Retirees Start New Life but Miss Their School Family

Phyllis King was feeling pretty blue about retiring from Valley View Elementary School after teaching there for 34 ½ years. So when summer came she figured she had better take a trip to get her mind off it.

Good decision. She took her three children to upstate New York, where they visited Native American sites, and to New York City, where they saw Ellis Island, “Wicked” and toured the Federal Reserve Bank. There they met up with Vanessa Karginean, a Federal Reserve employee and former fifth-grade student of King’s, who showed them around the neighborhood.

“It was wonderful to see her all grown up and successful, and happy,” King said of the Rockford High School graduate. The experience helped her get over feeling “empty and lost” after her school career ended.

“This kind of made me see life goes on, and there’s a lot of things going on in the world that are interesting to get involved in,” King said. Still, she expects to “miss it terribly” when school resumes in the fall.

She was one of five Valley View faculty to retire in June, putting behind them more than 130 years of service in Rockford Public Schools. Most of those years were spent at Valley View, where they formed strong bonds of caring for children and each other.

“As I walk through these halls and see these faces, I’m overwhelmed by what this place has meant to me,” said Cathie Rusche, a social worker, shortly before leaving. “It was a very rich stay.”

Time for Gardening and Long Dinners  

Devoting so many years to public education was rich and rewarding for King, Rusche and their Valley View colleagues Jo Beier, the school secretary, teacher Kim Fowle and music teacher Deb Good. Losing them all at once leaves a big hole at Valley View, said Principal Bob Siegel, adding, “These women are a huge part of the fabric of the school.”

For them, retirement has meant being able to do things they haven’t had time for until now – but also the wistfulness of leaving a profession they loved and a school that was like family.

Rusche said she’s enjoyed gardening, cooking leisurely dinners for her husband and “perhaps having a social life.” Retirement has been “mostly exhilarating.” But the children she helped for 30 years at Valley View and other schools are not far from her mind.

“I think of ‘my kids’ at school and I miss them,” Rusche wrote in an email. “Will the next social worker/teacher understand them, care for them? Are they going to be OK?  Will I?  I feel very sad.”

So did some of the students. Before school let out, Jo Beier recalled, a second-grader broke down in the office and sobbed, “What am I going to do without Miss Jo?”

No wonder. In her 15 years as secretary, Beier attended to students’ needs from calling their parents to tending to them when they got sick. In one legendary incident, a class of first-graders ran screaming into the lobby after disturbing a bee hive on a nature walk. Beier and others pulled bees off them, tore their clothes off and applied baking-soda paste to the stings. “It was awful,” Beier recalled.

A Caring Culture

Such are the unpredictable happenings in a school of 600-plus pupils for whom educators are responsible five days a week. In return, staff receive unlooked-for acts of kindness.

“At Christmas time, all these families come in and give us gifts,” Beier marveled. “My back desk is completely full of presents from families and the kids. It’s unbelievable, the thoughtfulness.”

She and the others have many stories of the caring culture at Valley View, but none more so than Deb Good. She had to leave school early, in April, after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Parents responded with a flood of emails asking how they could help, while current and former students sent her bunches of cards. At the annual Relay for Life, students put out hundreds of luminaries as a tribute to her. Just talking about it choked her up.

“It’s the support of the people, the support of the family,” said Good, who taught music at Valley View for 25 years. “Whether you’re having a great thing happen in your life or a terrible thing, you know the Valley View family will always be there for you.”

“It is kind of a haven for us,” added Kim Fowle, a 25-year Valley View teacher. “You’re not alone around here – ever.”

Good has enjoyed biking with her husband and seeing her grandchildren over the summer while continuing chemotherapy. Come fall she plans to visit her former students who will be in sixth grade and have monthly breakfasts with fellow retirees.

“It’s weird not to get ready for school,” Good said. “Normally I’m working on a Christmas program in July.” 

Fowle and her husband have spent much of thesummer at their cottage on Glen Lake, enjoying time with their children and grandchildren, and getting ready for their son’s upcoming wedding.

But although retirement has been sweet so far, she succinctly summed up her fellow retirees’ feelings about leaving Valley View: “We’ll miss the people and we’ll miss the kids.”

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Valley View Elementary School

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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