Although he said the April 30 fire that closed St. Croix Central Elementary School has been a challenge to deal with, Steve Sanders said the overwhelming community support for SCC's alternate elementary location, "Panther Camp," has given him a positive note on which to end his career.
"I don't know if I even have words to describe it," Sanders said. "It's just unbelievable to me. We're still receiving packages."
Sanders is set to retire after 29 years as an educator in the St. Croix Central School District, the last 13 of those years as elementary principal.
Sanders began his career at St. Croix Central in August of 1980 as an assistant football coach.
After four years as assistant coach, Sanders spent one year teaching at St. Mary's School in New Richmond and another year teaching in Plum City before he started as a fourth grade teacher at St. Croix Central Elementary in 1984.
Sanders took over as principal at St. Croix Central Elementary in the 2000-01 school year, which means this year's seniors were kindergarten students when he started as principal.
"It's kind of neat to think back on those kids when they came in the door at 5 and 6 years old," Sanders said, "and how they develop academically, athletically, and to see their success both in the classroom and the athletic fields."
Sanders said some of his favorite memories at St. Croix Central involve sports, including the SCC football team winning the state championship in 1988, as well as a state wrestling championship won during the time he was athletic director for St. Croix Central.
But what he will miss most, Sanders said, are the students, staff and parents of St. Croix Central.
"I'm going to miss the hugs," Sanders said. "A minor goal of mine when I first started (as elementary principal) was to make sure that the kids knew me, because I never really knew my principals."
Sanders said he has made extra effort throughout his career as principal to spend time in the hallways and visit classrooms in order to get the know the children. He said his favorite part of the school day is the morning, when the children are coming to school.
"They're telling me about their haircuts or losing a tooth or they just want a hug," Sanders said "That's really what I'm going to miss."
Sanders said the end of his last day will be difficult, but said his wife of 32 years, Joanne's support has helped him deal with his retirement as well as with the difficulties of not being able to end his career in the elementary building.
"She's my rock," Sanders said.
Sanders said as he moves on to the next stage in his life, he hopes for only the best for St. Croix Central's students and staff. He wished incoming elementary Principal Heidi Weisert-Peatow good luck for her future plans.
"I was given this staff 13 years ago, and I think I left it in pretty good shape," Sanders said. "I hope Heidi finds it in as good of shape as she hopes and I only wish her the best of luck."
As for his own future, Sanders plans to spend more time with his wife after his retirement. Sanders said they hope to travel to visit family.
Sanders said he will not leave St. Croix Central after his retirement. Instead, he hopes to volunteer in the district. He said he will continue to referee varsity basketball games. He also hopes to volunteer in his granddaughter's first-grade classroom next year, in addition to finding other ways to volunteer.
"I'm up for anything," Sanders said. "It's a new chapter."