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Making the grade: Salute to retiring District 518 staff

Pictured above: (Front, from left) Clasine Lester, Shirly Wieme, Jeanette Varuska, Dorothy Orde, Karen Weinandt, Lana Grimmius; (back, from left), Mike Traphagen, Myrna Nystrom, Sheryl Hoekstra, Jan Larson, Cam Aker, Denise Schlichte, Pat Shaughnessy. Missing from photo are Barb Regnier, Ron Vorwald and Sue Pennings-Witzel. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

More than 400 years spent in the halls of Worthington District 518 schools. That's what the combined experience adds up to for the staff members who are calling it quits at the end of this school year. The school district has a large number retiring this year, due to an early retirement incentive. Here's a short overview of what they have contributed to local education and a few highlights of their careers.

Camilla "Cam" Aker


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: I have taught junior high/middle school language arts, which includes English 7, English 8, Communications 9, Creative Writing 9 and Literature 9. I have also taught summer school English classes for many years, ranging from high school courses to seventh-grade English classes. I have worked with EDGE, the afterschool program, for many years as well. I have been the Language Arts department head and served on numerous committees over the years. I have also represented EM-W, our teacher's union, by serving on the negotiation team.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Highlights for me have been hearing or reading about former students and their successes in life. When visiting with former students, it's always a warm feeling when they make me feel that in some small way, I made a difference in their lives.

RETIREMENT PLANS: My plan for retirement is to stay in Worthington and to play an active role in my four grandchildren's lives. I am also looking forward to having a flexible schedule so I can spend time with my two sons and their wives in California. Other than that, I don't have a specific plan, so I will be just taking it one day at a time.

Lana Grimmius


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: I taught home economics for five years at the Lakeview School for the physically handicapped. Then I taught students with developmental cognitive disabilities at the junior high and elementary.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: I will never forget the Christmas programs the children at Lakeview School presented. There were plays and singing. At the end of the performance, the students sang the Lakeview School song, and there wasn't a dry eye in the audience. Also during the Lakeview summer programs, we went on a lot of field trips. One trip was an overnight trip. Every day there has been something new -- never monotonous.

RETIREMENT PLANS: Traveling, spending time with friends and family, volunteering and substitute teaching.

Sheryl Hoekstra


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: When I started in 518 in 1981, I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education. For the past 17 years, I have taught second grade. I have been very involved in the Responsive Classroom Initiative at Prairie Elementary and served as secretary and president for our education association in the recent past.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: 2011 Teacher of the Year. Working with wonderful colleagues, families and children. Being able to say at the end of the year, "I will never have another class as wonderful as this one," and then saying it again the next year and the next...

RETIREMENT PLANS: I am open to opportunities that present themselves and look forward to the flexibility that retirement will give me.

Jan Larson


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: I have been a WHS counselor for 19 years. I worked previously for District 518 at Worthington Junior High (as it was called then) as a teaching assistant in special education for seven years.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: It's hard to choose one highlight, because I've had many. Certainly graduation is a highlight for me every year. Watching students finally celebrate that Ultimate Day after I've worked with them intensely over four years in a variety of ways is always an emotional day for me. It's exciting to watch teenagers grow into young adults and to help them make some crucial decisions along the way. I really cherish the career I've had and the opportunity to support students academically, emotionally, and in preparing for their future careers.

Clasine Lester


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: Computer teacher at Prairie Elementary involved in the area of technology; District Technology Committee; Learning Device Initiative Committee

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: The excitement of planning and moving into a new building. Being involved in the initiative bringing iPads to grades 3-8. Working as a team with some the best and brightest teachers. Teaching in a multi-age setting, where I had students for two or three consecutive years and observing them mature as young people and grow academically.

RETIREMENT PLANS: I'll have more flexibility to spend time with my grandchildren and children. It will be a new adventure, and I'll see what happens.

Myrna Nystrom


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: Ninth-grade communication arts (English); Staff Development Committee

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Students falling in love with Romeo and Juliet; students facing their fears and successfully performing in front of the class; graduates choosing teaching as a career.

RETIREMENT PLANS: To read more, to walk more, to meditate, to work at Ocheda Orchard, to grandparent more, to see the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, and (if my husband is agreeable) to be his trainee as he works on repairable cars.

Dorothy Orde


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: U. S. Citizenship classes, Adult ESL classes, Adult Basic Education for Even Start Family Literacy

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Helping my students to become U.S. citizens.

RETIREMENT PLANS: Time to travel, visit our children and grandchild, time to quilt.

Barb Regnier

DISTRICT 518 CAREER: I have taught English as a Second Language for 26 years. I designed and implemented the ESL program in the district and began teaching at Central, West, Middle School and High School. In addition to ESL, I also teach the Language Arts component of composition and literature.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Working with students from all over the world has enriched my life immeasurably, but it is profoundly rewarding when former students of mine go on to become teachers themselves.

RETIREMENT PLANS: My plan is to see how sweet it is not to have a plan --for a while.

Denise Schlichte


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: Kindergarten, first grade, Reading Recovery

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: I began and finished my teaching career in Worthington. I actually taught in the kindergarten room at Central where I attended kindergarten. In 2004, I was honored by my peers as Teacher of the Year. My goal has been to inspire a love for learning in the lives of the children that I have taught and for them to use that learning to reach for their hopes and dreams.

RETIREMENT PLANS: I am excited for the flexibility that retirement will offer and have no specific plans at this time.

Pat Shaughnessy


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: Social studies (U.S. and advanced placement U.S. history, economics, government, geography, anthropology, sociology). Coached baseball for 35 years; football for 31 years; basketball for 13 years.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Nothing in particular, but I do wish I had saved and written down all the little things that have happened and put them into a book. Teaching has been a very interesting career.

RETIREMENT PLANS: Do some substitute teaching in the district. Fishing and boating with my wife, kids and grandkids. Take care of grandkids. Camping in the summer. Take up golf again. Try to read more. Just stay busy.

Mike Traphagen

YEARS IN DISTRICT: 28 years in Worthington after six years at Heron Lake-Okabena

DISTRICT 518 CAREER: Elementary physical education teacher (West Elementary) 1985-1989; physical education/health teacher (Worthington Junior High/Middle School) 1989-2009; activities director 1999-2001 and 2009-2013; head volleyball coach 1985-1988; head and assistant track coach 1985-2009; head cross country coach 2001-2008; boys basketball assistant coach 1986-2004.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Watching former students and athletes grow into very nice young men and women (some aren't that young anymore).

RETIREMENT PLANS: Paint, substitute teach.

Jeanette Varuska


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: Four years at Rushmore in the Lower Unit grades 1-3; one year kindergarten; one year second grade; 17 years first grade; and my final 10 years as Title I coordinator.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: My "Ah-Ha" moments were when children said, "I get it" and telling me they loved school.

RETIREMENT PLANS: I will spend more time with family and friends. I will be working on special projects for myself and the school. I know in my heart I will never be able to just walk away. I've loved what I did!

Ron Vorwald


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: I have taught physical education at Worthington High School, coached boys basketball, assistant coach for football, and the first three years here I was assistant track coach.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Obviously, the coaching aspect. I've enjoyed coaching, and I've enjoyed the young people of Worthington, I've enjoyed building relationships with kids, and my focus has always been to teach kids the importance of lifelong fitness.

RETIREMENT PLANS; Continue to paint houses, both interior and exterior, through our painting business. I'm going to play a lot of golf, I'm going to read some books that I've neglected, and I'm going to enjoy watching my former players play college basketball.

Karen Weinandt

YEARS IN DISTRICT : 26 -- I also taught in Westbrook for eight years.

DISTRICT 518 CAREER: I have been a special education teacher for children in kindergarten through third grade.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: The best part of being a teacher was that I got to go to work every day and do a job that I loved! Each child's accomplishments were as exciting for me as they were for the student.

RETIREMENT PLANS: I plan to spend more time with family (especially my wonderful grandchildren) and friends.

Shirly Wieme


DISTRICT 518 CAREER: Worked as a paraprofessional in first grade for 12 years at Central and Prairie, then worked for nine years in the Media Center at Worthington High School.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: I truly enjoyed working with the students.

RETIREMENT PLANS: Enjoy traveling, especially in the fall, and spending more free time with our grandchildren.

Sue Pennings-Witzel

YEARS IN DISTRICT: 22 years as teacher, 14 years as a paraprofessional = 36 years

DISTRICT 518 CAREER: I am a teacher of students with learning disabilities/emotional-behavioral disorders. I was also a para for 14 years before I became a teacher.

HIGHLIGHTS OF CAREER: Those times when struggling kindergarten and first-graders understand letters make words, words make stories, and they can READ!

RETIREMENT PLANS: I will continue my dog rescue work and transporting animals to rescues in the Cities. Lots of gardening. Getting caught up around my house.