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Mourners remember Des Moines advocate Teree Caldwell-Johnson

Hundreds of mourners packed Plymouth Congregational Church to say goodbye to a Des Moines community “force” Wednesday.

They came to remember Teree Caldwell-Johnson, 68, as an advocate for Des Moines Public Schools, area children and families and the Oakridge community. She served for almost two decades as CEO at Oakridge Neighborhood and on the Des Moines School Board.

In 2023, Caldwell-Johnson announced she had been diagnosed with cancer. Last month, she resigned from the Des Moines School Board, where she has served since 2006, to focus on her health. Over an 18-year period, she served multiple times as school board chair and vice chair.

“We share in Teree’s family’s sadness over the loss of such a force for good and excellence in our community,” said Pamyla Stewart, St. Paul AME Church Des Moines, at the start of the service.

Community members came together Wednesday to honor activist and long-time Des Moines School Board member Teree Caldwell-Johnson. Those who attended her celebration of life were given a program and green ribbon pin with the words "Forever in our hearts."

Community members came together Wednesday to honor activist and long-time Des Moines School Board member Teree Caldwell-Johnson. Those who attended her celebration of life were given a program and green ribbon pin with the words “Forever in our hearts.”

Related: 18-year DMPS board member Teree Caldwell-Johnson recalled as inspiring mentor, trailblazer

It was standing room only as lawmakers, past and present Des Moines School Board members, community leaders and others who were touched by Caldwell-Johnson’s work came together to celebrate her life with music and stories.

State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad spoke about the need to honor Caldwell-Johnson. Abdul-Samad has long called her “the mayor” because “no matter where she went she made it better.”

“Teree’s legacy is left in each and every one of us,” Abdul-Samad said to applause. “What she did touched everyone in this church. It touched the babies in the schools and touched the neighbors in Oakridge.”

Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Ian Roberts, who credits Caldwell-Johnson with bringing him to Iowa, spoke about how the long-time board member was a mentor to him in the short time they knew each other.

Related: Des Moines Public Schools board appoints new member to replace Teree Caldwell-Johnson

Caldwell-Johnson told the new superintendent about her diagnosis early on. He recounted how Caldwell-Johnson felt she could beat the disease in part because of her strong faith.

“I believed you then and I believe you now,” Roberts told those in attendance, “Teree, cancer did not win, God just needed one of his best to come home.”

Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at facebook.com/svhernandezreporter.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Hundreds turn out for Des Moines funeral of Teree Caldwell-Johnson

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