Nine teachers and two principals are retiring from the Steamboat Springs School District this year. They take with them a combined 230 years of experience.
The retirees were thanked during Monday night's School Board meeting and at a send-off party held Wednesday.
"We're losing some amazing people in this district," School Board President Paula Stephenson said at the meeting. "The years of service that you all have put in is just incredible. ... We really can't say enough for all that you've done."
The teachers retiring and the years they've spent with the district are: Kelly Meek, 33 years; Denise Connelly, 28 years; Shirley Belz, 26 years; Anita Handing, 21 years; Rich Galusha, 19 years; Ilene Stevenson, 19 years; Barbara Youngs, 19 years; Georgianne Merritt, 18 years; and Jeanne Lodwick, 16 years.
John DeVincentis, who has been the principal of Strawberry Park Elementary School for 21 years, and Dave Schmid, who has been the principal of Steamboat Springs High School for 10 years, also are retiring.
Meek, a physical education teacher and a coach, is retiring from teaching but will continue to coach boys varsity basketball. In January, Meek became one of six coaches in Colorado preps history to win 500 games.
Meek excelled in athletics growing up in Alamosa. He attended Adams State College, and in 1972, moved to Steamboat Springs with his wife, Karen. Both taught in the Steamboat Springs School District.
Meek will miss his fellow teachers and the students in the classroom who he does not interact with through basketball.
"I certainly had a great time with all of the kids here over the 33 years," Meek said.
Connelly, originally from Illinois, was driving through Colorado on her way to California years ago and ended up staying. She spent a year teaching in Fort Collins, and then moved to Steamboat Springs at the suggestion of a professor at Colorado State University.
Connelly wanted to be a full-time Spanish teacher, but took a job teaching four English classes and two Spanish classes. She has since watched Steamboat's Spanish program grow in leaps and bounds. Now, it has 1.25 full-time teachers at the middle school and 2.5 at the high school.
"It's got to be the kids," she said when asked what she'll miss most. "Their humor and their refreshing point of view and that look on their face when it just clicks and they just get it."
Belz, a business technology teacher, may be retiring, but she's not going cold turkey. She said she plans to substitute teach next year and stay involved with students.
After 32 years of teaching, giving it up completely would be too difficult, she said.
Belz grew up in Nebraska, got a degree in business administration at CSU and then her teaching degree, and began teaching in Wyoming. Six years later, she came to Steamboat, where she has taught for the past 26 years.
When she began, business and technology involved teaching shorthand and how to use slow-moving computers and typewriters. The materials may be different now, but the students aren't -- they make the job, Belz said.
"Definitely the students," she said when asked what she has enjoyed most. "That's why we're here. ... You become a learner, and not just the teacher. They have so many lessons on life to share with you."
Handing has seen a lot of students during her more than two decades as a learning resource, or special education, teacher at the middle school.
From New Jersey, she moved to Colorado in 1981 to work on her doctorate. She met her husband on a ski trip and ended up in Steamboat. Before teaching in Steamboat schools, she taught for eight years in New Jersey and in Denver. She has spent all of her 30 years teaching in special education.
"Teaching is a choice and it's one of the most rewarding careers you could ask for," Handing said. "The students that touch your life -- that's priceless."
Galusha, a professional artist, didn't set out to become a teacher. As a 31-year-old artist, he got into teaching because he simply "needed to make some money."
He ended up enjoying the job, and now says he will miss his art students and their work greatly.
"They do phenomenal work," he said.
Many of his students have won major art awards and went on to study art at good universities, he said.
Galusha owns Wild Horse Gallery and is an oil painter, focusing on landscapes and Westerns. Now that he's retired, he'll spend more time on his own artwork.
Before Stevenson's 19 years of teaching reading in Steamboat, she taught for 11 years in elementary schools in Maryland and California.
She and her husband moved from California to Steamboat in 1978 with their 2-year-old daughter, trading the ocean for the mountains. They wanted a small town to raise their family in.
As a reading teacher in Steamboat, she started the schoolwide ARC program with meager resources, and she also helped start a summer program. She has sponsored Student Council and directed the Soda Creek Talent Show, among other things.
Stevenson said she will miss the students, staff and parents with whom she has worked.
"I love their enthusiasm for life and learning," she said about her students. "They make teaching fun. I love to watch them become great readers who love to read."
Youngs, who is from Colorado, loved to ski, and she always had wanted to live in the mountains. So when she was looking for a teaching job, she turned to Steamboat.
She taught in Steamboat for six years, then left for about a decade, but returned. She has taught for a total of 30 years, and has worked with kindergarten through college students.
"I've managed to hit every grade level at some point," Youngs said.
She is retiring from teaching elementary special education to start her own business. She said the students are what she'll miss most about teaching.
"It's fun to work with kids because they have such a love of learning, and a love of life, and they always bring just fresh, bright ideas to everything," Youngs said.
Merritt, originally from Georgia, has been a kindergarten and second-grade teacher in Steamboat Springs for 18 years.
Her students' enthusiasm never fails to amaze her.
"I could walk in and say, 'We're gonna start a unit on cabbages,' and they would say, 'Yaaaay!'" Merritt said.
She, like most teachers, has loved the students she has taught -- their joy, openness and enthusiasm. She'll miss her students' little notes, the ones with drawings of rainbows and hearts that say things like, "You are the bestest teacher in the world."
When Merritt came out to Steamboat, she was a hippie who still had her Southern Belle roots. During the years, she became something of a Western cowgirl. She'll rekindle her Southern spirit when she and her son move to North Carolina to be closer to family.
"It's been an awesome, awesome place to come into every day," she said about Soda Creek Elementary School. "The people -- the staff and the kids -- are what make it."
Lodwick decided to become a teacher while studying at Oregon State University. She had grown up with an appreciation for the outdoors, as her father worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Yosemite and Crater Lake national parks. So after graduating college, she was drawn to a job as a middle school physical education teacher in Steamboat Springs.
Soon after taking the job, she met her husband, and a few years later, opened the Rocky Mountain School of Gymnastics. She had four boys, now all grown, and eventually closed the school to teach skiing. She returned to teaching in the classroom full time in 1992.
Lodwick, who has taught fourth grade since then, calls that grade the best, because the students are independent when it comes to zipping and tying their own things, but still have a great sense of humor. She'll miss her students, and also her colleagues.
"The thing that I'll miss the most are the friends and the people I see every day," Lodwick said. "Soda Creek is a family."