A common theme among Columbia School District retirees this year is the departure of a core group of teachers from the youngest grade levels.
Another person in that cohort of people like Linda Schmersahl, Denise Cogo and Jeanie Culler is Mary Holtkamp, who retired after 24 years in the district.
“I was fortunate enough for 24 years to go to work every day with my best friends,” Holtkamp said of the group. “You see how many of us retired together.”
Holtkamp had a similar career path to some of her fellow retirees, as she got a full-time job in Columbia after working for the district part time.
She began her career at Little Friends Preschool in Columbia, working there part-time for six years while she raised two children of her own.
As her kids got older and she started doing some substitute teaching in the school district, she realized it was time to get a job there.
“A job opened up and it was just a good time to make the transition to full-time teaching,” she said.
Holtkamp taught first grade for almost a quarter century in Columbia. She said she enjoyed working with students in such formative years.
“My favorite thing and the highlight of every school year was taking those students who could only read just a few words at the beginning of the school year to, at the end of the school year, have them reading chapter books,” she said. “Hopefully I was able to translate my love of reading and bring that joy to them.”
As much as she liked her young pupils, they did provide their own types of difficulties that were exacerbated the older Holtkamp got.
“The energy level of first graders is always challenging,” Holtkamp noted. “When you’re in a room with up to 24 first graders, that takes a lot of energy to keep up with those guys and to keep everybody moving in the same direction all day long.”
Nevertheless, Holtkamp said she will miss seeing those students grow and change every day, along with seeing her co-workers.
But because of the energy required and the fact she will have two grandchildren born later this summer, Holtkamp is confident now was the right time for her to retire.
“It was time. I’m ready to do other things,” she said.
In addition to spending more time with her family, Holtkamp plans to work on projects with her husband and travel more, though she did not rule out a return to education at some point.
“I loved every minute of it. I enjoyed being a teacher, and I think there’s a teacher still in me,” she said. “So I don’t know what I may do in the next 5-10 years, but I still have that joy of spreading knowledge to little people.”