The Van Wert County Courthouse

Saturday, Jun. 12, 2021

VWHS seniors honor favorite teachers

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

For more than a quarter of a century, Van Wert High School seniors have been telling their favorite teachers how much they mean to them, thanks to VWHS grad and former school psychologist Randy Gardner’s wish to create a program dedicated to three teachers who were important to him.

VWHS senior Elizabeth Rutkowski shares a laugh with her favorite teacher, Jeff Kallas, after reading a humorous anecdote from her time in his classroom during Wednesday’s 26th annual Van Wert City Endowment Fund for Educators’ teacher appreciation banquet. photos by Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent

Gardner’s vision of creating an endowment to give seniors a way to honor their favorite teachers was an attempt to thank three special teachers, Gil Smith, Glenn Livingston, and Ralph Gallapoo (his grandfather), for the positive impact they had on his life.

Gardner and his wife, Cindy, were again on hand for this year’s teacher appreciation banquet, held Wednesday evening at Willow Bend Country Club, where 10 seniors read letters about their favorite educators. This year’s seniors included the class’s top five students, as well as five other seniors specially selected to read their letters.

“As I was thinking about this year, and our community of teachers and educators,” Gardner said following dinner, ”I was just thinking that those three men would be so proud of the job that the educators in Van Wert city and Van Wert County did this year. 

“When other people worried about other things, our teachers put kids first and were right back in the classroom when they were able to,” he added. “That’s the kind of dedication and accountability you have in smaller communities.”

Students in the selected group and their favorite teachers, were Grace Doctor and teacher Michelle Hoffman, Autumn Howell and school psychologist Doug Grooms, Dru Johnson and counselor Sarah White, Zach Mason and teacher Rachel Gehrlich, and Allison Schaufelberger and teacher Julie Bloomfield.

Top students, who all had 4.0 GPAs, and their favorite teachers were Jamie Burenga and teacher Mary Kramer, Isabella Carr and teacher Matt Krites, Elizabeth Rutkowski and teacher Jeff Kallas, Sophie Rutkowski and teacher Khandiss Klinger, and Rachel Spath and band director Robert Sloan.

What is obvious from over a quarter century of the teacher appreciation program is that the impact of teachers is intensely personal, as well as educational. While students thank teachers for instilling in them a love of learning, what is much more prevalent in students’ letters is how a teacher’s kindness, concern, and caring had such an impact on their lives.

Garner mentioned that fact from the student letters he has read over the past 25 years or so.

“Sometimes you don’t remember anything a person said, but you do remember how they made you feel,” he said.

Seniors often remember the humor and fun their favorite teachers brought to the classroom, and their love for learning. Other students became emotional in talking about how their favorite teacher helped them through tough times, as well as teachers’ concern and caring about them as people, not just students.

However, this year also had a stunning first, when Howell talked about how Grooms donated a kidney to her ailing father a decade earlier.

“My father will watch me graduate this year because you made the decision 10 years ago to give away one of your kidneys to help him receive another chance at life,” she said with emotion. “Your choice allowed me to grow up with my father and have a normal childhood. You changed our life for the better and I know no words to express how grateful I am you stepped into our life.”

“Let’s see you top that one,” Gardner said afterwards, while immediately turning serious to add he wasn’t surprised at Grooms’ selflessness, calling him “a special guy.”

Not only does Gardner’s program allow students the chance to tell their favorite teachers how they feel about them, it also provides educators with the often surprising realization of just how much they impact students’ lives by just being kind and by treating them with compassion and caring.

In addition to students and their favorite teachers, Superintendent Mark Bagley also provided school bells to educators retiring this school year.

VWHS seniors and their favorite teachers pose following the 26th annual teacher appreciation banquet hosted by the Van Wert City Endowment for Educators.

POSTED: 05/06/21 at 3:19 am. FILED UNDER: News