The moment my mom started talking about her retirement, I knew I wanted to help throw her the ultimate retirement party. Growing up she was frequently going to other teachers retirement parties and I remember thinking that sounds soooo boring. I kept picturing everyone gathered around a sheet cake in the school lounge, wishing the departing teacher a happy retirement. Needless to say one of my goals was to make her party unique, memorable, and tons of fun for her and her guests. Secretly, my goal was to have people walk out of her party saying that it was “the best retirement party I have ever been to.”
Here are 5 tips for throwing a retirement party that is fun for everyone.
1. Choose a Theme: Since she was a teacher it didn’t take long to decide on a Vintage Schoolhouse theme for the party. I borrowed decor from family and friends and my grandma helped find some old school photos of her. I purchased a file with vintage flashcards on etsy that I printed out and used for bunting and banners around the room, as well as children’s books and flashcards. The welcome table had a vintage schoolhouse chair and school bell, as well as a school photo of my mom when she was in Kindergarten and some old books near the guest book.
A found a sketch of a woman who looked like a young teacher and traced over it, coloring it in with chalk. I put her in front of a chalkboard and then scanned in the image to make signs. One of them asked people to sign the guest book, and others were the labels on small packs of crayons that were at everyone’s seats.
I found the idea for the invitation on pinterest, and loved that it looked like a teacher’s school file. I used the first school photo of my mom from the 80’s which was fun for everyone to see.
2. Find a fun venue: We had first talked about having the party at my parents house, but I didn’t want my mom to worry about cleaning and getting the house ready, wondering how many people would fit, and having to clean up after it was over. My mom started looking at local restaurants and found the 500 Club, which was a perfect option. They have a large event space off of the main restaurant and a beautiful outdoor space people could mingle in. The best part was that they were fine to let me decorate any way I wanted.
The restaurant was outside of town a bit and many people had never been there. It was fun for people to experience a new venue, and the food was delicious.
3. Surprise & Delight your Guest of Honor: Until my mom walked into the restaurant, the only thing she had seen was the invitation. I had kept the Vintage School House theme and all of the decorations and details a secret. It was so much fun to watch her walk in and see everything for the first time. She and my grandparents walked around and had a chance to look at all of the fun details before guests arrived.
I knew my mom wanted to give a short speech and share her funniest kindergarten stories and quotes, and she asked if I wanted to say something as well. While we were setting up, I taped 28 party poppers (one for each year she was a teacher) under the guests chairs. After my mom spoke, I got up to give a short speech and congratulate her on 28 amazing years of teaching. I asked people to look under their chairs to see if they had a party popper, then asked my mom to come up front with me. I queued for the music to be turned up with Kool & The Gang’s Celebration song, and asked everyone to pull their poppers while putting an Officially Retired sash on my mom. It was my favorite moment of the evening and something people were still talking about as they left.
4. Surprise & Delight Your Guests: We had a variety of candy on the tables, and each spot had a fun placemat I created with games and riddles, little packs of crayons with labels that matched the sketch of my mom at a chalkboard, and a custom pencil. A few weeks before the party I asked my mom to send me a list of things she wasn’t going to miss saying to her students repeatedly, and a list of things she wouldn’t miss hearing them say. Most of them were funny so I picked my top 5 and had those sayings put on 5 different colored pencils. I HAVE TO PEE was my favorite but I was a little worried that people might not find it as funny as I did. That ended up being the most popular saying and 3 teachers came up to me later to say they were going to use it as their hall pass for kids who needed to go to the bathroom.
5. Make it FUN: When people first walked in, they were given a raffle ticket. Throughout the party we choose numbers from a hat and people won gift cards and boxes of movie candy.
The restaurant also had a great sound system, and since most of the guests were teachers, I created a playlist that included songs like 9 to 5 (Dolly Parton), I’m Free (The Rolling Stones), School’s Out (Alice Cooper), 40 Hour Week (Alabama) and Take This Job and Shove It (Johnny Paycheck).
I used a roll of white paper on each table that I made to look like a giant ruler by cutting out numbers and making tick marks with a sharpie. Tables were decorated with globes, vases full of yellow pencils or rulers, school buses, and vintage school books. I also created ABC cards that had the words of things that would fill her new life- B is for Biking, T is for Traveling, N is for Naps, and so on. They were cut out and scattered on tables around the room.