Oskaloosa celebrates 182 years of education
by Dennis Sharkey
The Oskaloosa USD 341 said goodbye to more than 180 years of teaching experience at a party held on Monday.
The district has seven teachers retiring this year that were honored with a trophy presented by Superintendent Jon Pfau.
“You will all be thoroughly, thoroughly missed,” Pfau said.
Included in the seven are longtime teachers Ron Ellis and Pam Jones. Combined the two have 71 years of teaching at USD 341.Ellis in his written statement said he never imagined he would still be teaching in Oskaloosa after 37 years. During the party Ellis prided himself on the fact that Oskaloosa was the only place he ever taught despite not being from the area. Ellis grew up in southeast Kansas. He noted that his first students recently turned 50 years old.
“This is my home,” Ellis said to the crowd.
Ellis began his teaching career right out of college in 1975.
He drove to northeast Kansas with two high school friends for interviewing. First he interviewed in Effingham and was offered a position. His second interview was in Oskaloosa where he accepted an offer from Bill Jones.
Ellis’ original duties included coaching all three junior high boys sports of football, basketball and track.
Since 1988 Ellis has coached the Knowledge Bowl and has brought back 19 league titles to Oskaloosa.
Ellis also served in administration capacities including junior high assistant principal and athletic director.
In addition to teaching and coaching Ellis sometimes has also been a performer. In 2000, 2005 and 2011 Ellis led reenactments of the Battle of Hickory Point at Old Jefferson Town.
Ellis received the Channel 49 Teachers Make a Difference Award in 1997.
Jones has been teaching at USD 341 for 34 years.
Unlike Ellis, Jones grew up and went to school in Oskaloosa. She graduated as salutatorian of the class of 1971.
After college Jones worked part-time for Bill Jones who had been her high school math teacher. Bill Jones offered an English teaching job and she has been with the district ever since.
When Jones was first hired she sponsored the junior high pep club and cheerleading. She produced the yearbook and was scorekeeper for junior high track meets.
In 1989 she was assigned the responsibility of planning the 8th grade graduation and still is today.
In her statement Jones said “Leaving this job is very difficult, because it was more than just a job to me; it was a very important part of me.”
Pam Wealthall began in Oskie in 1982 as a Trainable Mentally Handicapped Teacher then moved to 2nd grade for seven years, Kindergarten/1st for two years, 4th grade for seven years, and back to Kindergarten for 10 years, for a total of 30 years at Oskaloosa Schools.
Therese Kenkel is retiring after 22 years of service at Oskaloosa Elementary, teaching fifth and fourth/fifth grades.
In her statement Kenkel said she will fondly remember her co-teachers and staff, her many students, their parents, some crazy activities, as well as all the improvements to the school in the ABC Garden and the Outback.
In retirement she plans to spend her time traveling, reading, writing, cooking and being with her husband, four children and five grandchildren.
She holds a BME degree from Benedictine College, Atchison, and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Emporia State University. She previously taught at Patton Jr. High, Ft. Leavenworth, and ACES upper in Atchison.
Gail Schmitz has served USD 341 for 11 years as a kindergarten teacher. This followed three years at Wetmore teaching 6th grade and Title, 16 years at Jackson Heights teaching grades 7-9, and one year at Effingham teaching Title.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the students at Oskaloosa. The community has always been friendly and helpful and I have found my job to be very rewarding,” she said in a statement.
Nancy Landis received her degree in Dance from the University of Kansas, and later her Elementary Classroom certification from the University of Kansas. She began teaching in Oskaloosa in 1992, where she started out teaching 3rd grade and then she taught 4th grade for 15 years.
“My plans for retirement are to continue to dance, focus on my yoga practice, travel, work in the garden and read, read, read,” she said in a statement.
Nancy moved to Jefferson County from Lawrence in 1987 when her husband, Armin, began teaching in Perry Lecompton schools.
Jean Swaney began her teaching career in the North Kansas City School District where she taught for four years.
After that she moved home to Holton until her children were ready to begin school and she began teaching at Oskaloosa as a part-time scicene teacher.
Shortly thereafter she began teaching full-time in a variety of different classes including language arts classes.
After spending 10 years teaching at the high school Swaney moved over to the middle school to teach science for the last five years.
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