Education careers at an end: 12 District 518 teachers retire

WORTHINGTON - There'll be no more "back to school" for 12 employees of District 518. An even dozen staff members, ranging from custodians to para-professionals to teachers, retired at the end of the 2015-16 school year, shutting the doors on thei...

Retiring this spring from District 518 were (from left) Debra Roth, Barb Freimuth, Karen Wasmund, Ken Henkels, Cheryl Carlson, Donna Grant, Dennis Heemkerk, Mary Jo Peterson and Jacinta Rust. Not pictured: Lyman Duel, Karen Stamer and Alan Kremer. The retirees, seen here, were honored at an end-of-the-year staff gathering. (Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON – There’ll be no more “back to school” for 12 employees of District 518.

An even dozen staff members, ranging from custodians to para-professionals to teachers, retired at the end of the 2015-16 school year, shutting the doors on their respective schools and careers at the same time.

While a few of the retirees had worked for District 518 for only five to 18 years, eight of the 12 logged between 28 and 39 years locally.


Among them were three teachers, who collectively gave the Worthington schools 110 years of service. Retiring from classrooms at Prairie Elementary, Worthington Middle School and Worthington High School were, respectively, Mary Jo Peterson, Ken Henkels and Cheryl Carlson.

Mary Jo Peterson, 38 years, Prairie Elementary

“It doesn’t seem that long; it went very quickly,” professed Peterson of her education career, which totaled 40 years in all.

Peterson taught largely in the lower elementary grades, but after graduating from Augustana University (then Augustana College) in 1975, she first taught in special education at Adrian for a couple of years before being hired in Worthington.


“I went into education because I wanted to make a difference,” said Peterson, who ultimately taught in multi-age classrooms (first through third grades) for a time and spent the last 15 years as a third-grade instructor at Prairie Elementary.

“Prairie is a beautiful elementary school, with access to lots of technology,” said Peterson.

Although she was born in Wisconsin, Peterson’s Lutheran minister father accepted a call on New York’s Long Island when she was a girl -- but when she was due to begin ninth grade, he accepted another call in Sacred Heart, Minn., a town that boasted a scant 600 people in rural Renville County.

“I like to say I grew up out East,” laughed Peterson, explaining it was a shock for her to move from populous, exciting New York to south-central Minnesota as a city-savvy teenager.


Peterson appreciated many things about her lengthy teaching career, including the fact that working with young children “keeps you young.”

“I will miss the kids the most,” she said. “What I love about teaching, too, is that it makes you a lifelong learner; you’re never stagnant because you’re forced to learn, even if you sometimes don’t want to, and you’re forced to change.

“And all the people you work with are dedicated to the same cause.”

A two-time nominee for the District 518 “teacher of the year” honor, Peterson says she always tried to be a kind teacher who wanted to make learning fun.

“I always tried to see the good in every child and adult,” said Peterson, who said she recently encountered a former student at Wal-Mart.

“He gave me a big hug -- I’m going to miss all those hugs -- and he was one of the naughty ones,” she chuckled.

“But it’s the ‘naughty’ ones who really need you the most.”

Peterson is married to Chuck and has two “kids” of her own -- daughters Ashley, 23, an aspiring elementary teacher herself, and Erin, 22, a dietitian.

Although she and Chuck are planning an imminent move to Mankato to be nearer their daughters, Peterson intends to stay in touch with her many Worthington friends while she catches up on her scrapbooking and gets used to not hustling off to school every weekday.

“I’m going to miss everybody here so much,” professed Peterson. “Teaching is a hard but very rewarding profession.”

Ken Henkels, 33 years, Worthington Middle School

While plenty of Worthington residents may know him as “Coach Henkels,” it’s his work as a teacher of which Henkels remains most proud.

“Teaching has been very satisfying,” affirmed Henkels, an industrial technology instructor who also taught physical education during the first eight years of his tenure.

“I’m proud to say I’m a teacher -- teaching always came first for me -- and I can’t imagine doing anything differently,” he added.

A 1977 graduate of Worthington High School, Henkels’ wife, Pat, teaches Family and Consumer Science at WMS. Because the couple got an early start in building their family, which now includes four children and six grandchildren, Henkels recalls working full time at the former Worthington K-mart store while attending Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

After his local graduation, the family temporarily relocated to Mankato, where he continued to work at K-mart while completing his bachelor’s degree at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“When I came back to teach here, almost all the teachers I’d had as a student were still teaching,” said Henkels.

Henkels notes that industrial technology classes have changed over time.

“It’s moved away from ‘shop’ and more into robotics and a computer-based curriculum,” he explained, but he observes that students always relished getting into the shop work and using their hands.

“The kinds of jobs that stem from those skills are still very, very important,” he emphasized.

Throughout his teaching career, Henkels also worked as a coach, at both the middle- and high school levels. Baseball, football, wrestling, cross country and track all benefited from his touch, although his tenure with track -- at least 25 years, by his estimate -- was the lengthiest overall.

“I like working with kids, and I always liked the teachers I worked with, too,” he said.

“Teachers, on the whole, are pretty straight shooters who don’t tend to have a lot of jealousy about each other; we’re all essentially doing the same thing, and I enjoyed the people I worked with very much.

“Some of my best friends are people I coached with.”

With his wife continuing to teach for a time, Henkels will keep busy perfecting his golf swing, interacting with grandkids, traveling and making time for what was formerly his “summer job” as a flooring installer.

“I was always ready to get back to teaching after a summer of that kind of work,” chuckled Henkels, “so we’ll see how things go.”

Cheryl Carlson, 39 years, Worthington High School

A self-professed bookworm who as a child consumed “every book in the historical romance section of the library” in her hometown of Humboldt, Iowa, Carlson earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Westmar College in Le Mars, Iowa, as well as associate of arts degrees in music and psychology.

She later achieved a master of science in education from St. Mary’s University.

“I had some outstanding education teachers, and I loved literature,” said Carlson of choosing her life’s path. “I was the editor of my high school newspaper as a senior, and during college I spent two summers working for my local newspaper, so even though I didn’t have a degree in journalism, that experience helped me get a teaching job in Adrian.”

There, Carlson taught English and oversaw the yearbook production for a year before being hired at WHS in 1977.

For 17 years, Carlson was the WHS yearbook and newspaper adviser, and she also taught introductory and intermediate photography.

“There were some quarters when I was only really teaching one English class,” said Carlson, who has been a mainstay of the WHS Communication Arts Department, and a respected English honors class instructor, for decades.

“When I taught literature, I loved the artistry of it, but I also loved the methodology of journalistic writing,” noted Carlson.

Carlson switched gears from 1996-2001, when she served as District 518’s curriculum director.

“I was in charge of implementing the ‘Profile of Learning’ -- now the core standards -- program,” she explained. “I also did assessments, wrote grants and was in charge of staff development, so I wasn’t directly involved with students during that time.

“It was a different sort of assignment, but then District 518 was in financial straits and eliminated the entire curriculum office.”

Since 2001, Carlson has been back, aiding dozens of college-bound students with development of their writing skills and knowledge of college-level literature, among other important tasks.

“I really enjoyed my students,” she stressed. “There were a lot of rules and regulations that were kind of tough to put up with at times, but I always liked the kids and will miss them.”

Carlson and her husband Dave, an executive with Thrivent, are in the process of once again relocating, as he has recently accepted a Twin Cities-based job assignment.

“Both of our children and their families -- three granddaughters and one grandson -- live in the Twin Cities area,” she mentioned.

The newly retired Carlson hopes to spend more time “doing the grandparent thing,” playing around with her interest in photography and possibly exploring more writing. About 15 years ago, Carlson penned two non-fiction pre-K/K-level biographies (about Dr. Seuss and Charles Schulz) for the Mankato-based Capstone Press.

“We’re ready for new adventures,” assured Carlson, “and there are all kinds of opportunities out there.”

Other 2016 District 518 retirees, their years of service and their final location assignment  include:

  • Lyman Deuel, 10 years, custodian at Prairie Elementary

  • Barb Freimuth, 31 years, custodian at WHS

  • Donna Grant, 32 years, para-professional at WHS

  • Dennis Heemskerk, eight years, custodian at WMS

  • Alan Kramer, five years, para-professional at West Academy

  • Debra Roth, 28 years, para-professional at Prairie Elementary

  • Jacinta Rust, 18 years, para-professional at WHS

  • Karen Stamer, 28 years, para-professional at WHS

  • Karen Wasmund, 37 years, accounts payable staff at District 518 Administrative Office.


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