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School dinner salutes retirees, longtime staff

Retiring staffers and those with many years of service were honored at the 19th annual Ellsworth School District Recognition Dinner Thursday.

Each retiree had others speak on their behalf before offering departing comments. Samples include:

--Melissa Oscanyan on Mary Baker, retiring school psychologist: She's worn many hats, such as EKG technician and administrator of tests for the Army GED program...As the wife of an Army officer, she's also become a professional mover...The Michigan native had trouble finding her work site on the first day of a new job in a large city there, ending up being an hour late; she later learned she'd driven through a dangerous neighborhood after noticing many buildings with windows boarded up...A parent of one of her students here gave her a plant in appreciation, indicative of how she "always goes the extra mile"...Her mind is like a "vault," as she remembers and shares many stories...A poem dedicated to her began, "Mary, Mary, Quite Extraordinary."

--Jeremy and Trevor Johnson, their sons, on Dave Johnson, middle school science teacher, and wife Linda Johnson, librarian: They were their teachers and they well prepared all of their students to take the next step...From a "Top 10" list of reasons they should retire now, "After all, working seven months out of the year is too much," "already tried to organize everything in the library at least twice," "their best two students graduated years ago," "they're old" and "they don't need a champagne budget when drinking Busch Light and wine from a box."...Among the advantages of being sons of teachers are the opportunity to go to school an hour early and stay an hour late plus having your mother pick out all the nice girls for you...Recalled in ninth grade falling asleep during the first classroom lecture they ever heard from their father, who'd kept them up sheetrocking the garage the night before...Recalled their father, disgusted with all the notes being passed in class, warning students the next one would have to be read aloud and, when it was, it said, "Mr. Johnson, your fly is open."

Superintendent Dan Kaler, who emceed Thursday's event, praised all school personnel for their contributions to the lives of young people. Kaler said he especially appreciated a quote in the program distributed at the event from Mary Rumpel, EHS math teacher, who said, "I can tell you specific students and moments in class when 'the light bulb went on.' What a wonderful thing!"

Kaler added a favorite quote of his own: "When a teacher touches a child's heart, that child's never the same again."

Employees with numerous years of school service were applauded, including:

--35 years, Verna Lifto, Prairie View elementary teacher; and Jane Reis, Lindgren elementary teacher.

--30 years, Conrad Bekkum, elementary phy ed, coach; Kathy Birkel, Sunnyside elementary lead teacher; Kerry Christopherson, middle school family consumer ed teacher; Roger Hines, bus driver; Iva Lipke, Prairie View elementary special ed teacher; Scott McLeod, high school tech ed teacher; Pat Mory, Hillcrest elementary teacher; Bruce Peterson, Sunnyside elementary teacher; Barbara Punches, Lindgren elementary library aide; and Pam Williams, high school English teacher.

--25 years, Kristine Eaton, Hillcrest elementary teacher; Julie Graber, high school phy ed, coach; Mike Hall, high school social studies teacher; Dennis Langer, transportation director, bus driver; and Mary Wild, middle school phy ed, coach.

--20 years, Erin Marcks, early childhood speech therapist; Terry Ostergaard, middle school teacher; Rumpel; and Linda Tyler, middle school special ed teacher.

--15 years, Chuck Buckel, high school principal; Judi Helmer, high school business ed teacher; Charles Hewitt, Hillcrest custodian; Lori Jakes, food service; Sharlene Kreye, school nurse; Carole Langer, food service; and Becky Taplin, speech therapist.

Bryan Thoner was recognized for his service as an outgoing board member.