The children of Little Run Elementary School in Fairfax celebrated a combined Arbor Day-May Day last week by honoring one of the school's most beloved teachers, Catherine Howard.

Howard, who retired four years ago, gave Little Run its start as a horticulture standout in the county through a fund she set up before her retirement. At the ceremonies last week, she was misty-eyed as she received the compliments and good wishes of the student body.

"I have such dear memories here," Howard told the children gathered in the all-purpose room. "I mean, of course, all the parents over the years who have showed such kindness to me.

"Above all I have had the joy of teaching the boys and girls. You are all such lovable children."

Principal John Scott reminded students that Howard was responsible for planting the first azeleas, dogwoods and maple trees that now grace the campus.

"The first tree she planted on school grounds was a maple and you can see how tall it is today," he said.

Howard came to the school when it opened in 1963 and taught third grade there until her retirement 13 years later. When she retired, she asked that instead of the usual personal gifts, students add to a fund she had set up to beautify the school grounds.

"I always loved trees when I was a child," said Howard, 69, who grew up on a farm in missouri. "I especially liked to climb them but of course, back then little girls didn't wear jean, so I had to climb in private."

Members of the third grade played spring songs on plastic recorders for the teacher and parents who attended the gathering. Other youngsters performed a traditional May dance.

Children who were in Howard's last third grade class and who now attend junior high school also attended the assembly.

Frank Keplinger, a nursery operator who shares Howard's love of gardening presented the retired teacher with a trowel tied with a calico bow.

"I was a student when Mrs. Howard came to the school," he recalled during a reception following the program. "I wasn't in her class, but I can remember how much of an impact she had when she started planting trees and azaleas."

Howard said that since her retirement she gardens at her Lincolnia Hills home in Fairfax County, but added, "There is so much wooded area where I live that I can't grow too many things. But of course there are always the flowerbeds. I must have those."

Following the reception, she joined 9-year-old students Joel Reichbart and Darlene Hughlett in inspecting newly planted azaleas purchased for the school by the fund she began before her retirement.