By Matt Bunke, Community Editor
Eight teachers in the Watertown-Mayer school district are heading into retirement this summer after recently wrapping up their final year in the district.
The group, which includes six elementary school teachers, including four first-grade teachers, boasts nearly 300 years of teaching experience overall and more than 225 years in the Watertown-Mayer district.
The retiring teachers this year, who were all recognized during a brief presentation during the high school graduation, are first-grade teachers Linda Guspiel, Joan Fritzke, Nancy Hokenson and Vicki Wingert, second grade teachers Linda Stelzer and Sharon Tollefson, and seventh grade teachers Tom Dressen and Doug Voerding.
Many of the teachers recently took a moment to share some parting thoughts before leaving the districts.
Doug Voerding is retiring after 41 years of teaching. He came to Watertown-Mayer in 1977 after beginning his career in Austin.
During his first 15 years at Watertown-Mayer, Voerding taught seventh and eighth grade reading, as well as senior high speech and English literature. When the middle school opened in 1992, he asked to be assigned seventh grade English, which he has taught ever since.
Voerding is more known to the Watertown-Mayer community as the director of the fall musical and spring plays. He directed 35 musical and 35 spring plays, and in his early years, eight one-act plays. Voerding estimates that over those years, as many as 1,000 different students likely appeared on stage in the high school shows.
"I’m going to really miss working with all of the students," Voerding said. "Every year has been different and every class has been different, but I truly loved working with each student. I am also going to miss the great staff I have worked with at all levels over the years. Watertown-Mayer has been blessed with committed teachers who work very had to educate the children and young adults.
Voerding said it was tough to pick out any particular memories from his 35 years in Watertown-Mayer that stand above the rest.
"There are so many memories," he said. "Each day, memories were created, so it is hard to talk about any one memory."
Voerding said he has no special plans for retirement. He said he and his wife will now have time to do all of the things they have been interested in but never had the time for with his teaching and directing. He also plans to continue working as a part-time reporter and photographer for the Wright County Journal-Press in Buffalo.
"Watertown-Mayer has been a great place to teach," Voerding said. "The community is committed to providing a quality education for all students and recognizes the importance of all of the student activities. That has made a difference in the lives of all of the young people and a difference in my life. I appreciate the opportunity to serve Watertown-Mayer for 35 years."
Tom Dressen, whose retirement was featured in the Carver County News earlier this year as part of a student-written assignment, taught for 32 years, including 27 of those in Watertown-Mayer. Dressen taught at both the high school and middle school level, most recently seventh grade. He has taught U.S. History, Geography, World History, Civics and American Government.
In addition to teaching, Dressen has also spent a considerable amount of time coaching middle school sports. Over the years, he has coached baseball, football, softball, basketball and volleyball.
Dressen said the thing he will miss most is the daily interaction with students. Like Voerding, he also said the memories are to numerous to single any out.
"Any time I see a former student, more memories are remembered," he said.
Dressen said he plans to spend more time with his family now that he is retired.
"I plan on spending time with my wife on a farm in South Dakota, chasing my grandkids and fishing as long and as often as I want," he said.
Sharon Tollefson is wrapping up a 41-year teaching career, of which she spent the last 12 years in Watertown. Prior to coming to the Watertown-Mayer district, Tollefson taught in Waconia, Red Wing, Owatonna and East Chain.
Tollefson’s last three years in Watertown were as a second-grade teacher. Most of her other years were spent in Title I and ELL.
"I’ll miss the students and the co-workers the most," Tollefson said. "I’ll miss making a difference in my students’ lives."
As for memories, Tollefson said the best have yet to come. She said the best memories will be seeing the faces of her students after she has been gone for five months.
Tollefson said she is looking forward to traveling with husband and spending more time with her grandsons. She also said she would like to be a cooperating teacher for the student teachers at Crown College.
"I’d like to thank the Watertown-Mayer school district for the privilege of teaching there," she said. "These last 12 years were definitely the best in my teaching career."
Linda Stelzer spent more than four decades teaching at Watertown-Mayer, spending all but one of her 43 years as a teacher in the district. Stelzer taught one year of third grade in Mt. Iron, and her first six years in Watertown were at the sixth-grade level. She then moved to second grade, where she has been for the last 36 years.
Stelzer also has been active with the summer school program in the district numerous times in her career, first in the 1980s, and again the past few years. She has also taught water aerobics for three years.
"I’ll miss the interaction with the students," Stelzer said. "It’s such a joy to see when they are excited about a subject. I’ll miss the staff. It’s truly like my family. I’ve had several students of former students. That’s fun to experience."
Stelzer said one of her best memories as a teacher was during her early years in the district, playing broom ball against the other sixth grade classes. She said she also enjoyed having a student teacher last spring.
"It felt like I had cloned myself," she said.
Stelzer said that in her retirement, she hopes to visit some National Parks in Utah, spend more time with her parents, and do some substitute teaching and volunteering.
"I have so many great memories," she said. "I have been blessed. Watertown is a great place, and I’m so glad I could be a part of it for so many years."
Linda Guspiel has taught 40 years in the Watertown-Mayer district, the last four at the first grade level. She previously spent 36 years a kindergarten teacher, and has also been on curriculum committees and worked as the department lead.
"I’ll miss the students’ excitement of learning, their engaging smile, warm hugs and their shared stories," Guspiel said. "I’ll miss my colleagues who I have respected and admired over the years, and the parents who have supported me and their child’s learning in kindergarten and first grade."
Guspiel said one of her favorite memories would be the annual circus in kindergarten. Students would dress as a circus animal or performer and put on a circus for their families. She said she also enjoyed making gingerbread houses in kindergarten, and the reading bears in first grade.
Guspiel said she is looking forward to reading, traveling, gardening and spending time with family and friends during retirement. She is also planning a trip to Montreal and Ottawa this summer.
"My passion for teaching has been fulfilled by the experiences with kindergarten and first grade students," Guspiel said. "I want to thank the Watertown-Mayer district for a memorable and rewarding career."
Joan Fritzke spent 25 of her 32-year
teaching career in the Watertown-Mayer district, mostly at the first-grade level. After taking 10 years off to raiser her children, she was hired at Watertown-Mayer in 1987 and has been here ever since. In addition to first grade, Fritzke said she spent a "smidgeon" of time in second and fifth grade, as well as K-3 music during the early years of her career. She was also a member of the leadership team for five years.
Fritzke said that "far and away" the thing she would miss most is being with the kids. She also said she will miss learning all the new technology, particularly the new iPad initiative being launched by the district next year.
Fritzke said that over the years, her classroom evolved into the "Froggy Room," originally based on the Frog and Toad series. At last count, she said there were roughly 150 frogs sitting all over the place in her room. They are mostly gifts from students, including homemade, china, stuffed, bird feeder, garden frogs, and more.
"The largest one was a stuffed frog taller than me, and the smallest were seven little precious stone frogs purchased when one of my students went to France," she said. "I loved them all!"
Fritzke’s husband also retired this year, so she hopes they can accomplish some home projects together. Fritzke said she’d also like to do some traveling around the country, and that she’d always cherish her time in the Watertown-Mayer district.
"I can say that I always loved to go to school," she said. "We had our own family there. I also liked living in the same community so I could get to know my students’ siblings and parents. Many of those parents are now my friends. It’s been a wonderful 32 years."
Nancy Hokenson has taught full time in the Watertown-Mayer district for the last 15 years, but spent most of three years in a job share position before that, as well as the bulk of six years of subbing in the district, including four long-term sub positions. Hokenson has been a teacher for 29 years total, including her first five full-time years at St. Mark-St. John Lutheran School of Hollywood Township/New Germany.
The bulk of Hokenson’s teaching career has been at the first grade level. However, she also taught a combined first and second grade class for her first five years, and subbed in all areas of K-6. She also taught one year of third grade.
"I’ll miss being around the innocent, enthusiastic outlook on life young children have," Hokenson said. "I’ll miss laughing out loud as they shared the world through their eyes. I’ll miss seeing the incredible amount of growth – academic, emotional and social – that happens at the first-grade level, and I will miss helping to make that happen in someone’s life."
Hokenson said her favorite memories are not related to a specific event, but a combination of the things she experienced on a day-to-day-basis.
"My favorite memories are the unexpected, spontaneous hugs and exuberant thank yous that young children give so freely," she said. "My favorite memories are of the many "Tah-Dah" learning moments when a student’s eyes would light up and their grin would go from ear-to-ear, and I knew they "got it". My favorite memories are of watching 20 hands eagerly shoot into the air to share their thoughts during a discussion, because then I knew they had made a connection to what I was teaching. My favorite memories are of watching my students do the "right thing" even when they thought I wasn’t watching. These are the kind of memories that make you reflect and say "Thank you, God, life is good!"
Hokenson said she is looking to spend more time with her husband, Keith, during retirement, as well as being able to visit her grandchildren without having to spend hours preparing for a sub. She also hopes to do some subbing of her own.
"I want to give a big thank you to all the parents and other community people who have volunteered for countless hours in my classroom," she said. "You helped my students become the best they could be, and you made my job easier. I couldn’t have done it without you!"
Vicki Wingert is retiring after teaching first grade in the Watertown-Mayer school district for 20 years. No other information was available.