Toni Cassidy taught more than 760 Portland children throughout her career. Family photo

Toni Cassidy, a beloved kindergarten teacher at the former Hall Elementary School in Portland, died Aug. 7 after a fight with cancer. She was 66.

Mrs. Cassidy was remembered Tuesday as a strong and independent woman who rose above challenges in her life and inspired others in the process.

On a windy day in late November 1963, Cassidy, then 10 years old, left her home in Van Buren to meet some friends in town. As she walked, a powerful gust of wind blew over a tree that fell on her and crushed her leg. She was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where her leg was amputated above the knee.

Her sister, Michelle Powell of Scarborough, said she faced that challenge with grace, strength and a positive outlook. She wore a prosthetic leg early on, but eventually ditched it for crutches.

Mrs. Cassidy studied karate and attained the level of brown belt. She learned how to use her crutches for self-defense. In the 1980s, she spent her summers as the chief purser for Longfellow Cruise Line on Long Wharf in Portland.

“She was fast … quick with the crutches,” Powell said. “She never let any of that slow her down. She was someone who always had a good attitude. She never considered herself handicapped.”

Mrs. Cassidy attended the Maine School of Art in Portland and University of Maine at Farmington. She began her career as a substitute teacher in Portland before joining the Reiche School faculty as a kindergarten teacher. A year later, she took a position at Hall School, where she taught kindergarten for 37 years.

Mrs. Cassidy taught more than 760 Portland children throughout her career, according to her obituary. She also started the art club at Hall School, where she instilled her love of art in an additional 200 students. She left school in March when she became sick.

Mrs. Cassidy was remembered Tuesday as a kind yet tough teacher who made an impact in her student’s lives.

Sandy Sherry, a kindergarten teacher at what is now Amanda C. Rowe School in Portland, taught next door to Cassidy for years. Sherry said Cassidy knew every child as an individual and knew what their strengths and needs were. She said Cassidy’s passion was teaching through art.

“Toni had a love for all things color. She saw the world that way,” Sherry said. “She had an amazing way of convincing all of her students that they’re artists. So students who lacked confidence and kids who weren’t holding crayons in September were feeling like Picasso by the end of June when school got out. It was a wonderful gift she had, to teach that way.”

Mrs. Cassidy displayed her students’ artwork inside her classroom and prominently in the hallway. Sherry said Cassidy loved her students.

“She knew them so well and had so much respect for them as individuals,” Sherry said. “She was very passionate about ensuring that her kids were successful … that all of her kids were successful. I admired the way she could relate to kids. She was an incredible person.”

A highlight of her life was raising her son, Ryan Cassidy of Buxton. In addition to her son, she leaves a grandson, Mason Cassidy. She also leaves her former husband, George Cassidy of Freeport.

“She was so proud of her son and her grandson,” her sister said. “It’s sad she won’t see her grandson grow up, but I know she will be watching from above.”