Area teachers say goodbye to 'my kids'
The month of May is a time of transition, as spring gives way to summer, and high school seniors graduate, moving from childhood to adulthood.
It is also a time when retiring teachers begin a new chapter in their lives — and this year, four of our area school districts said goodbye to a wealth of educational experience.
Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School, in particular, saw four of its most experienced educators teach their last day of classes this week.
LP-A kindergarten teacher Joan Lunde, fifth grade teacher Bonnie Iverson, special education instructor Carol Nustad and speech-language pathologist Donna Ronken are all easing on down the road into retirement this summer.
They will be joined by Detroit Lakes education director — and former superintendent — Lowell Niklaus; as well as kindergarten teachers Denise Kettner (Rossman Elementary) and Shan Manke (Roosevelt Elementary); first grade teacher Ruth King (Rossman); special education instructor Sue Borstad (Roosevelt); vocal music teacher Dorothy Satrom (DL Middle School); and Rossman paraprofessional Charlene McAllen.
In Frazee-Vergas, meanwhile, the lone retiring educator this year is longtime high school English teacher Nancy Swedberg.
Waubun-Ogema White Earth also said goodbye to high school English teacher Rebecca Aarestad, along with elementary Title 1 instructor Cheryl Flatt and physical education teacher David Caspers.
Though each of the departing teachers who responded to our questions listed different reasons for choosing to retire this year, it was one of the LP-A teachers who perhaps said it best.
“I thought it was best to leave while I still love teaching,” said Nustad, adding simply, “It’s time. There are other things I want to do now.”
“You should love what you do right up until the end — and I do,” said Ronken.
“It’s time to pass the torch, so to speak,” Iverson said, adding, “It’s important to let younger people into education too — to give them the same opportunities we were given.”
Lunde said that she couldn’t understand why people kept asking her if she was “counting the days” until her retirement.
“If I am, I’ve been counting the days I have left with ‘my kids,’” she said late last week.
“I love my kids,” Ronken agreed, referring to the students she has taught during her 42 years of teaching at Lake Park, Audubon, and LP-A.
Lunde has been with the LP-A district for 42 years as well, while Iverson has taught for 35 years — all of them at LP-A — and Nustad, more than 20, though not all with the same district.
“I actually started at Audubon, the year before they started pairing and sharing (with Lake Park),” said Nustad. “I taught fourth grade, second grade and Title I. Before that, I spent six years at Ulen-Hitterdal.”
“I spent a year at Aurora-Hoyt Lakes, on the Iron Range, and 42 years at Lake Park, Audubon and LP-A,” said Ronken.
“I taught for one year in Frazee and 42 years here, first at Lake Park and then LP-A Elementary in Audubon,” Lunde said.
“We don’t change jobs very often, do we?” she joked, sharing a chuckle with Ronken.
“The years have flown by,” Iverson noted.
Kettner’s tenure as a kindergarten teacher has been almost as long as Lunde’s. Her 36 years as an educator have all been spent teaching kindergarten — and all in Detroit Lakes.
“Like every retired person had told me, you just know when it’s time,” she said of decision to retire this year.
“I’ve taught over 1,300 kindergarteners in my career; it’s time for someone else to take my spot and do what I loved to do.”
“My husband semi-retired this year, so I’m looking forward to not being so tied to a schedule!” said King, a 32-year veteran educator whose career in Detroit Lakes has spanned 30 years (she also taught in Park Rapids for a couple of years).
“I have taught second grade, Title 1 reading and math, and a 5th-6th grade combination at Callaway (which was part of the DL school district at the time),” King added. “But for the past 25 years, I have taught first grade.”
“Teaching has been part of my life for a very l-o-n-g time,” said Satrom, who spent the largest chunk of her 35-years-plus in education as the Detroit Lakes Middle School vocal music instructor.
However, she added, “I’ve enjoyed assignments using both of my double majors in elementary and music — ranging from preschool and elementary classrooms to Title 1-Basic Skills (grades 1-6), K-12 instrumental and vocal music in small rural schools, and Detroit Lakes assignments of elementary instrumental, classroom music (grades K-8) and choir (grades 5-8).”
“It’s hard to say what or when, but I’ve been thinking about it (retiring) for a couple of years,” Satrom said. Perhaps, when I realized that some days were really exhausting and the odometer wasn’t going to start going backwards. It was kind of like hearing that inner voice say, ‘You’ve been doing this a very long time and having such a great time… but it’s time (to go).”
“I have been a teacher for 34 years,” said Manke, adding that 28 of those years were spent as a Detroit Lakes kindergarten instructor.
“My husband has been retired for a few years, and we are anxious to do some traveling and other adventures together,” Manke said of her reasons for choosing to retire now. “We are both in good health and we want to enjoy this time.”
“I want to travel as much as possible,” said Lunde, whose husband is a retired band instructor who worked for many years in the Fergus Falls district. “And I do want to do some subbing (in the classroom).”
“I’ve already got a trip planned for next fall,” said Ronken, whose husband Lewy is also a retired teacher, who taught industrial technology and computer classes at LP-A for many years.”
“Me too,” said Iverson.
“And I want to do some volunteering,” Lunde added.
“I’ll have to explore some of those avenues (for volunteering),” Iverson agreed. “There are a lot of opportunities out there.”
“I’m also an exercise nut,” Ronken added. “I plan to increase my walking, yoga and so forth.”
“I hope to do some golfing,” Lunde said.
“I want to spend more time with the grandkids, going to their concerts and programs and so forth,” Nustad said. “I’d also like to spend more time doing the things I love doing — like the fall musicals, spring plays and madrigal dinners (at Detroit Lakes High School, where Nustad has been volunteering with the theater department for many years).”
“My ‘bucket list’ has several typical ‘wish’ list items on it — travel, time to relax and breathe a bit,” said Satrom. “I’m hoping it will be a lot like a permanent vacation. I love Minnesota, and being home with family and friends.”
“The list is long,” said Manke of her ‘bucket list.’
“Rick (her husband, the former athletic director at DLHS, now retired) and I are going to take some time and travel this winter, be there for my kids when they need me, and I plan to do a little subbing to get my ‘kid fix,’” she continued. “I’ll take some classes through community education to learn some new hobbies, read, bike, run some more races, organize my house, learn how to be a grandma in August, spend time with family… you might even find me in a duck blind with Rick!”
“I have no big plans for the future,” said Kettner. “I’m excited to begin working on the United Way board and the Detroit Lakes Education Foundation board, and to have the time to do something different — or maybe on some days, do nothing but read a good book!”
All of the retirees agree that there will be a few twinges when classes start up again in the fall, and they won’t be headed back to the classroom.
“Getting ready for that first day is kind of like getting to be a kid all over again!” Satrom said. “You not only get to see how the former students have grown and changed, but the excitement of meeting a new ‘crop’ of potential performers!
“I don’t remember not working — not spending a summer rushing to catch up on household chores or perusing teaching materials in preparation for the start of the next school year,” Satrom said. “Yep, it’ll be one tough day (when classes start in the fall).”
“I imagine it will be tough,” Manke said. “Right now I don’t feel like I’m retiring, it just feels like I’m getting ready for summer. September is always exciting for back to school, so I may have to find something special to do on that day.”
“I imagine it will feel strange come August and I don’t have to begin getting the room ready for a new year,” Kettner said. “I’m ready though, and it will be fine!”
“I hope we can take a few trips and just have an open schedule to help out and enjoy our grandchildren!” said King.
For her part, Iverson said, “I want to enjoy a quiet September — to just be by the lake and read, and enjoy the grandkids.”
“I’m going to read a book and have a cup of coffee in my sun room,” said Nustad, discussing her plans for the first day of school in September. “It will be a new adventure, but I’m looking forward to it. At times in your life, it’s good to make a change.”
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.