The halls of Immaculate Conception School in Columbia will be lacking two familiar faces when school starts up again following the retirements of Joan Johnson and Diane Stechmesser.
Their combined 88 years of teaching have benefitted generations of ICS students for the past 47 years.
Johnson started teaching at ICS in 1965, and also attended elementary school there as a little girl.
“Joan was a verbal teacher,” said ICS Principal Mike Kish, who said he took advantage of those skills by making sure those students lacking in verbal confidence could benefit from Johnson’s skills.
She taught every class but kindergarten and third grade over the last 47 years.
“Every time there was an opening, I just went for it,” Johnson said.
She taught second grade the longest — almost 20 years. Johnson even had the opportunity to teach both her daughters when they were students at ICS.
“Teaching has been my life for so long that I really can’t imagine my life without it,” she said.Joan Johnson’s daughters, Shelly Garris and Staci Wittenauer, hosted a surprise breakfast at Our Coffee House & Cafe in Columbia to celebrate the retirements of Johnson, their mom, and fellow retiree Diane Stechmesser. Pictured are, from left, back row, Garris, Karen Waterman, Beth Carrow, Jane Shea and Wittenauer; and, front row: Stechmesser, Dale Anderson, Sue Lewis and Johnson. (submitted photo)
While she admits there will be an adjustment period, she does have a few plans, including “reading books over a six-grade reading level,” she said with a laugh. She also plans to spend some time with her aging mother, daughters Shelly Garris and Staci Wittenauer, and her great-granddaughter.
Stechmesser, also a childhood alumnus of ICS, began her teaching career in 1972, and like Johnson she worked her entire teaching career at ICS.
“Diane was part of the ‘brain trust’ here,” Kish said. “She was respected by students, parents, and staff and was our ‘go-to’ gal when we needed something organized or thought out.
“She was an early advocate for gifted education and on top of test scores and getting the most out of her students. She had a unique ability to calm students despite the hectic pace we have created in our school through all our innovation and opportunities,” Kish said.
Stechmesser loved her job and loved her students, and she made sure they knew just how much.
“There are so many kids who come back and tell me, ‘I know I was your favorite student,’” she said.
But Stechmesser also knows the time is right to move on and try some new things.
“I’m just thrilled with (retiring). I’m sure when school starts up it will be bittersweet because I’ve always enjoyed teaching, but it will be nice not to have the daily grind of it,” she said.
Her plans include spending time with her daughter, Amy Elder; and stepsons Shane Stechmesser and Brad Stechmesser; as well as her five grandchildren.
She also looks forward to traveling during the spring and autumn months. No longer on a teacher’s schedule, she and her husband Arlin, “Steck,” aren’t limited to planning their family vacations in the sweltering months of summer. So far, a fall trip to the Gulf of Mexico is planned. She has hopes of getting Steck to take a trip to Europe, but acknowledges convincing him will likely be one of her retirement projects.
Both teachers were honored by the school last month, at an all-school Mass attended by current students, former students, family and friends.
Resource teacher Sue Lewis organized a trivia game show that was held in the gym after Mass, hosted by a surprise emcee, former teacher and coach Dale Anderson.