Retirement is a time to slow down, take it easy.
For some folks, anyway. But not for Robert Liepold.
It’s true the veteran fifth-grade teacher at Ponderosa Elementary is retiring this year. He joins 11 other longtime Spokane Valley teachers who have announced plans to retire.
Even after 32 years in education, 30 of them in the Central Valley School District, the 61-year-old Liepold has no intention of slowing down.
The same interests he promoted as a teacher - nature, computers, writing and history - will keep him busy during retirement.
“(Retiring) was a hard decision, but I’m at the point where there’s a lot of things I want to do,” he said. “I want to get some stuff done while I’m still young enough.”
Liepold plans to travel to Europe, renovate his house himself, write some poetry, hone his photography skills and spend time on-line with his new Pentium-powered computer.
Nature, though, is his first love.
“If one thing stands out about Bob, it’s his dedication to outdoor education and the environment we live in and how to appreciate it,” said Carol Peterson, who was principal at Ponderosa for six years.
In 1989, Liepold started an environmental education program for all fifth graders in the CV district. The idea was to give them a day in the outdoors where they could see nature first hand. They would learn about streams, minerals and ecology from speakers from the U.S. Forest Service, the state Fish and Wildlife Deptartment, and the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. And they would do this learning at Liberty Lake.
Six years later, about 5,400 fifth graders have visited the lake as part of the program.
Liepold has seen more than students come and go - he’s also seen technology drastically change. “I started in education when the basic form of communication was the film projector,” he said. “Things have changed a lot.”
In 1984, Liepold was on the CV district computer committee, and founded the first computer lab at Ponderosa. Even now, he has been pushing for CD-ROM-based encyclopedias and satellite dishes to receive educational programming.
But despite his science leanings, he never wanted to trade in fifth grade for a specialized science teaching position.
“Fifth graders are really great,” he said. “They respond to learning, and they’re eager because they’re not into the social scene yet. Their faces light up, and you know you’ve reached them. I’m going to miss that.”
His enthusiasm is contagious. His daughter also became a fifth-grade teacher and now works in Southern California. She still calls him every week to compare notes.
That still-present enthusiasm for teaching is part of the reason Liepold wants to go to Europe.
“It’ll be awfully hard when school starts up and whenever I see a yellow school bus,” he said. “If I’m far away, maybe I won’t miss it as much.”
Meet some of the other retiring Valley teachers who also will likely feel a tug when they see those yellow school buses back on the road this fall:
Susan Dar, an English teacher at CV High School, retired earlier this year after 30 years of teaching. Before coming to CV in the mid-‘80s, she taught at Greenacres Junior High School. “The kids just loved her,” said Skip Bonuccelli, the CV public information specialist who worked with Dar when he was a student teacher at Greenacres. “She immersed them in learning to the point where they were just captivated and excited.”
William Cahill, music teacher at Horizon and North Pines junior high schools, spent his 25 years of service specializing in vocals and strings. “He’s very much a specialist,” said Dave Bouge, principal at North Pines. “He’s a very kind-hearted man, and the kids enjoyed being in his class.”
Ken Wendt, a 30-year veteran, is also retiring from North Pines, where he works as a counselor. “He’s a loving, caring, grandfather type,” Bouge said. “There’s not a time that goes by when there’s not a child seeking advice or just visiting with him. He’ll be genuinely and sorely missed.”
Jacque Manfred, a second-grade teacher at Skyview Elementary, is leaving after 25 years. “She has a very quiet character, almost a grace, around the classroom,” said Donna Conboy, who also teaches at Skyview. “The kids respected her for that.”
Bob Olson retires from Centennial Middle School after 33 years of teaching math and history. “He’s one of those teachers who is constantly being visited by current students and former students who are adults,” said Amy Bradgon, principal at Centennial. “He’s one of the most popular teachers I’ve ever worked with.”
Jeff Brown is leaving University High School after 31 years as an English teacher. What impresses people most about Brown? His wit. “‘Jeff Brown of renown’ has a great sense of dry humor, which I appreciate,” said Dave Bell, an assistant principal at U-High. “When he teaches, he really holds court. He’s the center of attention.”
Marvin Moore, a math teacher at East Valley Middle School, is leaving after 26 years of teaching. Ken Woolf, EV Middle School principal, said Moore will be remembered as an honest, tough-love type of teacher. “He talks with students the way it is,” Woolf said. “He was never afraid to say what had to be said to the kid.”
John Rees, who has been teaching for 18 years, retires from Evergreen Junior High this year. He also coached wrestling. “By far, he has the most charisma of anyone I know,” said Karl Ota, assistant principal at Evergreen. “He was one of those rare individuals that was able to talk with kids without being phony, and they’d listen to him.”
Doris Dierckins retires from Broadway Elementary, after teaching there for 27 years. Most recently, she taught a combined class of third- and fourth-grade students. “She’s one of those teachers who students remember and return to see,” said Karen Toreson, Broadway’s principal. “She’s always done many extras for her students.”
Judy Meyers, a fifth-grade teacher at University Elementary, is retiring after 30 years. Martha Reese, a teacher at University, said Meyers is an “elegant, artistic and caring lady. She always has a cheerful way of saying hello.”
Linda Coffey leaves West Valley High School this year. An English teacher, she is retiring after 31 years. “She teaches with humor and compassion,” said Lauretta Block, a teacher at WVHS. “She’s a great listener for her colleagues and her students.”
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MEMO: (Story from Graduation special section in Valley Voice)