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Love of language, Neugebauer wraps up rewarding teaching career

Kathy Neugebauer is retiring after over three decades in a profession that has served her well - foreign language instructor in the West Fargo School District.

She started her career at West Fargo High School in 1974 after graduating from St. Cloud State with a bachelor of science degree in education and foreign language.

Specifically, she taught French and German during her tenure, both separately and in unison, except for a one-year sabbatical in 1989, when the high school moved to its new headquarters on 9th Street East, and then again in 1998 and 99, when she took time off to be at home with her children.

Following this hiatus, she returned to the high school and two years ago, looking for a change of pace, moved to the Cheney Middle School. "I wanted to simplify my life and get down to one preparation," Neugebauer said. That did happen the first year when she taught only eighth graders. However, this last year she was back to preparing two lesson plans, instructing both sixth and eighth grade students.

Weekends away from the regular classroom she also found the time to nurture students at the Concordia Language Village, where she was ultimately recognized with a plaque for 15 years of service.

On a professional level, she also served and is a past president of both the Foreign Language Association of N.D. and the Foreign Language Association of the Red River and was a member of the West Fargo Education Association.

Through the years, Neugebauer said her reward has been in "watching the students practice the language and see the light go on that says 'wow' it works. There have been many times in my classes when the students who have been struggling, suddenly get it and want to jump for joy. I also love that we were all able to laugh together at a silly moment, like when a student flipped a crepe (thin French pancake) too high and it landed on someone else. And to hear my students speaking the language we are learning is a joy, no matter where it is. I also like hearing them sing our songs in the hallways or at their lockers."

On that upbeat, positive note, Neugebauer decided that this would be the perfect time to slow the tempo down a bit and end her teaching career, prompted by a number of reasons. Among them, the complication of getting to know the over 500 students in her classes at the Middle School, as well as her need to be at home to devote more time to family, which includes, Brian, her husband of 30-years, city attorney for Moorhead, West Fargo, and other local municipalities, and bonding attorney and president of Ohnstad Twichell law firm; and their three-adopted sons, Karl, 17, Mark, 15, and John, 14. John and Karl suffer from Aspergers Syndrome, a disability that falls under the spectrum of autism. "I need to simplify again to spend more time with them, so if I can, why not?" Neugebauer said. "They are the most important part of my life and I want to be there for them. Now, I won't have to spend my time reading and grading papers. I will have evenings to spend with them helping with their needs."

"I also want to take some classes just for me, want to do more baking, cooking and entertaining, take dance lessons, and learn to play the piano, all for no other reason than I want to. "

She's also looking forward to daily swims in the family's backyard pool, biking, and spending lots of time reading, finally having the time to complete her novels for her monthly book club.

A family trip to Alaska is also in the works this summer, and she is already mapping out their next European adventure, which will take them to Italy.

Loving adventure, it's only appropriate that travel has also been a constant in Neugebauer's teaching curriculum, personally coordinating and chaperoning over a dozen trips to France and Germany, involving hundreds of students. This process not only included touring, but arranging host families for the students to live with for a week, doing the same for foreign exchange students seeking homes in West Fargo.

"These trips were the source of a lot of frustration at times, but I loved it," Neugebauer said. "You teach your students to meet people and deal with life as it is in these countries, and make the best of any situation."

Here she talked of one instance when the group had to write off the first two days of the trip because of plane problems. They ended up missing two flights, aggravated by a pilots strike. They finally made connections to New Jersey, traveling to Portugal where they hooked up with a train to get to their destination in France. "My dilemma was keeping kids calm, and I was very good at that. You learn to adjust and make the most of it."

"As a result of these trips, it is wonderful that many students have made connections with people in and from other countries and continue to share that friendship long afterwards. And I am so pleased that many of my students have used or are using foreign language in their careers today."

She is aware of this because of all the comments, emails and notes she is receiving from former students who are thankful to be living off their foreign language experiences.

One female student said being involved in Neugebauer's class and having the opportunity to travel to Europe "was the best thing ever for me. It inspired me to go to college and travel. I'm the only one in my family who ever traveled. I was always so sheltered and you took me away."

And just recently at an Aspergers support meeting, another who had graduated in 1990 and is now a father, personally recounted his story to Neugebauer how she was his favorite teacher, and after serving in the military in Paris, eventually used his foreign language skills there to "woo" his wife, ultimately proposing to her."

A recent email from another male student who toured France with her group and has since returned several times, perhaps summed it up best.

. It read: "I'm not sure if I told you, but my exchange mother from Nice visited us a year ago for two weeks. It was wonderful! Your guidance and admiration of France has inspired me for a lifetime. I live, feel and think more internationally regarding our society, news and culture (seeing foreign films and buying foreign music, etc.). I hope that doesn't sound too corny and I hope you know what I mean - you opened my eyes to the world, Mrs. Neugebauer. I left Fargo to explore the globe, and you helped me do that. Thanks a million! You changed my life!

"It is moments like this, that I feel appreciated and I know I have done my job," Neugebauer said with a satisfied smile. "Coming to West Fargo was a good move - it is a great community in which to raise boys - and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."

As she counts down the time to her last day, Neugebauer is filled with mixed emotions, but deep down knows that it's truly the right decision at the right moment.

"I love teaching, and I'm going to miss the kids the most. When the little sixth graders poke their heads in and say "I'm glad you're here" it doesn't get any better than that."

As for the staff, Neugebauer admits that she has had the privilege of working with some of the best. Speaking specifically about her time at Cheney, she beamed, "I love these guys at the Middle School. You have to have a sense of humor. They make me laugh so much with their silly comments. There is a great feeling of trust and professionalism among us. We exchange helpful ideas about how to deal with various situations that happen daily. This is a fabulous staff."

In efforts to provide Neugebauer with the proper retirement send-off, two open houses are being planned in her honor. The first, Friday, May 30, from 2 to 3 p.m. in the Cheney Middle School Library.

The second will be held at the Neugebauer home on Saturday, May 31, from 1-6 p.m, at 4412 South River Estates Way, West Fargo (take the first left off Sheyenne Street just south of 40th Street). The open house is being hosted by her husband and three sons who hope to see many former students, parents, and faculty stop in and offer their wishes for a well-deserved retirement.