St. Mary’s Elementary School staff members loved their work, but are ready to move on

Deb Moldaschel
The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch

With the end of this school year, St. Mary’s Elementary School is facing some big changes for next fall. Five long-term staff members announced their retirement/resignation last month—all with happy memories and love for their work days (more like “work years”) at St. Mary’s.

Leaving are Elementary School Principal Mary Gangelhoff and Elementary School Administrative Assistant Tammy Helget; former teacher and more recently classroom aide Rosie Schwarz; and elementary school teachers Diane Lax and Diane Krzmarzick.

During a recent interview, when asked how many years they’d been at St. Mary’s, Lax said, “You’re going to add these up!” She was right.

Their days at St. Mary’s School are numbered or over, from left: Rosie Schwartz, Tammy Helget, Mary Gangelhoff, Diane Lax, and Diane Krzmarzick—over 170 years of experience out the door!

Gangelhoff said she taught in the elementary school for 22 years and has been Principal for 16 years, or 38 years total. Helget worked as her Administrative Assistant for those 16 years.

“We came in together and we’re going out together,” said Helget. “Just like Wayne [Pelzel] and Mary Lee [Schotzko].” (Their predecessors at St. Mary’s.)

Schwartz said she started by teaching first grade for five years and then staying at home with her own small children for several years. She came back to teach kindergarten and has been working with kindergarten students ever since—for a total of 40 years at St. Mary’s.

Krzmarzick has 43 years of experience as an elementary school teacher—three years at each Fairfax and Springfield Catholic Schools before coming to St. Mary’s.

Lax, who is from North Dakota, said she came to St. Mary’s thinking she would stay for two years—and that was 35 years ago. Add it up. That’s 172 years of educational experience leaving St. Mary’s all at once.

But wait—there’s more. Gangelhoff spent 12 years at St. Mary’s as a student and Krzmarzick came to St. Mary’s in the seventh grade, after the country schools closed in Brown County.

That’s half a century at St. Mary’s School for Gangelhoff. “Fr. Mark’s [Steffl] line is that my parents dropped me off and never picked me up,” she said (laughing at the truth of the joke).

All those years of working together meant these women feel like St. Mary’s was family, with shared joys and sorrow, births, graduations, and weddings.

“It’s second home,” said Krzmarzick. 

“Working together so long meant we all knew each others talents,” said Gangelhoff. “We could go to each other for help because we knew who could do whatever we needed.”

“And now we’re also working with students whose parents were our students,” she added.

Gangelhoff, Schwartz and Krzmarzick and retiring; Lax has taken a position as a preschool aide in Springfield (no homework, just lots of love) and Helget plans to find other work. She’s easing into that by supervising the fieldhouse and weight room at St. Mary’s this summer.

Gangelhoff said she will spend more time helping her parents, gardening and canning, and enjoying her grandchildren. She also plans to do some part-time work.

Krzmarzick also has grandchildren to see more often, a big garden and a husband who would like a little help on the farm.

Schwartz said she is keeping one attachment to St. Mary’s as she plans to continue teaching CCD. She also has grandkids to see and wants to enjoy rekindling old friendships and time with her eight siblings.

Lax has grandchildren scattered around the country and with no more dairy cows, she and her husband will do some traveling to visit them. 

Lax said, “In addition to traveling this summer, my husband and I are able to fulfill our long term desire and goal of becoming  licensed respite providers for young children who are in need of short term care until permanent placement is available.”

Over all the years these educators have seen a lot of changes in education.

“Of course the whole technology thing,” said Gangelhoff, “and the way kids learn has changed from when we started. We need to present things to get them engaged; for example, with reading we need to teach them stamina—today we’re going to read for two minutes, tomorrow it will be three minutes.”

Instead of memorizing facts, Gangelhoff said now kids are taught to do more independent thinking to learn how to apply what they’ve learned.

A sure blessing these women said they have experienced has been expressing their faith at work. Praying for each other and for the students, knowing God helps them in their work, having kids ask for their prayers and knowing students pray for them.