After 31 years in education, Phil Niemie is retiring. The principal of Bailey Elementary and his wife, Judy, will head to Africa later this fall to join their daughter and her family.

After 31 years in education, Phil Niemie is retiring. The principal of Bailey Elementary and his wife, Judy, will head to Africa later this fall to join their daughter and her family.

While Niemie may be gone after 12 years as Bailey principal, a piece of him will remain at the school.

In a student assembly last week, Niemie was surprised to learn the school's library "will now and forever be known as the Philip E. Niemie Library," said his administrative assistant, Sue Charnon. "Thank you for everything you did for us and we wish you and your family the best of luck as you retire and embark on your new adventure to Africa."

Niemie oversaw Bailey's construction and opening in 1996 and has been its principal since then. He was also a principal at Riverside Elementary, as well a middle and elementary school teacher.

Charnon told the students: "In our lifetime, we meet many people who influence the way we think, feel or act," Charnon said. "From the time we are very young children, we are influenced not only by our family, but also by people such as teachers, coaches, religious leaders, to name a few. Today we have come to honor just such a person, one who has been the leader of Bailey Elementary for the past 12 years and who is very special to all of us. As principal, he has guided your education from kindergarten through fifth grade, making sure you had the best classrooms, the best teachers, the best equipment, altogether, the best elementary experience in your lifetime."

Niemie also received a picture of his staff, as well as a watch with "special features," said third-grade teacher Tom Carroll. The special features included a GPS system to allow Niemie to find his way around Africa, but also, Carroll said, so "he can find his way back to Bailey, where he is loved and will be missed."He also received a suitcase and a mosaic of his likeness, made up of hundreds of tiny pictures from the Bailey archives and of his family and other important events in his life.

The students sang several songs in Swahili and English.

"You probably know more Swahili than I do now," Niemie told the students.

"Amazing and overwhelming" is how he described the program.

"I have enjoyed every year and every moment of my 31 years in education, and this celebration is a good example of why I've enjoyed it so much," he told his students and staff.

Niemie said it was an honor to have the library named after him and to have his longtime friend, Bill Prosser, as its librarian. Prosser came to Bailey as a fifth-grade teacher and took over the librarian duties last year.

He choked up when asked about his feelings about Niemie's retirement.

"This is going to be hard," Prosser said. "Phil is the heart of Bailey. The whole community of Bailey starts right there in his office. He built it and brought his love of kids here for all of us to share."

cpreston@thisweeknews.com