This fall will have a strange feel for Winston Walker.
It will mark the first time in 31 years Walker hasn't reported to a Steamboat Springs school for the beginning of another academic year.
But like many lifelong educators, Walker probably won't be able to wipe his hands clean of teaching when he officially becomes a retiree next week. Nor does he want to.
"I'm sure I'm going to stick my head in once in a while and see the new crop of kids," Walker said Wednesday from his Steamboat Springs Middle School classroom.
After more than three decades in the district, Walker has seen his share of students. In recent years, he's even taught the children of some of his former students.
"It's neat to see how the cycle of life continues," he said. "It's been a great, great career teaching these kids in Steamboat. The kids and parents of Routt County have been awesome."
Walker, who grew up in Louisiana, attended Colorado College before moving to Steamboat and accepting a teaching position at the old junior high school in 1973. He moved to the district's new middle school building in 1981. The science and math teacher has taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders and has seen his own two children graduate through the district.
He's now ready for retirement, which should mean lots of hiking, fishing, hunting and taking nature photographs.
"I'm usually happiest when I'm out in the woods," Walker said. "I plan to take the fall off and just enjoy it."
He deserves it, teaching partner Sally Howard said.
"He's really just a fine man," Howard said. "He's going to be sorely missed."
Roberta Gill started her career with the school district as a central office receptionist. She was only doing the district a favor by agreeing to take over the nutritional services department while it searched for a permanent director.
But the district kept asking her to keep the position.
"I just kept saying, 'Sure, why not?'" Gill said. "And that's how I got to where I am today."
Two decades later Gill, the district's director of nutritional services, is calling it quits.
"It's kind of bittersweet," she said, reflecting on her time with a department that served less than 200 school lunches a day when she started. This year, the district served an average of 1,400 lunches a day, in addition to catering district events and preparing lunches for child-care centers and private schools.
"I don't think there's many people who realize the scope of what we do," Gill said.
For one, Gill and her 12 employees have nutritionally analyzed each of the hundreds of district meal menus. The department also does daily carbohydrate counts for the district's diabetic students and won outstanding safety and sanitation awards as well as a state award for the best food service department.
"We've done pretty well for ourselves," Gill said. "And we have a really good time, and that's the best part."
Gill's contributions to the district extend past her department. She was a leader in the development of a Knowledge and Skills Based Pay system for district support staff and has been a member of the district's Collaborative Bargaining Team.
As for retirement, Gill looks forward to her son's wedding later this summer. She'll remain in Steamboat with her husband, and she expects to be on call as a dietician for the Yampa Valley Medical Center in addition to consulting work. She'll also golf and play tennis.
Ceci Shikles floated worked various jobs in the school district for 10 years before landing the job she always wanted -- teaching art.
She started substitute teaching for the district in 1974 and worked as an aide while she raised her children during the next nine years. In 1984, she was hired as the full-time art teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School. She moved to the middle school the next year.
As a high school student, Shikles knew she wanted to be an art teacher, and she found the perfect fit at the middle school, where she said the days are always unpredictable.
"You never know what to expect," Shikles said. "Every day is different, and every day is fun. Middle school kids are the best."
What she'll miss the most is the friendships she's developed with colleagues and students. Among her favorite memories are putting on middle school musicals and theatrical productions with fellow teacher Ann Keating, trips with students to Crow Canyon and the Children's Film Festival.
Keating describes her colleague and friend as a passionate teacher who cares deeply about students.
"There's an energy there with her," Keating said. "Until she's gone, I don't think we'll realize what we had."
Shikles, who is from the Midwest and attended the University of Denver, plans to remain in Steamboat after retirement.
"This is home," she said.
Intent on moving to Colorado, Susan Wenzlau and her husband, Bruce, started their journey in Durango and progressed steadily north, traveling from town to town in search of two teaching positions. They didn't stop until Hayden, where Susan was hired as a science teacher 25 years ago.
She taught there for 11 years before being hired as a technology coordinator for the Steamboat school district.
Fourteen years later, Wenzlau is retiring from a teaching career that spanned three continents -- she taught in Arizona, Nebraska, Australia and Africa -- and 31 years.
"It's time to stop," Wenzlau said.
Wenzlau said she's enjoyed teaching technology to students, particularly because it doesn't discriminate between the best and worst students.
"Technology is something every student can use," she said. "It hits all students."
District technology director Cathleen Nardi said Wenzlau possesses the calm, cool and collected demeanor required of technology coordinators, especially when computers are crashing and chaos ensues.
"She exemplifies the calm of the storm," Nardi said. "She cares about her kids, about her teachers and about the technology program at the middle school."
Coincidentally, retirement will take the Wenzlaus somewhere teaching couldn't -- back to Durango, where the couple has a home and looks forward to traveling, camping, rafting and mountain biking.
Lisa Wilderman was a big-city girl who wanted to live in the mountains.
But there was a crux -- she needed to find a job that was meaningful to her and others.
For Wilderman, the answer came through teaching, and her career in education has taken her to and from the Colorado towns of Fraser, Yampa and Steamboat, where for the past 12 years she's taught English at the high school.
"It's been a lot of fun," Wilderman said. "I think there's an energy that students have that keeps teachers going. I think that's what I'll miss the most."
Wilderman, who is from Chicago, looks forward to traveling and possibly even working abroad.
"I'll just kind of follow my heart," she said.
She enjoys hiking, fishing and sketching, particularly mountain lakes and scenes.
Her job description doesn't do justice to the role Lynne Myers has served in the school district during the past six years, her colleagues say.
Myers, the district's grants writer, is a member of the administrative team and has spearheaded special committees and groups covering a range of district issues.
But her lasting legacy might very well be the more than $5 million in grants she has secured for the Steamboat, Hayden and South Routt school districts.
"This has been a pleasant experience," Myers said of her time with the school district. Before moving to Steamboat, she was employed for 16 years as a teacher and principal at a vocational high school in Ohio and taught and traveled in Asia.
"I hadn't checked off the 'ski bum' on my list yet," Myers said of her decision to move to Northwest Colorado. "A little late, but I got it done."
She intends to remain in the area, where she'll enjoy retirement through traveling, playing golf, hiking and sailing.
"It's been a treat working with her," assistant to the superintendent Anne Muhme said. "She's a true professional who really does have the welfare of the kids at heart."
Soda Creek Elementary School teacher John Belz, a 16-year employee of the district, could not be reached in time for publication of this story.
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