A family tradition: school, community, teaching

Thaler family finds second home in school district

Young Fives Teacher Jessica Thaler reads ‘The Easter Bunny’s Baby' to her Young Fives class at McFall Elementary. Listening intently are, from left, Koko VanDerMeer, Taylor Ferris, Eli Foote, Ethan Wilkins and Liam Veltre

Though the Thaler family has grown and its members have come and gone from the Middleville community over the years, there’s something about Thornapple Kellogg schools that has always called them back.

Doug and Cindy Thaler have lived in the community for most of their lives and put seven children through the school system, three of whom who have made their way back to the classroom as teachers, accompanied by two family members by marriage.

Josh Thaler checks Urijah Schalk’s paper, along with those of his other third-graders at Lee Elementary

Maintaining a Legacy

Sons Josh, a third-grade teacher at Lee Elementary, and Samuel, a physical education teacher at Lee; daughter Rebecka, a paraprofessional at McFall Elementary; and daughters-in-law Jessica, a new Young Fives teacher, and Melissa, a physical education teacher at the high school and health teacher at the middle school, continue a tradition of Thaler educators.

The family’s great-grandmother taught at McFall; their grandfather taught Sunday school; and Doug and Cindy taught Bible classes when the children were growing up.

“Faith in God and servanthood were modeled by our parents,” Josh said. “We learned so much from our family and I think that definitely contributed to our paths.”

Josh is in his fifth year of teaching at Lee Elementary. He also coaches TK freshman and JV basketball and fifth- and sixth-grade youth basketball.

Samuel previously taught in Grand Haven, but when a position opened up at Thornapple Kellogg, he couldn’t say no to his home district. He’s in his first year as a physical education teacher at Lee.

“I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to be a part of the district, athletics and community that has played such a large role in shaping me into the man I am today,” Samuel said. “Middleville and TK are a team. It makes sense to be part of the school if I’m part of the area.”

Rebecka, the second youngest of the siblings, works as a paraprofessional at McFall in her sister-in-law Jessica’s classroom. Jessica, married to Josh Thaler, also helps coach the youth basketball team with her husband.

“I grew up watching and helping my mom babysit. I just learned to love on and help kids naturally,” Rebecka said. “It’s really fun and rewarding helping students in this position.”

Jessica originally went to school for a degree in physical therapy, but fell in love with teaching along the way, she said.

“Children are a gift from God, and I get to be that person that makes them feel loved and capable,” she said. “Teaching was just a natural fit for me.”

Melissa, married to Isaiah Thaler, sees her teaching job as an opportunity to help students overcome challenges they may face in life.

“You have this chance to connect with a student and help them through things at home that you maybe wouldn’t know about otherwise, or things they’re facing at school,” Melissa said.

Second-grader Angel Salaya-Qui gets a hand from PE teacher Samuel Thaler as part of his basketball instruction at Lee Elementary

Outside of the Classroom

When the Thalers aren’t teaching or coaching, they’re preparing for Sunday night family dinners, birthday parties, Gus Macker tournaments or the Barry County Fair.

“We spend a lot of time together,” Jessica said. “It’s really a lot of fun.”

The siblings also accompany each other on summer vacations, camping trips and other adventures in Middleville.

All five Thalers agree that Thornapple Kellogg is what it is because the community works closely with the school.

“When I think of Middleville, I can’t help but think of Thornapple Kellogg,” Samuel said. “That’s how most people see the school district in the area; it’s really something special.”

The Thaler siblings and mom and dad are looking forward to raising their kids and grandkids in the same district.

“We are very proud of all of our kids,” Doug Thaler said. “It is great to see them getting where they were destined to be.”

Samuel Thaler teaches passing techniques to his Lee Elementary PE students, including Owen Bremer, in red and back shirt, and Sophia Jones, in blue and white striped shirt
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio.

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