Evelyn Nyholm’s first teaching job involved teaching elementary school music in 20-minute segments at seven different elementary schools, every week. The classrooms had no piano, she hauled around her own lesson materials and so by the end of the week, Nyholm was so exhausted she didn’t know what was up or down.
“It was an absolutely horrible experience,” said Nyholm, who is retiring from her job as a teacher at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church’s preschool on May 24. “It was not in Spokane. The only good thing that came out of that was I met my husband.”
She wasn’t sure she would ever return to teaching because it had been so dreadful, but by 1982 she had a family and was living in Spokane.
“We needed more money and I needed something to do, so that’s how I got started here,” Nyholm said. Since then, she’s taught hundreds of children during her 31 years at the small Christian preschool that will close when she retires.
She’s been teaching so long that former students are now bringing their own children to the school.
“Why did I stay here for so long? Because this teaching job is utopia compared to my first teaching job,” said Nyholm, laughing. “The kids are so great. And the parents here know how to parent. They give their kids so much, but not too much.”
Nyholm’s classroom is decorated with large, colorful children’s drawings and a batch of newly folded newspaper hats hanging from the ceiling.
She jokingly complains about today’s smaller newspaper format.
“It makes a puny Yankee Doodle hat,” said Nyholm.
Toys are stacked neatly on shelves and an upright piano is the natural centerpiece in the day-lit classroom.
Reflecting on 31 years of teaching, she insists not much has changed in her classroom.
“It’s just an old-fashioned little school,” Nyholm said.
And that’s exactly what appealed to Laura Cook-Crotty when she visited Nyholm’s classroom looking for a preschool for her son and daughter.
“The one-room school house really appealed to me. It was safe and warm,” said Cook-Crotty, whose friend recommended the preschool. “And of course I had heard that Mrs. Nyholm was a great teacher.”
Cook-Crotty’s 4-year-old son is in Nyholm’s class and her daughter, who’s now in first grade, was there for two years.
“She made you feel like your kids had a third grandmother,” Cook-Crotty said. “All of us parents feel weepy that she’s leaving. You can’t get any better than Mrs. Nyholm.”
The preschool is Christian and Nyholm said she has enjoyed talking to the children about faith.
“I teach them the seasons of the church year, and that Christmas isn’t really about the reindeer,” she said. “But I’ve had Jewish kids here, too, and that has worked out just fine.”
Nyholm, who is a breast cancer survivor, said she’s looking forward to spending more time with her seven grandchildren, five of whom are younger than age 3.
She smiled and pointed to their snapshots posted on a cabinet door.
“That’s what I’m doing for retirement,” she said. “And yes, I will miss everything here.”