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SCC's retiring teachers recall fond memories

Pictured above are the six St. Croix Central Elementary School teachers retiring in June. Front (l-r) Jeanne Larson, Barb Bartos and Cheryl Dougherty. Back (l-r) Jodie Falde, Vicki Ohrt and Gloria Willert.

Twelve teachers and staff are retiring from the St. Croix Central School District at the end of this school year. Not only is SCC losing nearly 11 percent of its teaching staff due to retirements, it will also lose around 300 years of experience, according to District Administrator David Bradley.

Below is a list of those in the district retiring:

Gloria Willert, second grade teacher; Connie Mueller, sixth grade language arts teacher; Vicki Ohrt, first grade teacher; Cheryl Dougherty, fourth grade teacher; Joanne Sanders, technology coordinator; Patrick Abair, high school industrial technology; Jodie Falde, kindergarten teacher; Jeanne Larson, elementary vocal music teacher; Vicki Ehlers, fifth grade teacher; Barbara Bartos, elementary librarian; Darlene Mikla, district bookkeeper; and Judith Ptacek, eighth grade language arts teacher.

In this article, the New Richmond News is featuring the retiring teachers of St. Croix Central Elementary School.

Jeanne Larson

Jeanne Larson's passion for music is just as strong as her passion for teaching.

Larson, a Luck native and University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, has been teaching 25 years.

The general music teacher said after she retires she's going to miss watching her students grow up.

"I really enjoy watching the children progress from one year to the next. Watching them mature. Watching them gain skills. That's the fun part of a teaching job," Larson said.

Larson said she's never stopped learning from her students, and she's always worked to make sure her students get the most out of their schooling.

"I've always tried to give the students as many positive experiences as possible," she said.  

Larson said she'll miss the smiles and kindness of her students and all of the wonderful moments she's witnessed in the classroom. 

Larson said she will miss more than just her students.

"I'm grateful for the cooperation and collaboration between staff and administration, the board and the fantastic parent support."

Larson said she's looking forward to spending time with her new granddaughter and children as well as camping, biking and traveling with her husband.

Jodie Falde

Jodie Falde graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1974 and has taught at St. Croix Central for 28 years.

The kindergarten teacher hadn't always planned to be a teacher though.

Originally Falde considered a career in social work, but a term paper her senior year of high school helped her realize social work was not a good fit. After reluctantly helping in a 4-year-old Sunday school class, Falde said she "fell in love with the little people and decided that was what I wanted to do."

Falde's small students have had a large impact on her over the last 28 years and she says she'll take many wonderful memories away with her when she retires.

Falde said one of her favorite teaching memories involved the gingerbread man hunt she used to have with her students.

Falde said she used to make a large gingerbread man as part of her introduction to the career community helpers unit. She'd show her students the gingerbread man and tell them that the oversized cookie would be put in the school's freezer until the class toured the building to visit individuals and learn about their jobs at the school.

On the tour day Falde would tell her students that they'd stop and pick up the gingerbread man after the tour and eat him in class.

After the kitchen tour, students learned the gingerbread boy was missing, leaving notes at various locations around the school, like classrooms, the janitor's area and the nurse's office. Falde said the staff members played along with the hunt and "Every year it built and got better and better."

Falde said the gingerbread man would eventually be found in the principal's office.

"One year a little boy accused the principal of stealing the gingerbread boy," Falde said with a laugh.

Although she included fun in the classroom, Falde said she always strived to "Try to have every child achieve to their maximum potential."

In addition to missing students' artwork, hugs and stories, Falde said she's really going to miss "the people" once she retires.

"Both big and little. I enjoy the people that I work with and I love the kids," she said. "There are some things I won't miss though, like inside recess and getting up early in the morning."

In addition to sleeping in more, Falde said she's looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren, cleaning and maybe volunteering, after she retires. 

Falde said although she's looking forward to retirement, "it's not easy saying goodbye."

Gloria Willert

Gloria Willert says she has always been a teacher.

Willert comes from a large family. She is the youngest of 14 children and she has nearly 50 nieces and nephews.

"I always played school and I was always the teacher," Willert said. "I love kids. Teaching doesn't seem like a job to me."

Willert started teaching in 1967, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She taught three years in New Richmond before teaching full-time at SCC.

Willert said in 38 years of teaching she has made wonderful memories with her students and coworkers.  

One of her favorite memories while teaching happened outside the classroom, at the Minnesota Zoo.

"One of my second-graders was always the class clown ... He got peed on by the lion."

Willert said she's going to miss "the kids very much" once she retires.

"They've given me life ... excitement in life," she said.

Willert said she always hoped that if her students only learned one thing from her during the school year, "I hope they remember what they read."

In this next chapter in life Willert said she is looking forward to babysitting her twin grandsons three days a week and enjoying her free time the other two.

Vicki Ohrt

First grade teacher Vicki Ohrt says she's always wanted a career where she could help people.

"I could not make my mind up between nursing or teaching. I wanted to do both. I found out through experience that I could not handle the sight of blood so I went into education."

Ohrt has been teaching since 1973 and has been at St. Croix Central for 33 years.

Ohrt says she's made lots of memories over the years. 

"One of them that stands out is the kids that come back after the day is done or before the day has started to see how I am that day or give me hugs or come in my room and talk to me," Ohrt said.

Ohrt says she'll never forget the "sparkle" of reading in her students.

"It's not a moment, it happens all the time, but it's that sparkle you see in their eye when they first realize they are reading a book, and it's not a two page book or two words on a page. It's a book in their mind," Ohrt said.

Ohrt said it was her goal every year to help each child do their best. "For some the growth is immense. For others its not quite as much. I always push with my kids, 'do your very best.'"

Ohrt said this year her goal was different. "I wanted them all at a certain level when they left me, for reading; and they all made it."

What does Ohrt get from her students?

"Love. Pride. A second family," she said. "I always tell the kids that 'I'm with you more than I'm with my own kids; awake hours, so I feel like they're my second family."

Writing her own stories is next on Ohrt's agenda.

"I would like to write a book. I have wanted to write a book since I was in high school. I would like to write an adult fiction book, but I'm thinking I might start with a children's book. The kids this year in my classroom have tried to talk me into writing a children's book and to dedicate it to them," Ohrt said.

Ohrt said in addition to writing she's looking forward to doing "what she wants when she wants and if she wants." She said she'd also like to go to Florida for a month or so sometime.

Ohrt said she's going to miss the caring staff she's worked with over the past 33 years. She says they were supportive during a difficult time in her life, and are people who truly care about one another.

"They're so caring. And that's not just something you say randomly. The people in this building truly are very concerned about everyone else."

Barb Bartos

As she turns the page from SCC from instructional (library) media specialist to retiree, Barb Bartos says she's grateful to have been part of some of the big changes in the elementary school library.

Bartos attended the University of Minnesota and St. Cloud State University for elementary education and in 1993 she received her library degree.

Bartos has been working at SCC Elementary for 18 years. Fourteen years ago, Bartos spent countless hours automating the school's library system.

"It was a year of after school work because every single book had to be bar-coded and then I also had to physically type in every piece of information about each book. Where as now when you buy the book you get a disk and just download the information," Bartos said.

Bartos also had a big part in the creation of the library's reading corner. 

Bartos said she's had a wonderful job "working with kids, computers and books."

When Bartos first started at the U of M she was going to focus on home economics, that is, until she realized she hated the cooking and baking part.

Bartos said it was always her goal to make sure students knew "that the library is a pleasant place to be."

Bartos says the students have always given her a good feeling. "It brings a smile to your heart," she said.

Bartos said the elementary school has been a wonderful place to work and she'll miss the staff and students once she retires.

Bartos says she's looking forward to babysitting her granddaughter, gardening, crafting and participating in some community education classes.

Cheryl Dougherty

Cheryl Dougherty knew she liked working with children after she had the opportunity to spend time in a kindergarten classroom when she was in high school.

Dougherty graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1977. She taught one year of fifth grade in Ellsworth before coming to St. Croix Central.

The fourth grade teacher said, "Students give me the satisfaction of knowing that everyday I have the opportunity to 'make a difference' in their lives by both my actions and my words."

Dougherty said her teaching motto has always been: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."

Dougherty said one of her favorite memories goes back to her first year of teaching at SCC, when the school was a kindergarten through sixth grade building.

"I was walking down the hall on my way to my classroom when I was scolded by the playground paraprofessional for being in the hallway and not being outside on the playground," she said. "She and I both laughed, (that day and many times after that) when I turned around and she saw it was me."

Dougherty said she will miss the students and staff and St. Croix Central Elementary.

Dougherty said she hasn't made any future plans, since she hadn't initially planned on retiring this year.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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