By Lorrie Ham Laker Correspondent
Several long-time Westonka employees were honored at a retirement banquet in May, and another 22 were acknowledged for their years of service. Retiring staffers include Pat Berg, Director of Food Service and Nutrition; Mary Hughes, Director of Community Education; Tom Ireland, Technology Director; custodians Steve LaFave and Dannie Welch; MWHS science teacher Jim Goodwin, and Shirley Hills office aid Linda Lane.
Honored for 35 years of service were Mary Francis Gentes and Dannie Welch, while Jeannine Schultz received a nod for 30 years of service. Marking 25 years of service were Brenda Berent, Chris (Butch) Humbert, Mike Lamprecht and Kate Nygaard. Kay Ostman Saxvik was honored for 20 years.
Acknowledged for 15 years of service were Mary Jo Blanchard, Kevin Borg, Nancy Enger, Kristi Henkels, Mike Nelson, Irina Otterson, Robert Paul, Lynne Peterson, Eric Rodelius, Craig Schmidt, Wendy Sullivan, Jean Ann Thayer, Pete Westby and Patty Worden.
Pat Berg has seen lots of changes in her 40 years with Westonka Food Service Programs. What does she see as her biggest accomplishments?
"Going back over all the years and all the changes that I have seen, you needed to be flexible – composting, salad bars, cycle menu, summer feeding, dual entree offering, taste tests, branding the department (Simple, Fresh, Healthy), keeping a positive fund balance and partnering in education," she said.
Over the years, Berg has helped to serve over 11 million meals to several generations of Westonka families.
Berg has worked with many members of the community who have been employed with Food Service and says, "I will miss the staff."
Berg hopes the new director will enjoy the job as much as she has.
"There are a lot of new rules that will need to be implemented," said Berg. "With the new director’s background I’m sure you will see a lot of positive changes with the way we feed our students."
Berg is excited about her retirement plans to travel to Italy with other retired food service directors and some less exotic traveling as well. She also plans to relax and enjoy her first great-granddaughter, who is expected to arrive in June.
Mary Hughes has spent a total of 30 years in community education, the last 12 in Westonka. She is proud of the extensive growth in all of the Community Ed Programs in the last 12 years under her leadership. She also feels that collaborating with Pre-K -12 to enhance education and academic excellence to make Community Education inclusive through out the whole school district was a big accomplishment, along with the building of relationships in the community with the "lifelong learning" philosophy.
Hughes hopes the new director’s innovative ideas and his fresh energy will continue the growth in the Community Ed programs.
"There is no doubt in my mind that I leave this position in very capable hands," she said.
"Working with this outstanding district has been such a privilege," said Hughes. "I have been blessed beyond comprehension to develop relationships with so many wonderful employees and community members."
In retirement, Hughes plans to spend more time with cherished family and dear friends. She plans to travel more, continue going to theater performances, golf, walk and bike the trails, read more, spend more time "up north," leave the cold weather for some place warm for awhile in the winter, catch up on many unfinished projects and always continue with lifelong learning.
Tom Ireland has been working in Public Education since 1975 – first as a fifth through grade teacher; then fourth, fifth and sixth grades; middle school computer science; high school computer science; adjunct faculty at Mankato State University, and of course, as a Technology Director. The accomplishment he is most proud of is making sure that the Data Network was functional and accessible as close to 24/7 as possible.
Ireland hopes that the planned enhancements to the data and communications systems can continue to move forward under the leadership of the new director.
Ireland’s retirement plans include employment at a more leisurely level, traveling with his wife in their "retirement cottage on wheels," biking, fishing, gardening and spending quality time with family, including their six-month old granddaughter.
"I want to work at being a good husband, father and grandparent," said Ireland.
Steve LaFave attended school in the Mound School District for 13 years. After two years in the service, he started his custodial job in 1971.
"That’s a lot of years to spend in one school district but I wouldn’t change a minute of the time I spent here," said LaFave.
LaFave says, "I will really miss all the people at Hilltop very much. We are a family. But it is time to move on."
LaFave’s retirement plans include working with wood projects, planting trees and spending more time with his wife, grandchildren and family.
After 13 years of school in Mound and 35-plus years of custodial service with the Westonka School District, Dannie Welch is ready to retire. He has worked in every school in the district, but says his favorites were Shirley Hills and Grandview where he made some special friends.
He looks forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.
"I’ve met and worked with hundreds of staff and loved most of it," said Welch. "So thank you, I’ll miss the kids and my friends."
Jim Goodwin worked for the Westonka School District for 37 years. Most of that time was spent teaching science at Mound Westonka High School. He was also an assistant track coach.
Linda Lane worked at Shirley Hills Primary School for 18 years. She was hired as a media aide and after 15 years in that position moved to the office for the remainder of her career.
"I worked with six wonderful Media Specialists, a teaching staff that is amazing, and hundreds of children who walked through the Media Center doors every day," said Lane.
Lane continues to work in the Media Center as a volunteer.