Two retirees at Boscobel Schools account for 76 years of service to the district and the children in this community—Donna Hill and Brenda Ott.
Hill has served in the same position, under different titles, for 41 years, directing the food service program. Ott began with the elementary school as a paraprofessional 35 years ago, before moving to the high school library as a paraprofessional 17 years ago.
To work with children that long, you had best love being around kids, and both women do, readily singing the praises of Boscobel students.
“I think our young people are my favorite part of the job,” says Hill earnestly. “I am truly impressed with so many of them. They are very talented, more special than they may ever know… The more we can support these kids and the good decisions they make, the better off the whole community is.”
“They keep you young,” quips Ott. “They are all good kids. Even the (so-called) ‘bad’ kids are good if you treat them well!”
With such outlooks, it is not surprising that when they consider what they might miss, the kids are at the top of the list, followed by their co-workers, for whom each had praise as well.
The two have seen plenty of change in their years with the school district.
Hill can recount the evolution of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food program from direct experience; some good—she is all for seeing people eat healthy and consumer fresh fruits and vegetables; some not—prices are going up and subsidies are dwindling, leaving the schools to grapple with yet more funding issues.
“When I started, I had a 60 or 70-page booklet telling me how to run the program,” Hill says. Now, most of the documentation is online, and if it weren’t she would need a fair bit of shelving to hold the manuals.
“At the beginning, I had one meal pattern for the entire school,” Hill recounts. “Close to 80 percent of the food came from the USDA in the form of commodities. Over the years, the commodities and financial support from the federal government as decreased to about 20 percent.”
The erosion of support has had a difficult impact on school districts, which are required to run the program as a self-supporting business. The current changes to nutrition requirements were too abrupt, in Hill’s opinion, and the price increases are resulting in fewer students buying school meals.
“Enough food for students has always been a problem,” says Hill. She says the day is long for students when you count in extra curricular activities and transportation times.
The school district is taking care of those needs to the best of its ability. And they have done it with fewer staff as the years marched along.
“I started with five fulltime and one part-time cook,” Hill says. “We made everything from scratch.”
As funding diminished, the program had to find ways to provide the same amount of food while reducing kitchen staff.
For Ott, the advance of technology and its impact on students and education is profound.
“Things have changed so much,” Ott exclaims with a gesture toward a bank of computers in the library. With a slight shrug, she says she has never been a tech person, but she has always been game to give it a try.
“I picked up a lot from the kids,” Ott says. “If I was asked for help and I didn’t know the answer, I could usually ask the kid sitting next to them and then we both learned!”
When she started in the library, the school still used a card catalogue to help students find books. Checkouts still involved writing the student’s name on a card kept in the front of the book when it was shelved, and kept in the librarian’s files when the item was checked out.
While she remembers the catalogue fondly, it truly is the books she loves. Ott’s eyes still light up with excitement when she talks about the pleasure of receiving new books.
“There is something special about a library,” Ott says. “Especially a high school library. Students are getting more enthused about books. And being able to help the reluctant readers find something that interests them is really satisfying.”
While the two women have enjoyed their time at the Boscobel School District, neither one is dreading retirement. In fact, they both appear to be looking forward quite happily to having fewer demands for their schedules.
“I am going to sleep in and not set the alarm clock,” says Ott with a grin.
She is looking forward to sitting by the Mississippi River and reading peacefully to her heart’s content much of this summer. Whether she bows to the pressure to take up golfing she shrugs off with a “maybe.”
“The whole thing (retirement) is really an overwhelming sensation of contentment, of relaxation,” she says bemusedly.
Hill is making no promises about how she will use her time either.
“I won’t go to work,” she says wryly. “Maybe I will get caught up on things. Or maybe I will just sit down and do my favorite thing, read a book.”
Doubtless, their extended families will get to see a bit more of these two ladies as they travel a little more. Just as certain, there may be an increase in traffic at area bookstores and libraries!
All Retirees Honored
The staff at Boscobel Schools gathered in the high school cafeteria last Wednesday afternoon to honor seven of their peers who are retiring with between eight and 41 years of service to the district.
“It doesn’t matter what your position is, you make a difference in the lives of our students,” said Rod Lewis, high school principal.
Lewis went on to introduce each of the high school retirees, giving each a going away present.
First up was Donna Hill, who has worked as food service director for the past 41 years. She was followed by Brenda Ott, who has worked as a paraprofessional and in school library for 35 years.
Lewis had this to say about Ruth Brown, high school secretary for the past 29 years: “She has kept me afloat ever since I’ve been here. My first day here she sent me packing to the District Office, where I was supposed to be, but didn’t know where it was.”
Lewis next introduced Donna Graham, who has 44 years of teaching experience, the past 15 in Boscobel in special education.
Deb Updike has been in food service at the elementary school for the past 18 years. David Theren is retiring after eight years in maintenance at the elementary school.
Fifth grade teacher Susan Beck introduced the elementary school retirees, including Principal Rick Walters, whose contract was not renewed after 12 years on the job.
Beck lauded Walters for her work with the Parent Teacher Community (PTC) program, including the installation of new playground equipment, as well as his rapport and involvement with the students.
“One of your greatest assets is your involvement with the kids,” Beck told Walters. “You do an excellent job if interacting with the students, eating lunch with them and showing you care.”