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Upper Valley Educators Retire After Long Careers

  • Hartford High School Principal Nelson Fogg talks about Luna Ricker during a retirement reception at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on June 4, 2018. Ricker has been at the school for 38 years. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Diane Langley listens during a retirement reception at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on June 4, 2018. Langley was one of the district employees being honored that day. She has been at the White River School for 29 years. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Assistant Director of the Hartford Area Career Technical Center Charles Reibel, left, reacts when Douglas Heavisides, director of Hartford Area Career Technical Center, talks about Reibel's 31 years of service in the district during a retirement reception in White River Junction, Vt., on June 4, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • School psychologist Ellie Anderson, left, laughs while Elizabeth Barker, Director of Special Education in the Hartford School District, talks about Anderson's 17 years of service during a retirement reception on June 4, 2018 in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, June 18, 2018

Luna Ricker long ago lost count of how many kids she taught in physical education classes at Hartford High School.

And heaven knows how many of their injuries and equipment needs and private anxieties she tended to as athletic trainer for nearly 40 years at her alma mater.

Ricker is among several long-term Hartford School District educators, and many classroom veterans and support staff retiring this spring from Upper Valley schools.

“We were so fortunate to have her for so long,” Athletic Director Jeff Moreno, a 1993 graduate of Hartford High, said last week. “Before the law said that we had to have a Luna, we had Luna. You could count on her to take care of bumps and bruises. And she knew what was going on with kids’ academics, with their families, with their coaches.

“Then you throw in everything she did making sure banquets and award ceremonies and graduations went smoothly. We are learning, slowly, how to take on everything she did. She’s a plugger. She’s a doer. She just does the work.”

Ricker would be looking ahead to doing that work anew come September, if not for a breathing condition that is compelling her, at 69, to join the long parade of educators calling it a career.

“This isn’t a planned retirement — it’s a medical one,” Ricker, who also worked with special-education students as a paraprofessional, said at her home in Wilder on Friday. “I really miss it. I miss the kids. I miss the staff.”

In many cases, the Hartford staff included colleagues Ricker had overseen as teens and earlier — among them Moreno, current principal and former softball and girls hockey coach Nelson Fogg and former physical-education teacher, football and baseball coach Mike Stone.

Ricker taught Stone tennis in the Hartford recreation program, took him and his brother to out-of-town football games during their middle school years, cheered for him through his playing days at the high school in the mid-1970s and worked alongside him during his 30-plus years as a coach and phys ed teacher.

“It seems like she’s always been there,” Stone, now athletic director at Lebanon High School, said last week. “Every day when I went to work, I’d get there early to work out, and she was already there.”

Ricker’s work went well beyond putting students through their paces in gym classes during the school day, at the end of which she made sure that the weightlifting equipment was clean and in place, that players had equipment and uniforms waiting for them and that athletes hydrated on the sidelines during practices and games. In September of 2001, she spent hours calling around the country to find a size-9 football helmet for 6-foot-6, 400-pound lineman Boomer Nott, who went on to earn a spot on the Vermont roster for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl all-star game against New Hampshire.

Perhaps her most important work — listening — never appeared on the job description.

“She knew that it was always good for the coaches to have another set of eyes and for the kids to have a confidant,” Stone said. “She really, really cared for the kids.

“She certainly wasn’t there to punch a clock.”

If Ricker hadn’t been teaching gym classes and keeping the athletic machine running, she probably would have spent all these years teaching music — preferably at Hartford High, from which she graduated in 1966. A longtime player of brass instruments, she attended Kansas’ College of Emporia planning to major in both music and physical education while playing intercollegiate softball.

“Either way, I think I would have been here,” Ricker said. “When I was in Kansas, I was hoping to come back to Hartford. That was the way we were all brought up over the years — to try to give back.”

Moreno sees no way to repay what Ricker gave, other than hugs and smiles when she attends Hartford High games as a civilian in her blue Ford Taurus.

“She’s pampered us,” Moreno said. “She’s spoiled us. We’re going to have to pick up the pieces, pick up the slack.”

Among the other Hartford educators who are calling it a career is Tom Wetmore. While he taught at the White River School for only four years, that stretch followed 36 years at Lebanon’s Hanover Street School, where his wife, Heidi Marcotte remained. Both are retiring this spring.

Wetmore taught special-needs students at Hanover Street. Not quite ready to retire, he joined the staff at White River School, and continued helping students with challenges ranging from dyslexia to Down Syndrome integrate into regular classrooms and “become successful in life.”

“A lot of former students (from Hanover Street) have been coming back to me and to Heidi as parents themselves,” said Wetmore, who lives in Hartland. “At White River, I’m also seeing former students who have kids there.”

Some of them ask whether Wetmore and Marcotte still supplement their students’ academic learning by taking them skiing at Mount Sunapee and Mount Ascutney and introducing them to livestock and maple-sugaring at the couple’s farm in Hartland.

The answer? Not lately.

“When No Child Left Behind came along, there was this high-stakes pressure for kids to perform well on tests,” Wetmore said. “It was sad, because it kind of put the kibosh on the ski thing. We had a hard time convincing people there was a need to do things outside that you can’t measure on an exam.”

Through all the bureaucratic challenges, Wetmore and Marcotte found rewards both in the responses of their pupils and in the support of their colleagues.

“Especially with autism, it’s always interesting, because there’s always something new to learn,” said Marcotte, who grew up in Hartland, went to Woodstock Union High School, and, like Wetmore, attended Keene State College. “And it’s been great at Hanover Street and in Lebanon because the staff is motivated and dedicated and welcoming to children with special needs. They are part of the (mainstream) class and the teachers take ownership of each child.”

Wetmore found a similar level of commitment at White River School, from which teachers Rebecca Taber (30 years) and 29-year veterans Diane Langley and Melissa Hecsh also retired this month.

“It’s been so much fun working there,” Wetmore said. “They’ve put a lot into the building, and it just glows inside. Like it was at Hanover Street, I went to work a lot and laughed a lot.”

In addition to Ricker and the four educators from White River School, Hartford is bidding farewell to Averill Tinker after 25 years teaching at Dothan Brook School and to Charles Reibel, who wrapped up a 31-year career in the district as assistant director of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center.

Meanwhile, among the long-termers joining Marcotte in retiring from the Lebanon School District are Mount Lebanon School paraprofessional Kathie MacInnes (29 years) and Lebanon High School’s Jamie Lawrence (31 years, Spanish), Margaret Cassedy (27 years, English), Lester Lawrence (21 years, health) and Janet Stevens (20 years, special education).

The retirement of so many educators and support staff is leaving administrators with a lot of big shoes to fill, a trend that has persisted in the last several years as school veterans reach their 60s and 70s.

Jeff Valence, principal of the Lyme School has to find a way to replace administrative assistant Judy Barton (38 years), counselor Helen Skelly (33 years) and technology coordinator Meg Franks (22 years).

“The big thing is that we have a relationship and that they have a love of the institution,” Valence said last week. “With Judy, we’ve been transitioning toward this day for the last two years, but there’s no replacing her.”

Rare among Upper Valley public schools, Lyme has been experiencing growth in enrollment, which already required the school “to hire new faculty in, so we’re used to doing that to a degree,” Valence continued. “But now we’re kind of at the cusp of the Baby Boom generation. There’s probably five more teachers who are going to be thinking about retiring in the next five years or so.”

Of the 12 educators and staff retiring from the Mascoma Valley Regional School District, eight served there for more than 20 years. Enfield Village School loses paraprofessional Sharon Bill after 35 years, counselor Terry Porreca after 33, elementary teacher Anne Dontonville after 30 and physical education teacher Joni Butler after 28. Long-service departees from Indian River School are grade 7-8 teacher Eileen Lary (32), administrative assistant Peggy Vincent (31 years) and grade-6 teacher Susan Jukosky (23). And paraprofessional Marcia Littlefield leaves Canaan Elementary after 30 years.

Meanwhile, Mascoma Superintendent Patrick Andrew is moving to the Moultonborough School District on Lake Winnipesaukee. He spent 21 years in the Mascoma district, first as a science teacher at the regional high school, then as an assistant superintendent before moving into the top job in 2012. Administrators retiring from the district office are director of special education Barbara McCarthy (18 years) and director of technology David Allen (16).

In Norwich, Marion Cross School is marking the end of an era with the retirement, after 51 years, of administrative assistant Dora Spaulding. On Friday, the school’s Parent Teacher Organization held a celebration honoring Spaulding and third-grade teacher Wendy Thompson, who is wrapping up 30 years of service.

In addition to the Norwich departures, seven Hanover High School staffers are retiring from School Administrative Unit 70 this last week of the 2018-2019 year, five with at least 20 years tenure at the school. They are educational assistant Dorothy Adams (32 years), athletic director Mike Jackson (29), administrative assistant Elizabeth Tedeschi (22) and learning specialists Ellen Clattenburg (22) and Randi Hallarman (21). Also, Joseph Stallsmith is completing 19 years service to the district as a guidance counselor.

And at the Hanover Nursery School, the board of directors couldn’t persuade retiring veteran teacher Betsy Osborne to submit to a farewell party. So they urged alumni and parents past and present to “shower her with memories,” in the form of cards, letters and photos for a book documenting her 30-plus years with preschoolers.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304. Education news also can be sent to schoolnotes@vnews.com.

Correction

Longtime Hanover Street School teacher Heidi Marcotte grew up in Hartland and attended Woodstock High School. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Marcotte's childhood hometown.