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Getting Involved

Anchors Aweigh!

Canyons District's
15th Annual Retirees Banquet


It’s been said “the great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” Whether they spent their careers teaching, counseling, coaching, giving of their leadership skills, cooking and serving meals, transporting students to and from school, or keeping schools in tip-to shape, CSD’s retirees have helped tens-of-thousands of children grow into caring, capable adults. That is a mighty legacy.

They are, no doubt, bound for great destinations. We wish them fair winds and smooth sailing!


If anyone has his ducks in a row, it’s Mark Besendorfer. In fact, he has thousands of them, many of which are in his fifth-grade classroom at Willow Springs. His first year of teaching, his wife (a fellow teacher) and other educators told him he’d have to participate in a new teacher assembly and perform the rubber duck song from “Sesame Street.” Wanting to be a team player, Besendorfer began to practice, despite having suspicions. The day before the assembly, the principal confided his colleagues were playing a joke. The next day, someone put a rubber duck on his desk. Now, 15 years later, ducks aren’t just a part of his classroom but a part of his teaching. When his students get a good score, they get to build a duck family on their desk. “They all have their favorites and their little families, they get really into earning a duck,” he says. Besendorfer works to ensure his students are welcome and have fun in his class while learning about the past. His students carry memories of his class far beyond their primary education, sending him graduation and wedding announcements years later. Besendorfer plans to spend time with his family in Southern Utah and Idaho as he celebrates his final year teaching and his 70th birthday. “I feel like I found a way for me to teach, it may not be good for everyone but it worked for me,” he says. “It’s going to be hard, I got a lot out of it and I’m going to miss it.”

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Mary Birt has always put herself in a position to help others. First with her own children, then helping her community. As Canyons School District took shape, she worked in the Human Resources Department, working to build a team from the ground up. A few years later, she found herself in the front office at Willow Canyon Elementary where she says she learned as much as the students at the school. “I’ve learned from them as well as from my own children, how to talk to them,” she says. “I didn’t have an elementary background but I am a mom.” Birt says she always wanted to make sure students felt safe by building a rapport with them as well as their families. She also made sure parents knew what was going on with their children, making more calls to families than she needed to but knowing it was important to keep them in the loop. Birt has spent nearly 15 years in education, more than 10 years of that with elementary students where she says she has gained experiences she wouldn’t have had otherwise. She hopes to come back to education one day to lend a hand when the time is right. Until then, she plans to tend her garden and travel with her sister to visit family in Ireland.

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For the last decade, students at Butler Middle School have been able to add another grandma to their educational family. Terrie Butler has been known as Grandma Butler of Butler Middle. “Grandmas give hugs, grandmas give crackers, grandmas listen. That’s what I wanted to provide for them — that comfort,” she says. “It was a pipe dream years ago and now here I am.” For 40 years, she worked for a leasing company before retiring for the first time. She knew after she retired she wanted to go to an elementary school and work with kids. Butler has been a fixture in the Bruins’ counseling center, the first face students see when they walk in. Whether students simply want to come in and say hello, or need a bandage, or time with counselors, Grandma Butler has been there to facilitate their needs. For all of the students Butler sees, she knows there are hundreds more she has never met. She hopes those she did encounter remember she was “willing to help, willing to love, willing to hug, and just be willing to listen.” Most of all, Grandma Butler wants students to know they have bright futures ahead of them and to remember to be kind, smile, and relax. In retirement, she plans to delve into her rich family history, having descended from a grandmother from Norway and father with English and Welsh background, all while keeping active.

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Gayle Christensen describes her career in purchasing as a happy accident. Looking for a job which would allow her to be close with her children, she began working part time in Human Resources for Jordan District before switching over to their Purchasing Department. When Canyons District formed, she jumped at the chance to be part of its small but growing purchasing team, starting as an assistant and moving up to become a buyer, and eventually a senior buyer. “I just never imagined at the beginning…that I would have worked my way all the way up,” she says. Christensen’s two decades of work earned her recognition this year as Utah’s Buyer of the Year. Her work has given her an opportunity to travel the country and meet people she will always remember. Christensen plans to stay busy in her retirement, watching the Utah Jazz, which she’s followed since being head secretary for former team owner Sam Battistone, and crocheting for her five children and 13 grandchildren. She and her husband, both 66 years old, are planning to get their kicks on Route 66. Christensen says she wants her coworkers to remember her for her positive attitude and her work ethic. “I don’t need people to remember, ‘Oh she saved $4.5 million last year,’” says Christensen. “That’s great, but the bottom line is that I worked hard.”

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For some students, school can be an intimidating place, especially for those who may not have a home to return to. Thousands of Canyons District students experience homelessness in any given year, and for the past 30 years, one woman has been in charge of ensuring those students and their families are seen, heard, and taken care of. Connie Crosby knows first hand the difference a mentor can make. Generally soft spoken, she was not prone to speak up in meetings until her longtime mentor, Pamela Atkinson, told her, “You need to stand up and be the voice for these children who don’t have a voice.” The moment she began working with people who needed more support than others, Crosby knew she had found her calling and it wasn’t long before she had earned the nickname, Saint Connie. Since the inception of Canyons, Crosby has gone from school to school, checking in on students and their families, providing support from clothing and food to shelter, all while ensuring families know their child’s school is there for them. “When you don’t have a home or any place to be, school is your home, it’s your security,” says Crosby. She says she will forever remember the compassion and drive of her education colleagues, as well as the resilience of the families she’s been privileged to serve. While she may be retiring from full-time work, she has no plans of stepping away from advocating for others. She’s also planning to work in some relaxation and travel with her husband on a bucket-list trip to Hawaii.

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Carilee Curtis has a proven history of working to help those around her, whether at an assisted living center or Jordan Valley School. “I started out as a certified nursing assistant,” she says. “I had heard about this school, and had a lot of neighborhood friends who worked here, so I came over here.” For the past 17 years, following in the footsteps of her father who was also an educator, Curtis has applied her nursing skills to working with students, some of whom are non-verbal, while becoming practiced in the art and science of education. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with teaching. “I love that little look they give you, that lightbulb going on in their eyes,” she says, “kind of a twinkle that you can see they’re excited about learning a new thing.” She will miss them dearly along with her co-workers whom she considers family. “The courage these kids have,” she says, “These kids are amazing and have really shown me to stop being so petty about my little aches and pains and to see there’s a bigger picture.” Curtis will continue to keep the big picture in focus and have more lunches with her eight grandchildren. She also hopes to keep growing and has goals of learning Spanish and more sign language — in between relaxing, a little, of course.

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James Dean knows what it is to put in a full day of hard work. After owning his own construction company for 37 years, he decided to retire but knew he didn’t want to just stay home. Nearly 15 years ago, a friend told him he should be a bus driver for Canyons School District. He had some reservations about the idea but decided to try it. “I loved it, I absolutely loved it, I still do,” he says. Dean loves the freedom driving a bus route provides, and cherishes the everyday challenge of putting a smile on the faces of the students as they board each morning and exit his bus at the end of the day. “I try to get the shy kids to not worry about being so shy. I say good morning and good night,” he says. “It comes around every time, it pays off.” Not only do the students on Dean’s bus know his name, parents know and recognize him, too. He makes sure his students arrive on time and ensures students with special needs can easily get on and off the bus. He takes care of everyone on his route, even animals. One day he saw a skunk with a cup stuck on his head. So, as soon as he finished getting students where they needed to be, he turned the bus around to find the skunk and free him from the cup. Dean relishes being able to relax in his yard and travel with his wife, but will miss his students dearly. He keeps letters and notes from his students taped on the front of his bus and has a collection of trinkets left behind and never claimed, and plans to make a shadow box of memories to comfort and cheer him in retirement.

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Debra Stewart Delliskave entered the workforce as an auditor for Fred Meyer Smith’s Kroger Brothers. As she progressed in her career, she transferred from her Seattle home to be near her parents in Utah. Once her kids were settled in school, she began volunteering in their school computer labs, teaching students technology. That’s when a principal, Dr. Wood, approached her and said, “why aren’t you an educator?” It’s a question Delliskave began to hear frequently. So, while continuing to work full time, and with help from her parents who watched their grandchildren, she took night courses and became a math teacher. “I never thought I would be a teacher,” she says, “and it wasn’t until I got a peek at education that I found where I was supposed to be.” As she wraps up her 35-year career at Midvale Middle, she feels the students have taught her as much, if not more than she taught them. “Getting the kids to know you care, that’s number one,” she says. “At that point, they start to believe in you, you are showing them you believe in them, and you both grow.” Delliskave is taking her grandchildren to Yellowstone National Park this summer before finding new ways to work with — and learn from — children.

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They say to always remain a kid at heart and Connie Ehninger has no plans to let go of her inner child. That mentality has driven her as an educator for more than 15 years. Ehninger started her career at the Canyons Transition Academy before becoming a physical education teacher at Willow Canyon Elementary. “I thought, ‘Let’s try it,’” says Ehninger. “The training and classroom management skills I picked up while working in special education helped me to be even more successful, plus we play such fun games that I feel like I get paid to play.” Ehninger has worked to ensure her students have fun while learning, procuring new equipment for them to use when she can, and making sure every student feels safe and accepted. “Most importantly, when you walk in those doors, no matter your personality, no matter your attitude or skill set, you’re going to feel safe in my gym.” Ehninger plans to continue to help others, filling her retirement with service. She also plans to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and pick up crocheting or knitting while staying forever young at heart. “My kids always say ‘Mom’s never gonna grow up,’” she says, “and I’m OK with that.”

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Thirty-years after his first match, former two-time heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa comes out of retirement to see if he can be the champ again, telling his friends, “There’s still some stuff in the basement.” That’s Rocky’s way of saying he still has some fight left, and it’s a sentiment that certainly rings true for Shaun Evensen who has taught for 32 years in classrooms from elementary through to the collegiate level. He began his teaching career as a history teacher, focusing on U.S. and Utah history before transitioning to science. Eight years ago, he began a small chemistry club at Indian Hills Middle School. When his principal got wind of it, the school decided to back Evensen’s club, which has grown from five students in its first year to 50 students this year. “Kids are more capable than they think they are and more capable than we think they are,” Evensen says. “Once these children realize their own capacity and gain confidence, they’re willing to work harder.” Fellow educators say Evensen’s classroom runs like a well-oiled machine and his students return years later to thank him for the structure and discipline. He plans to have a slightly less structured life in retirement, getting in some extra fly fishing time at Bear Lake and spending time with his family. But he’s not leaving for good. “Like Rocky, I still have a contribution to make somewhere with kids. I don’t know how that’s going to play out yet but there’s a little bit left in the basement,” he says. “Teaching is close to my heart.”

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Writer Pearl S. Buck once said, “If you want to understand today you have to search yesterday.” Russell Fullmer has always had a passion for history, even when he was considering a career in the medical field. Now, 35 years after answering history’s call, he has worked to instill that passion into the thousands of students who have walked through his classroom door. Fullmer has had the opportunity to teach at the same school, Eastmont Middle School, his entire teaching career. “I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Fullmer says. “When I was first here, we had more than 1,500 students and portable classrooms to fit them in. Now we have less than 600 students.” As with any career, Fullmer considered making changes himself, whether going to another school or moving to the high school level. But he says there was always something that reinvigorated him and drew him to stay at Eastmont. He has enjoyed the community that is Eastmont, from his fellow teachers to his students, many of whom have returned as the parents of new Patriots. “Eastmont has been a second home,” he says. “Not only because I’ve been here forever, but because I have true, lasting friendships with the staff and administration. I think it’s just an awesome place.” Fullmer just became a grandfather for the 13th time and hopes to spend time with his grandchildren while his wife rounds out her teaching career and the two make plans to travel in earnest.

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Phones are an integral part of our daily lives. Whether that’s the cell phone in our pocket or the complicated system that connects thousands of offices the moment you pick up the receiver. It’s that elaborate system that Tim Givan knows like the back of his hand. Givan began his career in 1973 with Mountain State Telephone and Telegraph where he worked across three states and became regional general manager. After a 35-year career, Givan retired. Then he received a call from a friend who told him about a new school district that needed help upgrading their phone system. In the 15 years since, Givan has been a staple in the Information Technology Department. “Coming back to telecommunications work, I don’t think was ever on my radar. I was just thinking I could help out,” he says. Givan says the work and his colleagues has kept him excited to come to work every day. “The caliber of people you get to work with, I can’t even describe,” he says. “They’re here because they want to be here.” He plans to retire, again (for real this time), and take the advice of other recent retirees, learning how to slow down.

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Ever since he was a little boy growing up — first in Nevada and later Utah — Doug Graham knew he wanted to teach and coach. “For years, my high school teachers and coaches were like father figures,” he explains. He started playing football and basketball at a young age, continuing to play football at the College of the Redwoods in California, then suiting up to play for the University of Utah. While his sights were set on teaching in high school, Graham’s first job came as a middle school teacher in 1994. Looking back, he says, he wouldn’t have it any other way. For nine years, he channeled his competitive nature into being the “best middle school teacher” he could be for all students, including his own sons. He later served as assistant principal and principal for several schools before wrapping up his 30-year career as an administrator at the District Office. Like the best linebacker, his constant objective was to remove barriers so students could make their play in life. That was the end game, whether he was working with students to unwind poor choices or instituting technology-free mindful Mondays to help students get back to basics after the pandemic. While Graham hopes to get in more quality time with his family, driving to the East Coast and visiting zoos along the way, he says he’s ready to tackle whatever adventures come his way. “Every day is an opportunity,” says Graham, “and I’m just looking to continue to find something that is going to be meaningful.”

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It’s been said cooking is an act of love, and Karen Groves has loved every minute of her nearly 25-year Nutrition Services career. Truth be told, it’s her second career — or third, if you count the job of full-time mother. Groves says she never really expected to do anything after raising her two daughters. But a parent with whom she carpooled suggested she try substituting at a school for fun. She was hooked, and later landed a job cooking and serving in the cafeteria at Butler Elementary where she worked part-time for 10 years. When her manager moved to Edgemont (now Glacier Hills) she joined her for another decade and some change, this time as full-time staff. “I just love being with the kids,” she says, “it’s really rewarding to watch them grow and teach them about manners and being polite.” Kids learn better with full bellies, to be sure, and a pinch of patience goes a long way, Groves says. “I always try to be helpful, and not be discouraging. I always try to be uplifting and happy.” As Groves steps into retirement, she plans to spread her wings and travel, visiting family, including six grandchildren, in Utah, Oregon, and Washington while also seeing more of the country.

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Education and teaching are in Susan Halligan’s blood. Her father was a principal, and her sister became a teacher before she did. “So, I just naturally fell into it,” she says, “It never occurred to me that I would go into something besides teaching elementary.” For the past 34 years, Halligan has helped mold future generations in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades as they developed an understanding of everything from math to reading. “They surprise me with their learning,” she says, “whether it’s reading a poem and their interpretation of it that I never thought of, or even doing their math differently. They just amaze me, every day.” While the Ridgecrest Elementary teacher will miss her students and her fellow teachers, she plans to spend more time in the great outdoors and hopes to travel to Alaska to see the northern lights and visit her family across the country. As for her students and coworkers, she hopes they will remember her as a lifelong learner and someone who cares about them. “I hope next year, or years after, my students will think ‘Well, Ms. Halligan knew I could do it, so I can do it.’ I hope they know how much I care and how much I believe in them.”

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Don’t malign the middle school years within earshot of Cindy Hanson. Having grown up in a remote area of Montana — the only girl in a family with seven boys — Hanson isn’t one to mince words about much, but especially when it comes to advocating for tweens. She spent most of her career teaching and believing in this notoriously misunderstood age group, and helping others understand the important space middle schools occupy in public education. A teacher through and through, Hanson spent 29 years in the classroom. Not quite ready to retire, she joined Canyons in 2013 where she served in high school and middle school administrative posts before stepping into the role of Director of Middle Schools. Colleagues know her as a hard worker and consummate professional who provided crucial guidance during the pandemic and helped lead the way to Canyons receiving districtwide accreditation. She’s also a talented vocalist who once sang in a country band with her husband, Guy, who is a professional musician. (And rumor has it this “small town girl” performs a pretty good cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”). Looking back on 40 years in education, Hanson hopes her colleagues remember her as someone who removed obstacles and marshaled resources so teachers had what they needed to take care of the kids. She plans to return to her childhood stomping grounds on a trip with family over the summer. More hikes with friends are definitely in her future — and, who knows, maybe she’ll find new ways to shape education and “hold onto that [middle school] feeling.” 

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Susan Henrie says her “biggest talent is education,” and she’s been honing that talent for 41 years. She practices the growth mindset she preaches, whether she’s working with young students to build literacy or coaching teachers on the science of reading. Henrie taught elementary students for many years in Nebo and Jordan school districts before taking on the role of literacy facilitator at Ridgecrest Elementary, which morphed into her becoming an Instructional Coach. “Education is the most rewarding and the hardest job you will ever do,” she says. Because of her work evangelizing the need to teach reading based on science, Canyons was an early adopter of instructional techniques that are now largely viewed as the way things are done. For her leadership in this arena, she was awarded the Apex Award for Student Support Services Professional of the Year. She says education is “about making the world just a little bit of a better place,” and she hopes that’s how she’ll be remembered by those with whom she’s crossed paths. A true lifelong learner, she wants to try her hand at some upcycling projects in retirement and looks forward to continued self-discovery.

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Working ski patrol can be a stressful job and is presumably enough excitement for one person. But for the past 37 years, when Bonnie Jahries wasn’t doing avalanche control or rescuing injured recreationalists on the slopes, she was teaching elementary students. “I think I went into education because you want to feel like you’ve changed a child’s life,” she says. Believing students should be excited about what they’re learning, Jahries enhances her lessons with avalanche transceiver and human anatomy demonstrations. She weaves into classroom explorations tales from her trip to Antarctica and the Utah dinosaur dig she joined. And, because it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong, she encourages her students to be diligent in finding mistakes, not just in their work, but in her own — going so far as to award Smarties to those students who may find an error in one of her projects. She hopes her classroom is one where students not only learn and grow, but grow together. “If kids can learn that they can love each other, take care of each other, and be kind to each other, it just changes your classroom. It’s really a good feeling, it’s the true magic,” she says. Jahries plans to travel and, of course, ski. With any luck, she’ll see some of her former students on the slopes and they’ll be able to take a few runs together.

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Michele Jardine already had a full-time job as a mother of three growing girls. Still, she took on the challenge of working part-time as a substitute at a Title I school. When the program she was a part of dissolved, she was offered a full-time job as a first-grade teacher at East Midvale Elementary. Twenty-two years later, she is still in touch with students from her first year even as she continues to mold young minds. “I think what keeps me coming back is it’s a fun challenge,” she says, “That, and the bonds you make.” Jardine taught six students from the same family and has been known to receive invitations to mission farewells, graduations, and weddings. While she’s retiring from full-time teaching, she has no plans to fully retire and would like to return to substitute teach now and then. Her students come first and she always worked to ensure each one felt important in their own way. “Hopefully they will remember that I took the time to meet their individual needs,” she says. Jardine looks forward to having more quality time with her daughters and 10 grandchildren, but says she will dearly miss her teacher colleagues and students.

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Chilean high school biology teacher, Ms. Elba Norris, demanded hard work from her students. One day, she called a young Roberto Jimenez to the front of the class to proclaim his senior project was the best she had seen in her entire career. “I was just a regular kid, kind of shy, short and skinny,” recalls the Jordan High assistant principal, “but that made the difference. So, I decided I wanted to be like her.” Jimenez began teaching in Chile in 1988 before moving to Utah where he learned to speak English before getting back in the classroom in 1996. He then pursued a master’s degree in administration and has been an administrator for the past 20 years. A community builder, Jimenez was honored this year by the Utah Jazz and WCF Insurance for his districtwide initiative, Puertas Abiertas, which connects Spanish-speaking families with resources they may need to help students in their education process. Because of his influence, Jordan High served as a polling location in 2017 so Chileans living in Utah could participate in their country’s presidential election. Jimenez looks forward to continuing his work with the Latino community after retirement, as well as serving a church mission with his wife. He hopes his students and coworkers will remember him as someone who cares. “I’ve tried to do that over the years,” he says, “pay attention to kids who have their daily struggles, be someone to listen, and someone they knew they could come and talk to.”

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When Heidi Keefer was 10 years old, her baby sister, who has a disability, had to spend many months in and out of the hospital. On hospital visits, Keefer wasn’t allowed inside the nursery, so she would wander into the health facility’s art room and help young patients with art projects. “I loved it. From that experience I learned not to fear people who look or act different or have special needs,” she says. “I knew at 10 years old that I was going to be a resource teacher.” There were a few detours. She worked at multiple jobs, including a nursing aide, before getting her teaching degree. But the pull of the classroom couldn’t be ignored for long. Teaching runs in Keefer’s family — she still has the school bell from the one-room schoolhouse her grandmother taught in — and it’s been the source of many adventures. Keefer began her 34-year career in Colorado before returning home to Utah and accepting a job at Indian Hills Middle School. She spent seven years there and another four at East Midvale Elementary before becoming a teacher specialist at Hillcrest High School where it’s been a delight to see the students she taught in elementary school grow into young adults. “Kids need consistency,” Keefer says, “They need structure, and they need to know you care. Period. If you have those three things, kids know they’re safe and wanted.”

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When Joan Kidd began teaching at Brookwood Elementary 37 years ago, there were no walls between the classrooms. She embraced the open-pod design, and while much has changed in education in the intervening years, she wakes each day glad to be coming to work…at Brookwood. “It’s been such a great school. The community is very supportive,” she says. It also helps to keep a growth mindset, which Kidd works to instill in her students. But it’s the relationships with students and colleagues she treasures most. “Every single teacher I worked with, I have felt was a friend. I felt we developed relationships and could trust them in every way possible, as a friend and as a fellow teacher. They’re incredible people and the same goes for the kiddos,” she says. Kidd doesn’t have a grand retirement plan, but she does hope to visit all 50 states, and she’s already about halfway to her goal. She also plans to spend more time with her mother, children and three grandchildren in between tackling the stack of books she’s been meaning to read.

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To hear Greg Leavitt explain his career, you’d think it evolved spontaneously. Upon returning from serving a mission for his church, he found himself walking the halls of the education building at the University of Utah. Soon after, he was standing in front of a classroom, teaching math at Butler Middle School. “I chose math,” Leavitt says, “Why? I have no idea.” But don’t be fooled. Leavitt didn’t become one of Utah’s most beloved and respected school leaders by happenstance. He was called to lead, colleagues say, because he’s an intuitive leader who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way with equal parts bullheadedness and compassion. It’s with that “Leavitt or Leave it” style he served several middle school administrative posts, including helming Draper City’s first middle school, Draper Park Middle, which staff and administrators referred to as the happiest place on Earth next to Disneyland. It’s why Hillcrest High’s graduation rate, under his watch, rose 13 percent — an increase propelled by the gains of students who traditionally struggle the most. Surely, it’s how he’ll approach retirement. After six months of spontaneity, Leavitt and his wife plan to carry out service missions, continuing to adhere to the ideals of Carl Buehner who said, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Reflecting on his years in education, Leavitt said he hopes for his students and colleagues, “there is some of that..that they felt like I was fair and treated them right.”

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Anyone who attends or works at a school knows schools don’t run without custodians. From maintaining the buildings to keeping things orderly, custodians make it possible for educators and students to have a productive day. For the last five years, Joe Nullar has been an integral part of keeping Hillcrest High humming along like the school’s perfectly-pitched student choir. Nullar retired from his job at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Philippines after 30 years, then moved to Utah to be close to members of his family. His brother-in-law told him about a position that was open at Hillcrest and Nullar jumped at the chance. Nullar doesn’t have to tell you he’s a hard worker, you can see it in his daily work and supervision over dozens of high schoolers who work under him as sweepers. Building a good relationship with students is important to Nullar who is set to retire for a second time. He plans to return home to the Philippines, at least for a while, to be with family, and supervise his farm. He then hopes to relax and travel with his wife. He hopes students and colleagues remember him as someone who set an example of how to be a hard worker with a positive attitude.

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Copperview Elementary is the school that shaped Teresa Olpin as a child, and it’s where she returned for a teaching job many years later. “I wanted to be with the littles,” Olpin said of her desire to be an elementary school teacher. “I wanted to be able to see the growth students make at such a young age.” In her 28 years of teaching, Olpin has impacted the lives of countless students across the Wasatch Front, spending the last 11 years at Alta View Elementary. But it was her first teaching gig at Midvale Elementary where she learned some of the most difficult students are also the ones you love the most. “Sometimes they’re the ones who need the most love, and they’re the ones who need the most attention,” she says, “but you see growth and maturity when you give that love and attention.” Olpin hopes her students enjoyed being in her classroom and that she had a positive influence in their lives. Putting aside her lesson plans isn’t easy, but she looks forward to spending more time with her husband and picking up her paintbrush. Her best friend (a fellow teacher in a neighboring classroom) taught her to paint, a hobby she says she wants to dedicate more time to in her retirement. 

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Cindi Pugmire enrolled in college aspiring to be a broadcast journalist. But one husband, two kids, a house, and a dog later, she found herself looking for an occupation more suited to family life. “My daughter was in kindergarten at Butler Elementary,” Pugmire recalls, “and I was volunteering to help her kindergarten teacher and I just thought, ‘Oh, now this is the job for me.’” In her 31 years of teaching middle and high school-aged students, she says she has been honored to learn with the greatest administrators and teachers: “I am a better teacher, because all of them are in my life.” She says the same of the students she’s been privileged to mentor. “I’ve had the opportunity to go to their mission homecomings and farewells, their graduations and weddings. I’ve unfortunately gone to some funerals and I’ve held their babies,” Pugmire says. “My life is so much more enriched because of them.” She’ll be rich in retirement, too, as she has more time to visit with her eight, soon-to-be nine, grandchildren in New York and St. George. She is running, literally participating in 5ks and 10ks, into retirement. But, even as she runs forward, she’ll be looking back on her students and the impact she hopes to have had on them. “This was the job I was born to do,” she says. “I just want to be remembered as someone who loves English and loved teaching with every fiber of my being.”

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As she was preparing to graduate from high school, Naomi Romero took to heart the question her educators continued to pose, “What do you want to do for a career?” Inspired by an elementary school teacher from her childhood, she set her mind on teaching and hasn’t looked back since. “She would stand at the blackboard and write so nicely and then she would pose,” Romero recalls, “and I thought, ‘I want to be like her.’” Retirement has given her cause to reflect on her roughly 30 years working with high-risk and special education students. “I was just thinking, ‘Wow I’ve done a lot of stuff,’” she said. Whether working for a migrant school program, with Native American students, or in library media centers, Romero has touched the lives of countless students. She began her time with Canyons at Butler Elementary and wrapped up at Jordan Valley School. In describing Romero, a fellow teacher said, she is very nurturing and has a unique ability to reach her students. “It’s neat to know you’ve planted a seed with them,” Romero says, “and then you see them grow. It’s special.” Romero starts her day with good music and has no thoughts of slowing down as she retires. She plans to volunteer at the Red Cross, spend time with her family as well as hiking and swimming, and volunteering at her nieces’ and nephews’ schools. “It’s been an adventure,” she says.

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Valinda Rose has always been a teacher. She recalls lining up her dolls and plush animals for daily lectures about life as seen through the eyes of a child — and she remained attuned to that youthful worldview in the 33 years she taught elementary school. About 12 years ago, she was encouraged to apply for a job as an instructional coach, which she says, “really broadened my lens of education to see that wider view.” The end goal is the same — making a difference in the lives of children — but she does this now by teaching teachers. “Teaching is about relationships,” she says, “and keeping the individual in mind, whether it's that individual child or that individual teacher. Who are they, what do they bring to the table, and what do they need?” In retirement, Rose hopes to pick up needlework again while learning more about her family history. She is grateful to have spent the past 45 years doing what she loves. “It's been kind of a wild ride,” she says. “I go home most days feeling like I made a difference today. Not every day. But most days. That's better than none.”

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Working on the insulator for solid rocket boosters on the first nuclear missile capable of being launched by NATO into Russia, and working on CoStar, the program which helped the Hubble Telescope realign its focus, are just two pieces of Patricia Stirling’s resume. “That was a lot of fun of course,” says Stirling of her CoStar years. “It was a very successful program that has made the universe expand.” But what makes Stirling’s eyes light up as she reflects on her working life are the achievements of her students. “There’s a lot of energy working with kids that I enjoy,” says Stirling who leaned into her passion for math and became a teacher so she could spend more time with her children in the summer months. Now, 31 years later, her students continue to grow under her tutelage. Draper Park Middle is routinely among the top teams in Utah’s Mathcounts competition, and this year was no different with the Vikings placing fourth. Stirling isn’t afraid to step off the beaten path with fun teaching methods, like creating a song about solving for X. The biggest positive of her career has been seeing students who struggle with math come out on top of the class. “When that happens, it’s just really special,” she says. As she steps into retirement, Stirling plans to spend time with her 10 grandkids, read more, travel with her husband, and volunteer for local groups.

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Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Art has been a passion for Susan Stocking throughout her life, and it’s a passion she worked to instill in her students even before she began to focus solely on art. For 31 years, Stocking has worked with students at schools across the valley. After about 20 years in the classroom, a colleague at Oakdale Elementary encouraged Stocking to shift her focus from reading and math to art. “It’s messy, it’s fun, the children love it, they thrive on it,” she says. Her favorite part is watching the kindergarteners thrive, particularly when they’re painting. “A lot of people don’t think the kinders can do much, but they can do a lot,” she says. Stocking always worked to help her students learn while also providing them with breaks from testing and other pressures of their days. She works little details into her classes, teaching her students about Picasso, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, while showing them how art evolves with time. She hopes when they travel and visit museums, they’ll remember their time in her class. Whether they pursue art professionally or simply gain an appreciation for it, “It’s something you never grow out of,” she says. “Hopefully it’s something they can do forever.”

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Once quiet and reserved, Elaine Van Amen credits her late husband and her nearly 30 years working in education for bringing her out of her shell. To stay busy, she tried her hand at substituting in nutrition services at Copperview Elementary in the ‘90s. “I liked the job and it was right close to home,” she says, “when we had summers off, my husband and I would go traveling, and I just liked the work.” Later, she moved into a permanent position, finally landing at Mount Jordan Middle where she prepared and served tasty nutritional meals. She says her coworkers and the experiences she gained working in schools helped her appreciate her gifts and gain the confidence to share those gifts with others. She also made lifelong friends with whom she’ll forever share fond memories, like the time she was mopping under a table and brushed one of her co-worker's feet with the mop. “She thought [the mop] was a mouse. I was going to die laughing,” Van Amen recalls. In her retirement, Van Amen’s 12 grandchildren, and about just as many great-grandchildren, will no doubt keep her busy. With quilting and sewing blankets and pillowcases, Van Amen says she’s staying out of trouble. She hopes to see her family more and get in some yard work.

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Lucie Chamberlain

Alta View Elementary

If a movie about super teachers were ever made, Lucie Chamberlain would be a prime candidate for a leading role. Fortunately for her kindergarten students at Alta View Elementary, she already thrives in a supporting role for them. Parents thank her for being a “super teacher.” She is also described as an “amazing colleague.” Whether students need help in the classroom or from home while sick, Lucie goes above and beyond to help them learn, overcome fears, and feel important and cared for. Lucie is the reason a number of kids went from hating school to loving it, according to parents. The way she exudes patience, sweetness, positive energy, and love for her students with special needs melts is appreciated and admired. One parent noted: “Both my kids wish she could be their teacher forever.” Another added:  “She treats every student like their learning and their feelings are her priority.” Super teacher, indeed!

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