Union Elementary honored late former teacher David Collins during the school’s annual Monarch in the Park butterfly launch recently.

The event, which Collins started at the school in 2002, was the first one to be held since the 69-year-old’s passing earlier this year. It featured the release of nearly 200 butterflies following a program that took place at Triple Creek Park in Gallatin on Friday, Sept. 24.

“While we’re sad, we still have something to celebrate because of all the work he did for the school,” Union Principal Lance Taylor said about Collins. “Over the years he has grown this program and helped our children learn about metamorphosis, life and nature firsthand. He made that happen and we’re going to continue his legacy and continue having this program.”

The program featured musical and theatrical performances from students in each grade level at the school.

Several students, along with former colleagues and members of Collins’ family, also shared some of their favorite memories of the late educator who retired from teaching full-time in early 2018 after being diagnosed with colon cancer the previous year.

“A memory of me and Mr. Collins was when he would bring us to the garden and we got to learn a lot,” one student recalled last week. “I wish everyone here got to meet him.”

During his time at Union, Collins oversaw the school’s vegetable garden, greenhouse and chicken coop while also helping to establish an on-campus rain garden as well as a dedicated pollinator garden at Triple Creek Park.

Former Union Principal Billy Nolen told those in attendance last week that his decision to hire Collins and bring him to the school in 2002 was “one of the greatest decisions” he could have made.

“He was such a talented teacher, but he took his teaching outside the building and made it so real to the students,” Nolen recalled. “Every time we did the butterfly launch… he had the biggest smile on his face. He enjoyed it from the moment he got to school until it was finished.”

The launch concluded a multi-week educational program where more than 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the school learned about monarch butterflies through a variety of different learning exercises.

Once released, the butterflies will migrate approximately 1,600-miles to Mexico during a journey that will last about one month.

Collins was involved with harvesting and releasing more than 10,000 butterflies during his time at Union, according to school officials.

“During the summer, Mr. Collins… was already preparing for the next butterfly launch for that year,” Carolyn Collins recalled about her late husband last week. “He loved playing in the dirt, digging, planting and working with children.

“He is looking down on this program today and he has got that big smile… and he’s so happy to see this being carried on.”