raise $10,000 to benefit classroom teachers.

The contest is scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.