Melanie Amburn’s journey came full circle Thursday afternoon as she waved to numerous coworkers outside the county office building in Loudon.

Amburn officially retires June 30 from Loudon County Schools after 44 years of service. Colleagues joined in a drive-by parade, complete with honking horns, balloons and signs wishing Amburn the best in future endeavors.

“I felt very honored,” she said. “It’s been such a privilege to work for Loudon County Schools and I just feel very honored that those people would take the time on a summer day to come by.”

In some ways, it is fitting her local career ends where it started, albeit in a different capacity and setting.

“I started work here actually in this building as a junior high school teacher in 1976,” Amburn said. “The election commission was my homeroom.”

A year later, she landed at Eaton Elementary School, where she served for more than two decades as either teacher, vice principal or principal.

In 2012, she was back in the county office building as elementary supervisor. For the past six years she has served as special education supervisor after former Director of Schools Jason Vance asked her to make the transition.

“It was a huge learning curve, as it is for any new special ed director, but one that was exciting and rewarding,” Amburn said. “... This group of people here in central office are amazing workers and truly focused on the community. The special education department here in this county is the hardest group of workers I’ve ever seen in my life, and they truly care for students and their families. It’s just a privilege to be able to work with them.”

Amburn said she simply wanted to impact her hometown.

“When I graduated from college I was offered jobs in Oak Ridge and in Knox County, but I wanted to come back home to Loudon County and I wanted to improve our school system and make a difference in our community,” she said. “... Once a Redskin, always a Redskin.”

She will remain busy at Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens. The opportunity should free up more time with family.

“I’m going to be a professor at Tennessee Wesleyan in the fall,” she said. “I’ll be in the education department and I will be training people to come into the teaching profession, so that’s an exciting thing to think about training people who want to be teachers.”

Amburn had already decided to retire before the TWU position opened.

Jennifer Malone, Loudon County supervisor of technology/middle schools, has known Amburn since 1991 when they both worked at Eaton as teachers and then on the administrative staff. Amburn served as Malone’s vice principal.

“She’s touched thousands of lives,” Malone said. “Best first-grade teacher I’ve ever known. She’s taught thousands of kids to read and then in her leadership role just how she has worked with parents. She’s wonderful in dealing with the community and parents and helping people and the kindest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. She taught both of my kids to read. She was both of my boys’ first-grade teacher.”

Director of Schools Michael Garren believes the parade’s turnout was a “great testament to who Melanie is.”

“She’s always giving to other people, always trying to do what’s best for kids,” Garren said. “She has given many years of service in pretty much every role you can in the school system, and I think that this shows how much her colleagues appreciate her.”

Garren said Anderson County Schools supervising psychologist Josh Reese will replace Amburn beginning July 1.

Amburn said she will “terribly” miss working for Loudon County Schools.

“I just want to thank the school board and Mike Garren for being wonderful leaders in our community,” she said. “Jennifer Malone, Maria Warren, Matthew Tinker, Scott MacKintosh, they were all fabulous workers and just a joy to work beside. It makes me sad about not being beside them, but they’ve got a great torch and love for this community to carry on.”