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Why she became an educator: "Because the creative process is stunning and the classroom is an unusual, lively and magical place to be. It's different every day."

Memorable moment: "Every day has one. All the memorable moments have humor connected to them. There are so many times that things are just hysterical and we just break up."

What she will do with the money: "I don't even think it's real yet.

When I see the check, maybe I'll have some marvelous moment of reality."

An illustrator, poet and author, Margaret Pettis is a former Utah Poet of the Year with more than a dozen publications to her credit.

Above all else, though, Pettis is a legendary English teacher at South Cache 8/9 Center in Hyrum.

For more than three decades, Pettis has sculpted English students during their "particularly precarious" middle school years, when puberty yields an abundance of new impulses often unaccompanied by the composure to handle them.

Pettis was riding her horse one day not so long ago when a man in a "big, fancy black car" pulled up and rolled down a tinted window.

He stopped after recognizing Pettis to express regret for his rude behavior back when he was a 13-year-old student in her Hyrum classroom. Pettis said this wasn't necessary, but the 27-year-old man said he was relieved that he was able to apologize.

Societal changes make Pettis feel "more old-fashioned day by day and year by year."

"I hang on to the high points of our culture and I want them to last," she said. "We have to maintain a polite society, practicing good etiquette and good manners toward each other."

Colleague Sherry Anderson, who has watched Pettis hone writing and English skills for the past seven years, said her colleague's veracity is unparalleled.

"She's just an honest, humble person and she would never seek recognition for herself in any way, shape and form," Anderson said.

"She creates magic in her classroom. She creates a safe haven in her classroom by empowering students to explore and think independently.

She builds rapport so they know it's OK to share their opinions and they learn that their voices can make a difference."

- Arrin Newton-Brunson