By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, WAVERLY, WINSTED, MAYER, MN Mary Mahon loves school, and the people at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District love having her around.
“I walk in the school, and it’s like being at home,” said Mahon, who has been involved with HLWW for more than 40 years.
Mahon’s career started with volunteer work, when her children were students at Holy Trinity Elementary School in Winsted.
“Title I was just starting, and they needed a para, only they called it an aide in those days,” said Mahon, who lives between Winsted and Mayer.
Mahon accepted the job, spending part of the day at Holy Trinity, and part of the day at Winsted Elementary School.
“Mary Stritesky was the principal at the time. She was the one who hired me,” Mahon said, explaining that this was in 1968, when her youngest daughter was in first grade.
After a few years, Mahon began working exclusively with the HLWW School District, liking the job so much that she stayed until 1999.
“The best part is being with the kids, seeing their progress and the smiles on their faces,” she said.
Even through she’s retired, Mahon continues to be involved at HLWW, through substitute teaching.
“To know all these people and all the staff how could I have been so lucky to be at school all these years?” she wondered. “I’m so amazed at the wonderful teachers, at all the schools.”
Mahon enjoys a varied schedule, typically working up to three days per week. Her duties are also broad, including office, library, and recess assistance, as well as classroom teaching assistance for preschool through fourth grade.
“I just love the position that I’m in,” she said.
School days of the past
In the past 40-plus years, school has changed quite a bit, according to Mahon.
“When I started, most of the kids came from farms, and everybody’s dad was milking cows,” she said.
Now, many children are removed from farm life.
Mahon remembers bringing wildflowers to school once, and telling the students that her husband got them from their pasture.
“The kids were asking, ‘What’s a pasture?’” Mahon said. “I was about to tell them, when one of the kids says, ‘I know what a pasture is it’s that guy who works at church.’”
Technology has also brought changes, according to Mahon.
“Communication has improved,” she said. “Teachers have a phone and computer in the room, and parents can e-mail or call to let them know who’s absent, or if a child is having an issue that day. It’s just instant.”
Mahon said that interactive white boards have also been a plus.
“In a kindergarten class last week, the kids were using the board to count by 2s and 5s, sound out words, and do a weather report,” she said. “After seeing that, it’s like it was the dark ages before. I’m just in awe.”
As for children’s behavior, Mahon said, “I just think they’re getting better all the time.”
Instilling a passion
Mahon credits her passion for teaching, in part, to her dad’s cousin, called “Aunt Mary.”
“She loved poetry, and she was a teacher, too,” Mahon said. “She was such a great influence in my life.”
Aunt Mary raised Mahon and her siblings, because their mother suffered from mental illness.
“Aunt Mary was like my fairy godmother,” Mahon said.
Mahon was also inspired by her Catholic elementary school teachers in Kilkenny (near Faribault).
Her family later moved to Minneapolis, where Mahon graduated from an all-girls high school.
Mahon’s husband, Joe, grew up between Winsted and Mayer, in the same house where the couple currently lives.
“He made many trips to Minneapolis in his ’39 Ford,” Mahon said.
After they got married, the couple farmed at Joe’s home place.
“We lived upstairs, and Joe’s parents lived downstairs,” Mahon said.
Their five children, Patrick, Amy, Marty (who passed away in 2002), Matt, and Therese, loved having their grandparents close by.
“We were really lucky,” Mahon said, adding that Joe’s mother, Mary Connolly, was also a teacher.
As a teacher’s aide, Mahon looked forward to field trips with the students, whether it was ice skating, roller skating, or riding on paddleboats.
“One time, we went to see ‘101 Dalmatians,’ and we all wore white t-shirts with black spots,” she recalled.
Many of the students Mahon taught are now having children of their own.
“It’s just so wonderful to see the families,” Mahon said, adding that she is good friends with many of them.
Mahon, 79, said that with “the big 8-0” coming next year, she’s thankful to be blessed with good health.
“I feel maybe as good as when I was 20,” she said. “I don’t have aches and pains.”
She and Joe enjoy walking on the Luce Line Trail near their home in the summer, and they use a treadmill in the winter.
Mahon said she doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary to stay in good health, and attributes her youthfulness to being “surrounded by kind, loving people.”