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‘Retirement Tea’ honors nine Charles City educators

‘Retirement Tea’ honors nine Charles City educators
Retiring employees of the Charles City School District were recognized Thursday at a “Retirement Tea” at the Charles City Public Library. Pictured, front, Cathy Blanchard, Melinda Masters and Julie Parker. Back, Larry Wolfe, Julie Colasuonno, Julie Hollister and Don Betts. Not pictured are Todd Forsythe and Ann Haines. (Photo submitted.)
‘Retirement Tea’ honors nine Charles City educators
Don Betts is congratulated by a visitor at Thursday’s “Retirement Tea.” Betts was one of nine Charles City educators honored at the event, which was held at the Charles City Public Library. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

The Charles City School District recognized the careers of nine retiring teachers and staff members Thursday afternoon in the Zastrow River Room at the Charles City Public Library.

The ‘Retirement Tea’ honored the careers of Don Betts, Julie Colasuonno, Cathy Blanchard, Todd Forsyth, Ann Hanes, Julie Hollister, Melinda Masters, Julie Parker and Larry Wolfe.

The event was on for the first time in three years, as pandemic precautions caused the annual celebration to be cancelled in 2020 and 2021. Charles City students provided food and refreshments for Thursday’s gathering.

Don Betts
Betts, the director, and teacher at Carrie Lane, will be retiring from his role after the end of the school year. Betts has been the director of Carrie Lane for 27 years.

Although Betts hadn’t always planned to be the director of an alternative school, when asked if he would have chosen a different path or changed his career, he said, “I wish I could start sooner. There’s nothing about this job that I would change.”

He initially started his teaching career as a social studies and physical education teacher. Betts worked in New Hartford, which soon became Dike-New Hartford. When he had to find another job due to a teacher overflow, Betts decided to get a special education certification and worked in New Hartford for three years.

Betts chose the Charles City alternative school director over another job offer in Oskaloosa. He still lives in New Hartford and has made the 45-minute commute to Carrie Lane every school day for 27 years.

“I’m ready to not do that anymore,” Betts said. He said he would miss “the love you share between your students and the opportunities you give them.” He said he loved working with smaller groups of students because it created a better bond and relationship between him and the students.

He also said he would miss working with fellow teacher Josh Dean, who has been working with him at Carrie Lane for the last eight years, calling Dean an “absolutely phenomenal man.”

Julie Colasuonno
Colasuonno, also known as “Mrs. C” at Washington Elementary school, served at the Charles City School District for 23 years and is retiring as a Title I para-professional for the district.

Colasuonno has spent the past 11 years at Washington Elementary School meeting with different groups of students to strengthen their reading and writing skills. Before that, Colasuonno spent 12 years as a member of PTO at Washington, working with other members of the organization to fundraise for the enhancement of children’s academic and social experiences during their elementary school years.

She said she feels fulfilled by her time in the school community, and if given a chance to go through that time again, she wouldn’t change anything she did during her career.

Among her many accomplishments, she lists her assistance with the renovation of a new playground with an inclusive surface at Washington. She said she would like to see its completion and further additions to it in years to come.

Beyond the playground, Colasuonno would like to see the community continue to have the mission of being a “regardless school” for the students, faculty, and other members of the school body. In years to come, Colasuonno said she hopes to see additional funds for maintaining and updating the school’s facilities to prepare them for the future of educating our students.

“Every day is a new day,” she said. “No matter what happened the day before, let it go and enjoy the new day.”

She said one of her favorite things about working at Washington Elementary is that everyone treats each other like family. Another highlight was spending her days working with the students. Colasuonno said she will miss working with everyone on a daily basis and will also miss the relationship she has formed with her Title I team, including Judy Kobliska, Carrie Eiklenborg, and Tracy Frein.

Cathy Blanchard
Blanchard is set to retire after two decades of English Language Learner (ELL) education. Blanchard started her job in Charles City as a para-educator in the kindergarten department. After being given the opportunity to be the first ELL teacher, Blanchard started making an impact on students from numerous ethnic backgrounds.

Blanchard first joined the school district 27 years ago as a para-educator and was given a new opportunity as an ELL education teacher after four years.

“I have been the only one in this position,” she said “When I started, I only had one student, then I was asked to create this program. It was not something I thought about doing. It was just something that evolved.”

In Blanchard’s High School classroom, she has a tree decoration on her wall. On this tree are flags representing all of the students her program has touched over the years. Twenty flags are flown, ranging from Sweden to the Philippines, with the bottom of the tree reading, “This is us, and these are our roots.”

Blanchard said her favorite part of her job was the students she has worked with at both elementary schools, the middle school and the high school.

“I feel like I’ve just had the best kids, I’ve enjoyed every day with the students that I’ve had,” she said. “Many times, it hasn’t even felt like a job.”

As the first and only ELL instructor at Charles City, Blanchard said she would like to see the program continue to grow after she leaves.

“In this position, we look at things a little bit different because not only are we working on learning English but also the academic side of it, so it is kind of a double job,” she said. “Having kids learn the language while they’re working in high school, they have to earn credits so just understanding that that’s just part of the process and it takes time, because they all work differently and this is so individualized.”

After retirement, Blanchard plans to travel with her husband, Craig, and spend time with her children and grandchildren.

Todd Forsyth
Forsyth served as a member of the Charles City Community School for 29 years and has spent almost his entire life as a school teacher.

Forsyth held many positions throughout his time working for the district, and was the Activities Director for the past 12 years. He worked as the boys’ basketball coach for 26 years, spent eight years as the work experience coordinator, and taught business classes all 29 years. Forsyth said that if he were to go through it all again, he would not do anything differently, and overall he is pleased with how his time in the district went and the impact he had on nearly three decades of students and families.

After he retires from the district, Forsyth hopes to see the school continue to help students grow and work towards achieving their goals, whether those be in the classroom or any aspect of their lives. He wishes for the district to continue to be a support system for students in their daily lives beyond the classroom. He also hopes to see improvement to the school’s facilities and the many areas that help students succeed.

During a typical work day, Forsyth would be busy preparing and presenting lessons for school, coaching sports teams, scouting for the different sports teams he helped with, and working the frequent extracurricular activities after school. Beyond those daily duties, he frequently traveled across the country for various school-related activities and sports events.

He said that one of his favorite memories from his time in Charles City was when he was coaching a 2000-season basketball game for the boy’s team. Charles City had a lot of talent on their team and was ranked number three in the district, while their opponent Forest City was ranked number two. The game was sold out and packed with people coming to see the outcome, and there were college coaches present to watch and observe the players. Overall he remembers it as an incredible experience.

Forsyth said one of his favorite aspects of working in Charles City’s schools was getting to know and form relationships with both staff and students throughout the many positions that he enjoyed. He also had the opportunity to teach all of his children and his nieces and nephews, which he loved getting to do.

As he leaves, Forsyth said that he will miss the staff he had the chance to work alongside for years and form bonds with throughout that time. He will miss getting to see the staff and children daily. He said he considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity to come back to work and raise his own family in his childhood town.

Ann Hanes
Hanes has worked as a special education teacher at Charles City for 17 years. She started teaching in 2005 after she went to school for business. She graduated from Mason City High School. She went to UNI to be a math teacher but didn’t finish her degree for various reasons. Hanes returned to school and went to Buena Vista University in 2003 to finish her degree.

Hanes had planned to retire in 2021, but agreed to stay another year because of a shortage of special education teachers. After retirement, some of Hanes plans are to work on her house and yard, which were both damaged in a tornado on April 12. She will also be doing some volunteer work. Hanes also would like to travel, including the return to fall vacations that she loves and going to different sporting events like the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. She would also like to visit the four states she hasn’t been to yet.

She said her favorite things about working at Charles City were getting to work with the students and getting to know them. She also said that she always felt respected and valued as a teacher. She said a good day at work is when students ask for help because they want to learn, and she can help them prepare for life. Hanes said that if she had the chance to start her teaching career over again, she would begin teaching earlier and spend more time with the students.

Hanes said she will miss the staff and the students. She talked about how she gets to work with a lot of the staff daily as a Special Education teacher. She also gets to meet many students and gets to know them personally. When Hanes started this job, she had a few goals. One of the goals was wanting to help students.

She said she hopes that the school will go forward with letting everyone know that they are loved and don’t have to be afraid to ask questions or ask for help.

When asked about a favorite story or memory of teaching, she said every once in a while, a past student will reach out and tell her how much her time with them helped and how she impacted their life.

Julie Hollister
Hollister, a para-educator and teacher at the Carrie Lane alternative high school, has been a part of the school district for 28 years, 14 of them at Carrie Lane. She has worked at Charles City High School and Lincoln Elementary as well as Carrie Lane.

Hollister started in 2007 at Carrie Lane, then went back to Lincoln for a year. In 2009, she went back to Carrie Lane after a job opening and has been there ever since. She said her favorite part of her teaching career at the alternative school was watching her students graduate.

“It’s the highlight of the year because I know how hard they’ve worked to get their diploma,” she said.

Hollister said she loves how the school is more like a home for some kids, and more of a family than relationships between teachers and students. She said some kids would think of her as a second mom or a grandmother. She said she would most miss her relationship with the students.

Melinda Masters
Masters has been with the Charles City Community School District since the 1986-87 school year. She will retire this year as a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School after more than 35 years of teaching. She has taught in multiple positions during her time at Charles City, including special education, third grade, and fourth grade. She said she has thoroughly enjoyed working with great students, families, and colleagues while serving in the school district.

Masters graduated from University of Northern Iowa in December 1985. She was married to her husband, Jeff, right after graduation and has three sons: Jordan, Nate, and Isaac. She also has two daughters-in-law, Kelsey and Callie, and three granddaughters, Brinley, Brielle, and Brenna.

After graduating, she taught science and reading in a middle school in the Waterloo area to students with diverse needs before coming to Charles City. She said if she could go back, she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I just believe things play out the way they are intended to,” she said.

She said her favorite part of the day is seeing her students and helping them engage in their learning. She will miss building relationships with not only her students, but her colleagues as well. She said she loves seeing students reach their potential and know school is a safe and happy place to be.

“Students need to be okay emotionally and mentally before learning can occur,” she said. “Their social-emotional learning is as, if not more, important than their academic learning. Kids need to be okay in their learning environment to learn the material.”

Masters said she hopes that Charles City continues to meet the needs of all students at all levels, not just in academics, but teaching them as a whole child, because the child learns more effectively this way.

“When the teachers care about how the students feel, it makes them want to go to school and learn more,” she said.

Julie Parker
Parker has been a para-educator at the Charles City Community School District for 12 years, and said she especially enjoyed helping out in the mathematics department.

She said if she had been given a chance to do it all over again, she would have gone to college and gotten a teaching degree in math. Parker loved assisting in the math classes by helping the students learn all the equations.

Parker said a good day at the Charles City High School was seeing students happy, engaged in their learning, and wanting to be successful. She said she enjoyed seeing the students advance in their education, and it brought her joy when the students had an “ah-hah” moment, and the lightbulb went off, and they truly understood the assignment they were struggling with.

She said she would miss the whole math department and working with them on a daily basis, along with their enthusiasm to help students learn. Parker said she would like to see the school continue to guide students toward their desired career paths and see teachers build meaningful relationships with the students. She would also like to see Charles City start students at a younger age on their career goals.

“If we engage students at a younger age, their desire to be successful will have a better chance of being obtained,” she said.

She said she enjoyed each day she spent working with students and helping them achieve their goals. The most important thing Parker has taken away from working at the Charles City High School was building strong relationships with students while helping them learn and do the best they could, and also building friendships with staff that will last a lifetime.

Larry Wolfe
After leading the Innovative Campus for the past year, Wolfe is retiring after the 2022 school year. He has spent the last 10 years with Charles City after nine years as an associate principal. He said that during his time at the high school, he impacted the students differently. Being the definition of a “Comet” came naturally to him.

Wolfe was heavily involved in many student activities. He provided prompts and ideas for groups like the Comet Council; he was a mentor of Project RISE and continued to help impact the students who benefit from the team’s success. He said a perfect day at school would be “having meetings in the morning, a long afternoon, a good triple header basketball game, or a long track meet.”

During his time in Charles City, he watched his two children, Elizabeth Wolfe and Ryan Wolfe, graduate as Comets. He said that was something that meant the most to him.

“My kids traveled through and graduated,” he said. “They are both very successful, and it’s because of their time here that prepared them to be successful.”

Wolfe said he loved seeing students at the high school grow into adults.

“Watching kids come in as an awkward, geeky freshman and watching them walk out as substantial people was my favorite,” he said.

In his time at Charles City, Wolfe delivered speeches to the senior class at the beginning and the end of every school year.

“For 10 years, I said thank you to groups of seniors over and over again, and we are proud that we are CC,” he said. “That’s something we started every year with and ended every year with. And being proud of who you are and where you come from is a story of legacy.”

Wolfe said he treated all students like family, and provided the same amount of discipline that he did for his children.

“I promised when I came here to treat every kid like my son or daughter, and I tried my best to do that,” he said. “I gave them a hug, a handshake, a high five, or a kick in the hind end, whatever they needed at the end of the day. I treated them like my son or daughter. And that I’ll miss greatly.”

Wolfe said he worked with many great people during his time with Charles City, but there are many new staff members that he won’t have the pleasure of working with. His advice for new staff members was something that he said he tried to live by.

“It takes one individual to make a difference in adult life and student life, and if you try hard to be that one person, you will be for certain people, but you can’t be for everybody, so divide and conquer,” he said.

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