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Goodbye to the ‘ah-ha’ moments

Suzie Romig

They will remember the student who put Ex-Lax in the teachers’ coffeepot and another who pulled the pins out of the classroom door then knocked and ran.

They can’t forget the cow pie in a pizza box on senior skip day, a classroom flooding under darkness during a film and the pencil-top eraser stuck up one elementary boy’s nose.

Mostly, however, this year’s retiring teachers from the Roaring Fork School District will remember and miss the “ah-ha” learning moments from thousands of students they have taught through the years. They will miss the camaraderie of fellow professional teachers, and they will relish the memories of former students all grown up who came back to say thanks.

This week, 15 teachers, administrators or employees from the district will be recognized after a combined 319 years of service in the schools. The public is invited to the retirement reception, 4-6 p.m. Friday at the Hotel Colorado, to share stories and wish the educators well as they head off for vacations, more time with grandchildren or new adventures.

This year’s retirees range from three middle or high school principals to two teachers who were among the staff who helped open Basalt Middle School in 1976 to a Basalt High teacher who tops the list in longevity with 35 years in the district.

“I have watched each and every student’s eyes light up when they have finally understood a difficult academic concept,” said Luanne Costanzo, a first-grade teacher who spent 17 years at Basalt Elementary and 27 years in education.

Among the teaching rewards also came laughter.

“Children are very tactile little creatures,” Costanzo said. “They love to feel different things. They love to run their hands up and down your shin when you are wearing nylons. One day, however, I was reading a story to my class and all of a sudden, I felt something very strange on my leg. I looked down, and a child was actually licking my nylons with her tongue.”

She said she will miss the children most since “their joy and innocence in life is contagious.”

Basalt Elementary colleague Barb Livingston displayed the gift for teaching special education students through 36 years in education.

“I will miss experiencing that ‘ah-ha’ sparkle that shines in the students’ faces when they finally understand a concept,” she said.

During 27 years at Basalt Elementary, Livingston has seen much growth and changes from a school with only two sections at each grade level to seven sections.

“When we moved to Basalt, some of the streets had boardwalks, and the library was a one-room log cabin,” she said.

“I am looking forward to being able to read, travel in the fall and winter time, and learn more about perfecting my digital photography,” she continued.

Student counselor Susan Faulkner is headed to retirement after five years at Basalt Elementary and 25 years in education in Ohio. She said she will remember all the hugs, especially the ones in the cafeteria on the days they serve spaghetti or something sticky. She’ll also miss “being whispered about and pointed to in City Market.”

Like other retirees, Faulkner will especially miss “all of the truly dedicated, hard-working, child-centered colleagues.”

At Basalt Middle School, nine-year principal, 21-year district employee and 32-year educator Pat Henry is leaving to have “more time with my wife to ski, hike, play, see our kids more and work less.” Henry said he will miss the kids and the fact that they keep you young and in touch with the real world.

Two founding teachers from Basalt Middle School remember the days when the school included only about 12 teachers and 200 students. Retiring seventh-grade instructor Mary Leslie said teachers used to encourage the students to play pranks on their colleagues, such as all dropping their books on the floor at once.

The Ex-Lax in the coffee prank luckily “didn’t get teachers sick because he wasn’t smart enough to put it in before it perked,” Leslie said with a laugh.

Even after 32 years at BMS, the math and social studies teacher said there’s “never a dull a moment.”

Basalt Middle School teacher Judy Palmer recently was honored with a $10,000 prize as Basalt’s most inspirational teacher of the year. She said the award, donated by an area businessman, was a validation of her 29 years at the school.

Basalt High English teacher Werner Anderson has worked in the district the longest at 35 years. When he started, Basalt had about 100 high school students and one principal for the elementary, middle and high schools.

“Being in one place long enough to teach two generations of families has been the most interesting and rewarding to me,” Anderson said. “My first class of students is over 50 years old now.”

Anderson doesn’t plan to give up teaching yet, but he and his wife are moving closer to grandchildren and property in Kansas.

As for the years, he said, “Honestly sometimes it really feels like a couple days before yesterday, but on Mondays it seems like it’s been the full 35 years.”

Another retiree who can’t believe the years have passed so quickly is Crystal River Elementary kindergarten teacher Susan Tindall, who has been teaching for 33 years, including 24 years in the district, and has enjoyed seeing former students all grown up.

“I am looking forward to not having to get up at 6 a.m. every weekday, being able to clean my house, and most of all being able to travel with my husband in the fall, winter and spring,” Tindall said.

Another longtime Carbondale teacher, Bonnie Cretti has taught social studies at Roaring Fork High for 27 years to an estimated 2,100 students.

“I will miss most my daily constant interaction with students because in a small school and small town, I get to know them not only academically but also personally. I will miss relationships as well – watching them learn to love to learn,” Cretti said.

As for retirement plans, she said, “I’ll wait for the door to close, and then I’ll wait for the new one to open.”

Glenwood Springs Elementary will retire two longtime educators, 30-year teacher Carmen Roy and literacy teacher Julie Beck Pope, who has served 32 years.

Pope remembers “a tear and a chuckle wrapped up in one” when a young man stopped by her classroom to reintroduce himself as a former second-grade student. He wanted to thank Pope for inspiring him to enter teaching.

Mike Blair, principal of Bridges High for the past seven years, also spent two years at Basalt Middle School after a career in Alaska. He plans to spend more time at his cabin in Alaska and to help other school districts start nontraditional high schools.

Medical preparation teacher Judy Burke is leaving after 16 years to have more time for family and recreation. She will continue to work as an on-call nurse at Valley View Hospital, which she said has been active in the district’s med-prep program.

Finally, custodian Leon Garot is retiring after 13 years with the district.

Suzie Romig is the Roaring Fork School District’s public information officer and an occasional contributor to The Aspen Times.


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