By Brooke Shepherd
The Hastings public schools recognized award-winners and 20 retiring employees with almost 400 years of combined experience at the 36th annual employee retirement and recognition on May 18, in the high school commons.
This was the 昀rst year since the coronavirus pandemic that the gathering has been held in-person. Bob McDowell, the superintendent of Hastings public schools, was the of昀cial host. He said there was very positive feedback about the ceremony.
The 昀rst set of awards was presented by Lori Best, the president of Education MN, and a computer science teacher at the middle school. The awards through Education MN were Teacher of the Year and Friend of Education. Teacher of the Year was given to a high school teacher, Anthony Letourneau. “Each year, we award one of our members as someone who’s recognized by their colleagues, not necessarily as the best teacher in Hastings, it’s more to recognize their exemplary work, their dedication and passion to their students and to their subjects,” said Best.
The Friend of Education award was presented to two people who are non-educators, but still involved at the schools. One of the winners, Sarah Wasvick, was recognized for her volunteer sports photography.
“Sarah is a community member; her three sons have gone through Hastings public schools,” said Best. “She is such a dedicated photographer and attends so many sporting events and gets amazing pictures of athletes in action and then gives them to coaches and parents for free. She’s an incredible gift.”
Grif昀n Welshons, the kids’ campus program lead at McAuliffe Elementary, was the other winner of the Friend of Education award. In his role, Welshons has provided before and aftercare to students.
“Grif昀n has an amazing way of dealing and working with the students and families in the kids’ campus program at McAuliffe,” said Best. “Everyone there was very appreciative of how he manages those students and their families in such a positive way. For as stressful as all these COVID years have been, it’s just nice to take some time to re昀ect and appreciate all the amazing people in the community.”
Kari Gorr, the Community Education Director, presented the Hastings Community Education awards. The Bernie McCoy Community Service Award went to Amy Schaffer, which is given to someone who exempli昀ed support and service. Laurie Chandler won the Community Education Lifelong Learning (CELL) Award, which is presented annually to a member of the Community Education staff whose work supports the concept of lifelong learning.
“It was an honor to be a part of a rich tradition of recognizing individuals that have helped promote the growth and development of Community Education and lifelong learning within our school district,” said Gorr. “Award winners Amy Schaffer and Laurie Chandler are both very deserving winners, and we thank them for all they have done for Hastings Community Education.”
The District Service Awards were given out by the Board of Education and McDowell. Individuals were recognized for committing to the district for 昀ve years, 10 years, 20 years, and 30 years.
Collin Anderson is a business education teacher at the high school. He was one of three award winners to have been with the district for 30 years. “I really do enjoy my job,” said Anderson. “Every day is different, it’s amazing how fast 30 years goes by.”
Stephanie Malm, the Board of Education Vice Chair, then presented the Hastings Public Schools Employee of the Year award to Mindy Tavernier, the assistant principal at Northview Elementary. Tavernier has been with the district since 2019.
McDowell and the Board of Education recognized those who retired this year, including Mike Johnson, who was the principal of Hastings High School for 34 years. Another retiree was Jan Neiderkorn, who was born and raised in Hastings and graduated from the high school in 1950. Neiderkorn said her 昀rst retirement was from 3M after 43 years. She then began volunteering in the schools, and eventually became a secretary. After over two decades, Neiderkorn is entering her second retirement.
“It was wonderful. I always wanted to be a kindergarten teacher. But when I graduated, there were no scholarships or things like that, so I went to work,” said Neiderkorn. “But I always had that yearning so when I retired, I volunteered at the elementary school, and I really felt I got to do my teaching that way.”
Since retiring from the Hastings School District, Neiderkorn celebrated her 90th birthday. Neiderkorn said she may not have a lot of friends left that are her age, but she has many young people that stay connected with her.
“I have two great grandchildren at the middle school,” said Neiderkorn. “I go to all their sporting events, and I run them around when they need rides. And I’m in a Bible study, I just enjoy life. The kids keep me busy with their sports and I’m glad I’m still able to go.”
Leslie Burgess is retiring after 21 years as an English Language and Spanish instructor. Burgess said she will miss the traveling abroad that she did with students to places like Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Panama.
“Those trips were amazing because all the things you teach kids in the classroom you get to actually share with them in real life and watch them experience things for the 昀rst time,” said Burgess.
Burgess said she will be traveling more now that she is retired and returning to her Peace Corp roots to help others. At the end of the summer, Burgess will be going to remote areas of Guatemala to volunteer as an interpreter for a team of doctors during surgeries.
“We have such an amazing staff, and they give so much time and energy to make the experience for students successful,” said McDowell. “It felt extremely good to be able to hold this ceremony and congratulate people in person.”