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Four teachers say farewell to Morris Area

Four long-time teachers in the Morris Area School District retired at the end of the 2013 - 2014 school year, Jerry Witt, Gretchen Gillis, Deb Felstul and Lyle Rambow.

MORRIS – This year, the Morris Area School District will say goodbye to four teachers who are retiring with more than 120 years of combined teaching experience.

On their second-to-last day of school, while cleaning out their classrooms and passing on their supplies to fellow teachers, high school math teacher Lyle Rambow, sixth grade teacher Jerry Witt, and elementary school teachers Gretchen Gillis and Deb Felstul shared fond memories of their time with Morris Area.

Lyle Rambow

Although he taught math in the Morris school district for 36 years, Lyle Rambow said he never made the conscious decision to become a math teacher.

Rambow came to Morris in 1976 as a college student at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He student taught in Morris under Don Chizek in the spring of 1978 and was hired as a full time math teacher that fall.

“I’ve had one teaching job for 36 years – it’s pretty fortunate, it’s kind of unusual,” said Rambow.

“I’ve been doing the same thing – I’ve been going to school and I’ve been involved with sports – my whole life.”

Rambow has taught primarily upper-level mathematics to sophomores, juniors and seniors, everything from algebra to analytical geometry and statistics.

For 30 years, Rambow served as the head coach for the Tiger baseball team, bringing the team to the state tournament twice. He’s also spent 35 years as the varsity assistant football coach and several years coaching both boys’ and girls’ basketball.

“There’s a lot of good memories in coaching,” said Rambow. “Getting to the state tournament is like a special thrill for that season – it adds a little extra frosting to the cake – but you still have a lot of good memories.”

“In the classroom, you feel confident that when the kids left they were well prepared to handle their next challenge scholastically, especially mathematically. … In sports, the thrills are more thrilling. Teaching-wise, you feel confident you helped kids.”

Rambow plans to continue his interest in math and love for sports, but will be moving up to the college level. This fall he’ll be teaching one math class at UMM and serving as an assistant coach to the Cougar football team.

The lighter schedule will give him more time to visit his kids and grandkids who live in Illinois and South Dakota as well as attend Twins games and get to the cabin.

“It’s been quite a pleasure, for me, to grow up in this community. I was able to raise a family in this community and my kids are all doing well. Having a job at Morris Area High School, I bleed Tiger orange. I’m a big booster of what’s going on up here and I’m going to continue to be that. Thanks to the whole community for supporting people like me and each other.”

Jerry Witt

Like Rambow, Jerry Witt was a student at the University of Minnesota, Morris who student taught in Morris, working with Sylvia Yarger and Marion Beck.

Witt wasn’t hired in Morris directly out of college, but made enough of an impression that Superintendent Fred Switzer encouraged him to stay in touch. When a position in sixth grade opened up in 1979, Switzer called and encouraged Witt to apply.

Witt has taught sixth grade for his entire 35 years in Morris, except for one year when he was shifted to teaching physical education for budget reasons.

Witt said his favorite part of his job is the age of the students. Sixth graders are old enough to work independently, but still haven’t reached “the ‘junior high-ish age,’” he said.

“I enjoy being around them – they have a good sense of humor yet when it’s time to dig in and get after things they work really hard.”

As a sixth grade teacher, Witt has chaperoned an annual trip to the Iron Range in northern Minnesota for more than 30 years and helped coordinate students’ Minnesota History Projects each year.

“That’s always a real growing experience for those kids because they get to display the work that they’ve done,” said Witt.

Witt is also well known for his 32 year tenure as the head coach of the Tiger football team. In addition to taking the team to the state tournament five times, Witt said his favorite memory as a coach is coaching his three sons, Zachary, Forrest and Taylor.

“Sports were a huge part of our family – they still are,” said Witt.

Witt has worked for a cabinet maker in the summer for many years. In retirement, he plans to continue that, as well as finding more time to spend with his grandkids and cultivating hobbies like golfing, gardening and fishing.

“For us, [Morris] was a great spot to live and raise a family. The school was large enough that you had several options for your kids and the university, obviously, was a big plus. … It’s not too big so all the students have the opportunity to get involved if they want to.”

Deb Felstul

In her 24 years as a classroom teacher, Deb Felstul has jumped around throughout the elementary school, teaching students in second, third, fourth and fifth grade.

For ten years prior to that, Felstul worked as a Title I instructor and served as a substitute teacher.

“I really have enjoyed every grade, every age group I’ve taught,” said Felstul. “I love teaching. I love the interaction with the children. Every new year brings new excitement. The end of the year is always difficult because they become yours and you have to say goodbye. I have high expectations of the students and they always attain what you expect.”

One of the biggest transitions in her career was the move from Morris’ old elementary school to the new building.

“You hear so many people that walk into our school and say how lucky we are and we truly are, these are made for elementary children,” said Felstul. “We really have a good community that, I think, believes education is important. … That helps teaching.”

This summer, Felstul and her husband will be moving to Fergus Falls to be closer to their children and grandchildren. She also hopes to volunteer in schools working on reading and math and exploring new hobbies outside of teaching.

Gretchen Gillis

When Gretchen and Jim Gillis came to Morris, they didn’t immediately plan to continue teaching. After meeting in the Barnum School District, the Gillis’ came to town to go into business.

At the same time, Gillis also got a job teaching at the University of Minnesota, Morris. After a semester observing student teachers, Gillis said she realized she needed to be back in the classroom.

When a part-time kindergarten position opened up in Morris in fall of 1990, Gillis was hired for the position. Since then, Gillis has shifted between kindergarten, first and second grades, but said second grade is ideal.

“They are more independent – they enjoy being independent,” said Gillis. “They’re little sponges, they’re still very respectful, and no matter what you look like you’re beautiful. … They look within rather than out.”

When she started the 2013 – 2014 school year, Gillis knew she’d have the option of retiring at the end of the year if she was ready, but she wanted to finish teaching with a good class.

“I wanted go out feeling good about education and the years that I’ve had, and this was the year. I’ve always had good classes, but you hear horror stories from other people. … I’ve been fortunate to never have one of those classes.”

Jim has also retired from the district after teaching an annual EMT class, music lessons and serving as a coach for tennis.

The Gillis’ will be moving to Northfield to be closer to their grandchildren, who go to pre-school in the Twin Cities. Gillis also hopes to do more volunteering in the Northfield community.

“Both Jim and I are anxious to go there and volunteer – once a week read stories and eat lunch with them, do the grandma and grandpa things.”

Although Gillis said she and Jim are excited about their move, she only has fond memories of her time in Morris.

“I have nothing but wonderful memories of working with everybody – between the faculty and kitchen staff and the janitors, everybody that makes up the village – nothing but positive things. Really I’ve had a wonderful career.”