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325 years of education experience: 11 teachers retire from Perham

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Janet Turgeon, Kent Christopherson, Kathy Lauer, Gerald Shippee, Nancy Schmitz and Howie Kangas are six of the 11 educators retiring from the Perham School District this year. Not pictured are Marlette Anderson-Otto, Donna Fritz, Kim Kollar, Jeff Tweeton and Judy Keidel.

Eleven longtime educators retired from the Perham School District this year, taking with them a combined 325 total years of experience.

At a staff recognition day Friday at the high school, Superintendent Mitch Anderson told the retirees, "Your positions will be filled, but you will never be replaced."

During the ceremony, fellow teachers gave due recognition for all the retirees' years of service with songs, videos and stories in their honor. They said the experiences and memories of these influential teachers will linger long after the final bell.

Kent Christopherson has been teaching at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School for 34 years, the last 31 to third graders.

"I really enjoyed the third grade," he said as he unloaded his desk Monday.

There are things Christopherson is going to miss about the Perham School District, he said, including hugs and letters from his students, visits from his now-grown former students and the "nice people" he has worked alongside of for all those years.

Christopherson said that in his decades of teaching, "Families have changed a lot, which has made education and educators change."

For example, kids are more involved in activities now then they ever used to be, he said.

One thing Christopherson said he won't miss is the paperwork. He remains undecided on future plans, but thinks he will look for another job.

Like Christopherson, Kathy Lauer also spent 34 years in the Perham district. She taught every grade from kindergarten through sixth. For the last three years, she has been a reading teacher and, though recognized as a retiree now, she will continue to work until January 2013.

"I have found that teaching in the Perham schools for 34 years has been a never-ending learning process. I will miss the interactions with students and staff," Lauer said.

Her future plans remain undecided, but, "I do know that I will be starting my next adventure," she said.

Nancy Schmitz has been with the Perham school district for 32 years as a speech-language pathologist.

She is going to miss working with students and families, helping them strengthen their communication skills.

She will also miss seeing her 'school family,' whom she has been alongside of, "living life events as well as working with."

Now that she's retired, Schmitz said she will begin to enjoy two cups of coffee in the morning as she maps out her future plans. Those include getting to know her first grandchild, becoming more involved with Quilts of Valor and enjoying her many other hobbies.

Jan Turgeon spent the last 30 years as a school academic counselor. She helped students prepare and meet future goals by advising them on choosing their classes, helping them decide which tests to take and working through college options with them.

Turgeon said the most memorable students were those who overcame personal difficulties to achieve their goals.

"To see them graduate was a highlight," Turgeon said.

In the future, Turgeon plans on pursuing her other interests, including working with the Red Cross, participating in a variety of hobbies and spending time with her grandkids in Wisconsin.

Howie Kangas has spent the last 28 years teaching physical education at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School.

During the ceremony last week, the school's principal, Kari Yates, said life was going to be, "a whole lot less interesting" without Kangas around.

Kangas addressed his fellow teachers during the ceremony, saying, "It's been fun. It's been a great ride."

Marlette Anderson-Otto's most recent job description was 'special education teacher' for the Perham School District, but she wore many hats during her decades in Perham.

"I had great fortune in being employed with this district in many different venues for over 20 years," she said.

She will continue to run her store in Vergas, Quiet Cricket. And even though she is retired, she would like to continue working part-time with people with special needs.

Jeff Tweeton spent 26 years teaching high school English. This last year, he was chosen to be the guest speaker during the Class of 2012 graduation ceremony.

Gerald Shippee spent the last 25 years teaching at Prairie Wind Middle School. He was also a coach. At the recognition event, he enjoyed a comical rendition of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" by fellow teachers and coaches.

Donna Fritz spent 34 years teaching special education in Perham and plans to quietly retire.

Kim Kollar spent 28 years teaching family and consumer science, as well as physical education, in Perham. She is being recognized this spring, but will stay on board until October.

Judy Keidel spent 34 years as a para-professional in Perham.