Photo courtesy of Osage Community Schools via KCHA News

Special to the Enterprise Journal courtesy of Melanie Gast

When adding together all the years of service from this year’s retirees at the Osage Community School District, the number is 210—a staggering number of years, but it’s also an immeasurable amount of wisdom and experience. Consider the impact these individuals have made on the entire community: it is an overwhelming thought.

Osage schools thank Sheila Moritz (35 years), Audrey Christensen (32+2 years), Jolene Hemann (32.5 years), Linda Rice (29 years), Judy Sloter (27 years), Elaine Schwab (26.5 years), and Pat Wickham (26 years). They have done incredibly important work over the course of their careers. 

Sheila Moritz

Sheila Moritz

Sheila Moritz has taught first grade for the past 27 years. Before that, she taught special education for eight years, for a total of 35 years in the Osage district.

Mrs. Moritz started at Washington and moved to Lincoln in 1991. Over the years, she had some favorite days that rise up in memory: Read Across America Day was one of them. Another favorite was the pen pal activity. First graders in Osage have pen pals in New Hampton, and toward the end of the year, they would have a field trip to meet their pen pals. Being a first grade teacher has its rewards.

“Students enter as nonreaders and leave reading chapter books,” Moritz explained. “It’s a huge year. We set the foundation for so many things.”

Mrs. Moritz has loved making connections with people, students and colleagues alike. Retiring during a pandemic has been tough, though.

“First graders show the most growth in the last ten weeks of school,” she said. “That’s when everything comes together, and we didn’t get that. It’s tough knowing I didn’t get to be a part of that.”

When asked about the biggest change she’s seen in education, technology was her quick response.

“When I went to college, we were just getting introduced to computers. Technology has been a continual learning experience. When I taught at Washington, Linda Schulz (secretary) was asked to start using a computer. I was able to help her a little, and she just took off. Within a few years, she was teaching the rest of us computer skills. And then we went to Mimeos, laptops, smartboards, and cell phones. Technology has really changed.”

Something that didn’t change over the years was the support from the community. That has been her favorite thing about being a Green Devil. Though she will miss the students, the staff, and the hugs, she looks forward to traveling in the motorhome, going wherever she wants, and doing whatever she wants. Mrs. Moritz, thank you for your service. 

Audrey Christensen

Audrey Christensen

Audrey Christensen has taught in Osage for a total of 34 years. She taught at Sacred Heart for two years, and she has been in the Osage district for 32 years: she went from Sacred Heart to Lincoln, then to Washington, and then to the middle school, which means she’s taught in every school building in Osage.

The first day of school, for the past 34 years, has been a favorite: “The first day of school was always exciting, every single one.”

She had other favorites as well: working with students and the camaraderie with the staff among them.

“I love reading to kids. I did it every day,” she said. “Hatchet was a favorite, as well as Where the Red Fern Grows. We put on Mother’s Day plays at Washington, and I’ve even missed that since being at the middle school.”

The end of this year has been a challenge.

“With the school closure, it’s been a weird ending—a strange way to go out. I’ve missed not having the kids here. A positive was we found new ways to connect with kids. Zooms were brand new to me. Before the last Zoom, we (5th grade teachers) drove to all the kids’ houses and delivered some treats. The final Zoom was a 5th grade picnic. We found a way to make the best of it,” recalled Christensen.

While it was a year of change, Mrs. Christensen has seen many changes in education, with technology at the top of the list. She has also seen many initiatives. There are more meetings and student activities now.

“We’re not just a teacher anymore. We are mentors, counselors, friends, and extra parents. The school is more than the school.”

Osage has been an excellent district for Mrs. Christensen: “It has been the best. Osage is a great community. There is so much school spirit, and we’ve had fun and pride with all the activities. I have worked in a top-notch district with amazing support. I’ve had wonderful administration and colleagues along the way.”

In her retirement, Mrs. Christensen plans to spend time with family, read, bike, attend auctions, and help on the farm. Thank you, Mrs. Christensen, for your years of service to our schools. 

Jolene Hemann

Jolene Hemann

Jolene Hemann has been a Green Devil since her 9th grade year of high school. She has worked for the Osage school district for 32.5 years. She began as a part-time cook at Washington, and then was named the head cook in the middle school before becoming the district’s food service director in 1999.

Every year, she looked forward to the service club luncheon, a day when service club members in the community joined the Osage school staff for an inservice lunch. This day gave Jolene a day to catch up with people she also saw when she worked at The Maple Inn as well as staff members she hadn’t seen all summer.

Along with this day, she will miss the cooks at school and the students.

“I’ve enjoyed being out there and visiting with the students when they went through the lunch line. It sounds kind of funny, but I will also miss taking inventory and straightening everything out. I like things neat and tidy,” Mrs. Hemann said.

She also enjoys the sense of pride in this town.

“We are a proud and tight community. We give everything we’ve got to our kids,” she said. She has seen much change in food service in her three decades of work. “The rules and regulations have multiplied. Of course we had them when I started, but it was nothing like today. State guidelines are quite particular.”

This year brings a change in how retirement should go, too.

“There’s not a normal final. Other years, the last month is fun, and we missed all that,” she said. She plans to golf, be outside, garden, and maybe travel a little, but it’s not a priority.

“I just love it here in Osage,” she said. “School has been a great place to work. I like being with the students for the majority of the year, and I’ve liked the summers off.”

Mrs. Hemann, thank you for your service to the district. 

Linda Rice

Linda Rice

Linda Rice has been a lifetime Green Devil. She, herself, was an Osage student, and she’s taught here her entire career. Her children attended Osage, and now her grandchildren do. She has taught for 29 years in the district, and she was a substitute the year before she was hired.

At first she taught special education, and she also taught Pre-K before she moved to first grade. As a first grade teacher, Mrs. Rice always looked forward to the 100 Day celebration. She has loved so many things.

Mrs. Rice said,  “I will miss seeing the kids’ faces when the lightbulb goes off—the aha moment. First grade is important with them learning to read. It’s just the best when things click. I will also miss the staff and all the social interaction.”

Mrs. Rice has some mixed feelings concerning retirement.

“Last Friday I took little gifts to my students, maintaining social distancing, and the next day, I just felt a sense of doom. I’ve been Mrs. Rice for 30 years.”

Those 30 years have seen a lot of change, namely technology.

“Kids have really stayed the same, but the times have changed. Families have busier schedules and more going on. Over the years, my role has changed. I’m not just the teacher. I’ve become more—a nurse, a friend, a mother figure. Until the students felt comfortable and safe, I knew we weren’t going to get anything accomplished.”

The pandemic changed how Mrs. Rice envisioned her last year of school. “We had so much planned that we just couldn’t do. Those last few months of first grade were always so exciting,” she said. “We missed field trips; we missed our bear books; we missed the face to face interactions we should have had.”

Mrs. Rice has kept track of favorite memories over the years. She mentioned the skits she performed in, the teeth she has pulled, and the sheer number of students she has taught to read along with other skills. Mrs. Rice’s retirement plans are to do daycare for her grandkids, travel a little, read, exercise, and most importantly, do what she wants when she wants. Thank you for your service, Mrs. Rice. 

Judy Sloter

Judy Sloter

Judy Sloter has taught for the past 27 years in Osage; she taught in Georgia for eight years prior. Her final six years were spent being the Kindergarten Prep to second grade special education teacher.

Mrs. Sloter’s favorite day of school at Lincoln Elementary has been the day before Christmas break because all the students and staff would come together in the cafeteria and sing songs.

“That we celebrated together was a neat tradition,” Mrs. Sloter said. She will miss the students, the staff members, and all the relationships. “The best thing about being a Green Devil has been the sense of community. I think back to every big event in staff members’ lives, and we all came together in times of celebration as well as times of sadness.”

One change Mrs. Sloter has seen in her career is the switch to a focus on social and emotional health.

“Trauma training has really changed how I teach. When I started, the focus was primarily on academics. Now it’s more than that—it’s taking into account the health of our students’ social and emotional factors,” she said.

The end of her career has Mrs. Sloter missing a sense of closure.

“At Lincoln, the tradition on the last day of school is we watch the kids load onto the buses, and we all wave goodbye. It’s been so hard not having that,” she explained.

She plans to spend time with family and work on house projects that have been put off.

“I have loved being a part of the Osage school system. When I started here 27 years ago, I didn’t think I would retire from here. I’m so glad I stayed.”

All Green Devils agree. Mrs. Sloter, thank you for your years of service. 

Elaine Schwab

Elaine Schwab

Elaine Schwab has been a Green Devil since 1968, when she started 8th grade at the Osage Middle School after the closure of the Catholic high school in Stacyville. On January 3rd, 1994, she started her job as a paraeducator/special education associate. At that time, her own daughters were in the school system.

When asked about her favorite day, Mrs. Schwab actually listed every day of the week. She ate with the students and later supervised the lunchroom, and she came up with ways to make each day exciting.

“Monday Manners (I reminded them of manners at the start of the week.); Tasty Tuesday (We tried new foods.); Whispering Wednesday (We could talk, but it had to be in whispering tones.); Thirsty Thursday (Drink all your milk.); and Fun Friday. I especially looked forward to Fridays. I pulled every trick out of my sleeve, and I had a second generation of students coming through,” Schwab said.

Before working with students, Mrs. Schwab was the activity coordinator at Faith Home for 17 years, so she came with training that was carried from the elderly to children.

“The concepts were the same,” Mrs. Schwab explained.

When asked about her work, she said, “It’s never the same every day. You wear many hats. You learn to adapt, but the student comes first. I always step back and say, ‘If this were my child, how would I want someone to talk to them, treat them, work with them?’ People don’t realize that the school day throws so much at you, and you constantly adapt to it. We always had a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C.”

Mrs. Schwab was also the middle school cheerleading coach for five years, and she enjoyed that level of students as well. The end of this school year, however, was a difficult one to adapt to, especially with retirement ahead.

“I have worked with every single elementary teacher. I have loved working with students,” Schwab recalled. “This year I was in kindergarten but worked with other levels too. There was just no closure. I haven’t been able to hug people or connect with them.”

In retirement, Mrs. Schwab plans to continue volunteering for One Vision and Shop on State. In addition, she plans to spend time with her family, travel, and create art again. She wants to continue to do nice things for people and give back to the community. Thank you, Mrs. Schwab, for your work in the district and your community service. 

Pat Wickham

Pat Wichkam

Pat Wickham retired in December of 2019 after 26 years in the school district. She most recently worked as a middle school paraeducator/special education associate.

However, she had other roles in the district too. She set up the before/after school daycare when it first started. She ran study halls for the middle/high school. She was also a secretary in the high school. Being she has had an early start at retirement, she already knows what she is missing.

“I miss the relationships I’ve made through the years and the kids—I’ll always miss the kids,” she said. She enjoyed the first day of school every year. “Everyone is hyped up and ready to start the new year. I always liked the first day. Everybody comes with a smile.”

Mrs. Wickham has also liked the community.

“It is one in unity. This school was a great place for my own kids to attend, and now my grandkids come here,” she said. “People might not know the organization it takes to make a school work. You have to be at your best because you never know what might happen. We have to be ready for the unexpected.”

One thing Mrs. Wickham didn’t expect when she first started working at school was the change in technology. At that time, no one could have predicted that our students would have one-to-one devices or that we would use fewer books, papers, and pencils. The new addition would have been hard to imagine, too. Since Mrs. Wickham started her retirement in January, her exit had more normalcy.

“I was relieved I didn’t have to deal with the frustration of retiring during the pandemic and the unknown,” she said.

Mrs. Wickham plans to spend her retirement with her family and take more short trips to see them, especially her daughter’s family in Nebraska. She is also looking forward to spending time with friends, relaxing, crafting, and doing her own thing.

She leaves us with these final words: “I felt privileged to support the many students I’ve seen go through the halls of Osage.”

Certainly, that feeling is mutual. Thank you for your service, Mrs. Wickham.

Melanie is an English teacher at Osage Community Schools.

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