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Nine in school district say goodbye

The River Falls School district said "goodbye" to its nine retirees at a reception held at the high school on Wednesday, May 15. Shown, front row, from left: Mary Babler, Debbie Cernohous, and Jean Loudon; back row, from left: Rich Hudacek, Cindy Kusilek, Laurie Viney, Colleen Raye, Elaine Baumann, and Tom Westerhaus. Jillian Dexheimer photo

When the 2012-13 school year comes to a close, many familiar faces will be saying farewell.

The following teachers, administrators and staff have decided that after many years of service to the district, it is time to hang up the ruler and retire.

The nine retirees spoke of their most profound moments and their retirement plans.

Mary Babler, Rocky Branch Elementary Head Cook, 22 years

The best part of my years with the school district was meeting the children as they entered kindergarten and watching them grow into fine young adults. I feel so blessed that over the years the kids would remember the "elementary school cook" with an invitation to graduations, weddings, and celebrations of new babies etc. It is amazing what we as adults can learn from little people. The event that sticks out in my heart and always will was when I was picked to be the Superintendent for a day and Dr. Westerhaus was me. What a joy it was to visit all of the schools and see the good works in process. We do good stuff in this district. A shout out to all staff, support staff, administrators, parents and the River Falls community.

Future Plans:A very special friend planted a seed for me before I made the decision to retire. He said "Don't think of it as retiring, think of it as recreating yourself." So with that said, I have been able to spend more time with our grandchildren, friends, reading, and just being. It is good to live simply so others can simply live.

Elaine Baumann, River Falls High School Principal, 25 years

My relationship with kids. Truly what I cherish is that I know the young people who work downtown, have them, or had them as students and feel that in some very direct or very indirect way, I have been a positive influence on their lives. Certainly the farther I got away from the classroom, the less direct the influence, but as a principal, I was able to nurture a school climate that cared for the whole child while still setting high academic expectations for all students. Memories that I will always carry with me were times of great success such as earning the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence designation while at Meyer Middle School, and times of great sadness when dealing with the death of students.

Future Plans: I will read books for fun any day of the week, not just while on vacation. I may even stay up late at night reading and not have to worry about getting up at 5 a.m. to get ready for school. I definitely plan to travel more. I want to visit friends and family around the U.S. and take some of those extended trips that I have never had time to take. I will enjoy gardening at leisure and want to learn more about flower and ornamental gardening.

Debbie Cernohous, River Falls School District Bookkeeper, 19 years

I enjoyed meeting with all new staff and learning more about them. I worked with many ladies on their FMLA's and enjoyed the excitement of their new arrivals, and then they would come by with the new baby. I have also made many friendships while working in the district.

Future Plans: My plans for the future are to spend more time with my husband, gardening, and traveling with family and friends. We will also be able to spend more time with our grandchildren and attend their many activities.

Rich Hudacek, Meyer Middle School Math Teacher, 36 years

The best memories that stick out in my mind are the wonderful friendships that I have formed with so many of the people that I have had the pleasure of working with and getting to know.

Future Plans: Plans for the future will include gardening, enjoying our swimming pool more, traveling, canning, walks with my wife, and wine making.

Cindy Kusilek, River Falls School District Software and Staff Development, 36 years

I applied for the attendance secretary at the then Jr. High and was hired by DeWayne Meyer, Jr. High Principal. I was 19 years old at that time and had no idea I would be with the district for the next 36 years. Over that time I have made many life lasting friends. Some of them were even my teachers when I attended Jr. High. In 1998 I was hired as the district's software and staff development facilitator. I will forever be grateful that the district gave me that opportunity. Because I was given that opportunity, I have grown so much with all the technology skills I now have. This will stay with me forever.Even though I will miss the RFSD Staff, I am now ready to move on to my next adventure.

Future Plans: I will be working part-time at the River Falls State Bank. This is something I had wanted to do after I retire. I had worked there back in 1976 prior to starting at the school district and I enjoyed that type of work. I look forward to spending more with with my photography, going for walks, gardening, yard work and more time with my family. My Husband and I would also like to do some traveling.

Jean Loudon, River Falls High School English Teacher, 15 years

I treasure the times a student has said, "I hate to read, but I liked this book." Getting the right book into the hands of a reluctant reader can open the possibility of their becoming a lifelong reader. I think that even in an electronic age, reading is a critical companion for life's journey.

Future Plans: Although I have lists of things to do for fun and around the house, I want most to have unscheduled time where I can just be open to the possibilities of this stage of my life. Quiet introspection can be hard to come by in the midst of the busy-ness of working.

Collen Raye, Westside Elementary Special Education Paraprofessional, 14 years

There isn't just one event, but many that would define my time in the district. Westside Elementary is like family to me. They have been there through family losses as well as celebrations and I treasure those memories and actions. Working with behaviorally challenged children is always interesting and can be extremely rewarding also! I plan on subbing so I won't miss it too much!

Future Plans: Believe it or not my musical career is taking off quite nicely. Who would have thought at this age!! I'll be performing my stage shows as well as singing at private functions and smaller venues. For the past two years we performed our Christmas show to help Forward -- The River Falls Education Foundation, and will continue to do so with our "Sirens of the 60s" show this December. I'm hoping to get some singing engagements in warmer weather in the winter! I also plan on spending more time with my "Grands!"

Laurie Viney, Westside Elementary General Education Paraprofessional, 26 years

Kindergarten has changed so much in 26 years. When I started it was a half day kindergarten, then full day every other day, now it is all day every day. I have enjoyed watching the kindergarteners grow up to be young adults.

Future Plans: We sold our house in April and moved to our lake home in Chetek. I plan to fish and pontoon and enjoy the outdoors. We also plan to buy a camper next spring and travel around the country like we did with Brandon and Ryan.

Tom Westerhaus, River Falls School District Superintendent, 5 years

I will never forget coming into the high school auditorium on a September evening of my second year in the district and seeing a full house of residents and staff gathered to learn more about our Strategic Plan and to sign up to work on Action Planning for moving our district forward from "good to great!" I realized then, more than ever, that I had moved to a community that is wonderfully supportive of education, and that I had inherited a truly competent and dedicated staff working with children in our schools. I'd love to send a shout out to the entire River Falls community for welcoming Betsy and I with open arms! I can't believe how attached we've grown in the five years we've been in the district, and that's because so many people have made sure Betsy and me feel at home. Thank you for that. That's precisely why we will remain in this district to help welcome the next newcomers to this wonderful place called River Falls

Future Plans: For my first few months, I just want time to work in my yard, spend time with my grandchildren, help my aging parents, and drink coffee and tea on my porch with my lovely wife, Betsy. After I catch my breath (from 41 years of working in education!) I'll see how my past experiences in working with people might translate into my giving back to education and to the community.

Jillian Dexheimer
Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.
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