By Kristen Miller
DASSEL-COKATO, MN As the 2009-10 school year comes to a close, Dassel-Cokato schools will say goodbye to a number of staff and teachers as they retire.
This year, there are 14 teachers who have chosen to retire.
• Darla Hagen 35 years, high school physical education.
• Mary Jensen 40 years, high school communications.
• Chrys Lein 24 years, high school special education.
• Shari Barberg 32 years, Cokato Elementary special education.
• Janie Kielty 32 years, Cokato Elementary second grade.
• Brad Force 24 years, Dassel Elementary second grade.
• Pam Dille 16 years, Dassel Elementary media specialist.
• Jim Ponsford 36 years, middle school sixth grade.
• Jeff Neutzling 30 years, middle school sixth grade.
• Susan Pospichal 24 years, middle school eighth grade.
• Sharon Wahala 20 years, middle school eighth grade.
• Al Muller 29 years, middle school special education.
• Mary Davison 21 years, Cokato and Dassel elementary schools limited English proficiency.
• Corrine McGraw 13 years, middle school seventh and eighth grade communications.
Some of the retirees who spent most of their teaching years within the DC School District share their final thoughts of their experience and what they will miss the most.
Jim Ponsford has worked in the district since 1974. In his 36 years, he has always taught sixth grade, even before there was a middle school.
Up until 1990, Ponsford taught sixth grade at Dassel Elementary, and then moved to the middle school once it was built.
“It’s just a great school district and two great communities,” Ponsford said, adding that its super people made his job easier.
As he retires, Ponsford is going to miss the kids the most. He will also miss the great staff he has worked with throughout the years.
Ponsford is looking forward to fishing and taking more trips to the Boundary Waters.
Darla Hagen will miss everything about her 35 years in the school district.
“I very much enjoyed the students, teachers, and staff,” Hagen said, who began teaching at DC in 1975, and is a physical education teacher at the high school.
“It’s been a real joy to come here every day,” Hagen said, adding that her 35 years is a testament to how much she enjoyed her job.
She also found an excellent support group with her fellow colleagues in her years at DC.
Hagen has no major plans for her retirement, just doing anything she wants to do. “I’m looking forward to that,” she said.
Chrys Lien began working in the school district in 1986, as an elementary art teacher, while she worked toward her special education license.
Lien, who is retiring as a special education instructor at the high school, is going to miss working with the students and watching them grow, she said.
“I enjoyed the variety that makes up every school year because of the individual needs of the students and creating new classes for those needs,” she said.
Lien will also miss working with a great staff and administration.
Brad Force began teaching at Dassel Elementary in 1986. Prior to that, he spent 12 years teaching second grade in Howard Lake, for a total of 36 years.
“[Dassel Elementary] has been a wonderful place to be for 24 years,” Force said, commending the great parents and staff.
Second grade has also been a wonderful age to work with, Force said, explaining that age group is so happy, creative, and caring.
“It’s a fun time in their young life to be a part of,” Force said.
He will miss the relationships with the kids and says the last day of school is always the hardest.
“I really did enjoy my time here at Dassel Elementary. The whole district is really strong. It’s been an honor to be a part of that,” Force commented.
As far as any plans for retirement, they are “wide open.”
Of all the retirees this year, Mary Jensen has been in the district the longest, with 40 years.
Having begun in 1970, Jensen was certified in both art and English and therefore, was an instructor for both in her early years at DC.
“I’ve been blessed with consistently great students and colleagues the best of both worlds,” Jensen said.
What she will miss most is working with the students and side-by-side her colleagues, who have become her friends, Jensen commented.
Working with the kids has helped keep her feeling young.
With 40 years in the district, Jensen has seen her former students become her colleagues, including the communication’s department chair, Amy Schultz.
“It’s been a joy to watch them grow up and come into the profession and become excellent teachers,” Jensen said.
Jensen thanks the parents who sent her awesome students and the school board for making “insightful” decisions throughout her career.
As she retires, Jensen feels really good that she spent 40 years living out exactly what she dreamed of doing since she was a junior in high school, “because I had a great teacher,” she said.
Janie Kielty began in the school district in 1978. In those 32 years, she taught all the elementary grade levels, from preschool to second grade.
Kielty is retiring as a second grade teacher at Cokato Elementary.
She has loved working with the staff and kids and watching them grow from the beginning to the end of the year, Kielty said.
“The progress they make in one year is totally amazing,” she added.
As she retires, Kielty will miss the kids and the camaraderie she has had with the staff, along with getting to know the families each year, she said.
“It’s been a pleasure working in this district. It’s one of the best around,” Kielty said.
“I thank everyone for the great career it’s been for me,” she said.
Shari Barberg, a special education instructor at Cokato Elementary, has worked within the district since 1978.
In those 32 years, Barberg has enjoyed the opportunity to meet and work with a variety of students and staff.
“I’m going to miss the people,” Barberg said.
“I’m thankful I had the opportunity to have a career that I like,” she added.
Susan Pospichal has taught a total of 35 years, with 24 of those within the DC School District, and the past 20 years teaching eighth grade.
What she has enjoyed most, has been working with the students and her colleagues, which is also what she is going to miss the most.
“You just become like a little family,” she commented about her colleagues.
She will also miss the excitement of there being something new every day as a teacher.
“There is never a dull moment,” Pospichal said.
“I’ve enjoyed my time and it’s gone so fast,” she added.
Jeff Neutzling began working for the school district in 1980. For the first 10 years, he taught fourth grade at Cokato Elementary, and then began teaching sixth grade when the middle school was built.
He has enjoyed working with the kids and the staff, but also the coaching aspect.
“I did a lot of coaching and that was a lot of fun,” he said.
Neutzling has coached basketball, baseball, and football.
He will miss the students, the staff, and the routine.
“It’s been a very good school district to work for,” he said, thanking the communities of Dassel and Cokato, students, parents, and the athletes.
“It’s been a very nice run, but I guess after 30 years, it’s time to move on to a different chapter,” Neutzling said.
As far as retirement plans, he has “no reservations or destinations” as of yet.