South Elementary School is being hit hard by the 'retirement bug' with four teachers and three paraprofessionals stepping down from respective positions at the end of the present school year.
A pretty remarkable and amazing run, in that the combined years of service for the group sits at the 232 mark.
Teachers Roberta (Bobbie) Krenz and Lynda Hammer are leaving the school after devoting 39 years each to the education field; Gary Otterness 37 years; Nancy Jones 34 years; and paras Mary Jean Hansen 34 years; Merle McNamara 29 years; and Linda Nilles 20 years.
In an effort to provide the proper send-off, a special retirement reception will be held in their honor on Thursday, May 6, at 3:30 p.m., in the school gymnasium. There will be a program and cake and coffee will be served. Every one wishing to stop in and visit and wish the retirees well during their final weeks of school is welcome to do so.
All seven say they are leaving their longtime careers with mixed emotions, but are looking forward to having the time away from work to explore some of the areas and opportunities they haven't had the time to devote to in the past.
The following is a brief history of each of their career's leading up to their present day retirements.
Krenz started out in education in Wheaton, Minn. in 1969. After two years she moved to Moorhead and became a paraprofessional in the Fargo School District. Shortly thereafter, she was hired as a speech pathologist in West Fargo, the only SLP at that time. With approximately 2200 kids in the district she traveled between six schools working with a caseload of 87 kids, also serving kindergarten students in Harwood.
During her time at Horace, they still had the 'old Horace school,' where she worked in the copy room; on the old auditorium stage; and eventually in the Lutheran Church basement a block away. She would literally call the school on the kitchen phone when she was ready for the next student and they would come over.
Krenz also spent time at the old North School (current LEC), where she "had the privilege of practicing /s/ and /r/ sounds in the football locker room, stinky, seriously, before graduating to the storage room upstairs and finally ending up in a small room that was actually an old vault."
Most recently she has been situated in the speech room at South Elementary, this year also assigned to the STEM center.
What Krenz says she will miss the most are the people. "My students have given me feelings of pleasure, happiness, frustration, irritation, joy, and a true sense of fulfillment. They are the reason I love my job. My fellow teachers have become my lifelong friends. We have been on many adventures together. We have become our own special family and I will treasure the memories."
In time away from school, Krenz intends to do some traveling, admitting that "going to Ireland would be a dream come true."
After completing her bachelor of science in elementary education at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, Hammer began teaching fourth grade at North Elementary in 1969. After two years, she transferred to South where she has taught third and fourth graders in self-contained and team classrooms as well as looping several times.
Hammer said she is going to miss many things upon her departure, including her students' enthusiasm, creativity, and excitement for learning; the sparkle in a child's eyes when he/she understands a concept; getting to know and work with wonderful young families; her colleagues at South she describes as "wonderful, caring, thoughtful, generous people who have been a joy to work with;" as well as all the fun and laughter shared both in and out of the classroom at South. Hammer added that among the items she will cherish forever "are all the student-made pictures and notes presented to me."
After retiring, Hammer hopes to be able to spend more quality family time with her husband, children, grandchildren, mom and sisters. She is also looking forward to doing a little volunteering, reading, traveling, playing bridge, and maybe even a little substitute teaching.
Otterness' teaching career in physical education began on Feb. 10, 1973, at South Elementary. He spent his first eight years at several schools including South, Eastwood, Harwood and Horace; but since 1982, he has been solely at South, the last three years also teaching third and fourth grade Health.
Since 1982, he has also been involved in other school-related endeavors, running score, shot and delay clocks for the West Fargo High School football, volleyball, and basketball games at various sites including South Elementary, WFHS, Lodoen Center, and the Sheyenne 9th Grade Center.
Otterness said he will miss all his colleagues at South and throughout the district. "I will miss the "good mornin'Gare, what does Gare know today" every morning when I stop in the lounge for coffee. I will miss the smiles, the hard work, and the daily dialog with the "awesome" children we have now and have had at South Elementary over the past 37 1/2 years."
As for future intentions, Otterness believes "the best plan is to have no plan at all;" however, he does intend to visit his son, Brady, and spend some time during late winter in Ft. Myers when the Twins are at spring training. He is also set on following the careers of former students in the gyms, on the tracks, on the rinks, and on the fields of West Fargo, and maybe do some part-time work when time allows.
Jones is a graduate of Augustana College, earning a Master's Degree from Minot State in 2002. As a third grade teacher at South, Nancy has been a grade level team leader, a member of Teachers Assisting Teachers (TAT), Valley Reading Council Representative, as well as serving on the district curriculum committees. She is currently serving on the District Report Card Committee.
Upon her retirement, Jones plans to do volunteer work as well as travel to Italy this fall.
Mary Jean Hansen
Hansen started at South Elementary in 1975 in physical education with Gary Otterness and Barb Herda in the lunch room, as it was the gym at that time. "Man did we have students. All I could think of was what noise this makes with 50 kids all having fun at one time. I learned a lot from Gary and Barb. That is what helped make me who I am today, fun, caring and willing to help at whatever it took to make a day a successful one for students."
In 1989, Hansen became an office para, the position she has held to the present.
"What I will miss most," she said. "is the early morning greeting of staff and students and that cup of coffee. I will miss everyone dearly."
Hansen is uncertain how she will spend her free time but knows she will be busy. "It has never been known to anyone that I can't find something to do. I did not think that I would ever say this is my last year. And by all means it is not, it is only the beginning of something new in my life. Thanks to all who have made this opportunity so great and rewarding for me."
McNamara started working at South Elementary in January of 1981 in the EMH program with Sandy Johnson and Barb Rice. She later worked with Bev Malnory and Linda Lund. After 14 years in EMH, she transferred to the library where she has worked as the District Library Para (for all elementary schools) for the past 15 years.
What she will miss the most are "all the wonderful people I work with and seeing new books."
McNamara said she is "looking forward to getting up when my body tells me it's time, instead of the alarm;" spending more time with her grandsons; and traveling to some place warm in January and February.
Nilles started out in the area of special education, spending two years in that field before relocating to the library in December of 1993, with the departure of Connie Pearson. "At that time, the library paras helped teach library skills. I loved being a teacher and working with the other library paras in the district and planning our lessons. With technology, came many changes. It's hard to teach an "old dog" new tricks, but with Mrs. Gieser's patience, she pulled me through."
Nilles views the staff at South as "like family. I will especially miss watching the young teachers grow into wonderful, caring teachers each year. They are like my kids and I am so very proud of them."
She looks forward to knowing "my time" can be "any time." On that note, her imminent time off will include seeing her "baby" grandkids more often, and being able to attend her "grown-up" grandkids activities. "I did daycare for 18 years, and then moved to a "bigger scale" daycare for 18 years. Go figure, I must love kids."