By Bruce Stambaugh
The day after the school board accepted his resignation for retirement, Joe Wengerd’s ear was either tuned to the bus radio or had a cell phone pushed against it.
He was still handling his duties as superintendent of the East Holmes Local Schools in his calm, deliberate, concerned way. A snowstorm was approaching, and he had dismissed school two hours early.
With safety foremost on his mind, Wengerd wanted to make sure all the students arrived home safely. He also conferred with the athletic director to reschedule a basketball game.
“This wasn’t an easy decision for me,” Wengerd said about his retirement, “but it was the right one.”
Wengerd said he had thought about retirement for sometime. Finally, he concluded that it was time for a younger person to step in and take over the district’s leadership.
“I’m leaving the best job ever,” he said, “especially given this school district.”
However, one thing Wengerd said he wouldn’t miss was getting up at 4:15 in the morning to check for inclement weather. Altogether Wengerd has spent 21 years in the East Holmes Local Schools. He was superintendent for the last five years. He has a total of 36 years in education.
Wengerd began his career as a counselor at a children’s home in Logan County, Ohio. He later received his education credentials and entered the educational field. He taught elementary school in Ada prior to moving back to Holmes County.
He was principal in the West Holmes Local School District at Millersburg, Lakeville and Nashville elementary schools for eight years before returning to his home school district.
Wengerd said that one of the reasons leaving the school would not be easy was because his roots run deep in the East Holmes community. He was born here, attended Berlin Elementary and graduated from Hiland High School, and lives in the home where he grew up.
“It’s a great community to be connected to.”
Prior to serving as superintendent, Wengerd was principal at Charm, Flat Ridge and Wise elementary schools for four years and at Berlin Elementary for a dozen years. He also filled in temporarily at Hiland High School.
“Each of these were unbelievable jobs,” Wengerd said wistfully. “I didn’t want to leave any of them.
“Each leadership position became such a part of me,” Wengerd said. He also said he considered each a new challenge.
Wengerd said he was hoping for a new landscape to draw him. He won’t be alone in that sentiment. His wife, Phyllis, has also decided to retire after 31 years of teaching. She is a teacher at Chestnut Ridge Elementary.
“We will probably do some short term church service projects,” Wengerd said. “We love the national parks and will probably visit some of them, too.” He said they would also spend time with their only grandchild in Columbus.
The Wengerds have three adult children, all of whom are teachers. Daughters Kate and Maggie both teach elementary grades in Pickerington, and their son, Jesse, teaches math at Berlin.
“We didn’t make them go into teaching,” Wengerd said. But he and his wife weren’t necessarily the sole models for their children either.
“Education is the legacy of Phyllis’ family. She and her three siblings were all in education and so were their spouses.”
Wengerd received his bachelor’s degree from Bluffton University, and his Master of Education degree from the University of Dayton.
True to form, he had been thinking about retiring for sometime.
“There wasn’t a single event that lead to this decision,” Wengerd said. “I thought I would retire out of a building.”
Reflecting on being the district’s chief educational leader, Wengerd said, “I thought the superintendent’s position was a great opportunity to influence our students and give back to the community at the same time.
“I will miss working with the kids,” Wengerd said. “I liked to visit every building when I could.
“I love going out to Hiland and seeing former students that I had in Berlin as a principal. It’s fun to see them grow, mature and participate in extracurricular activities.”
Wengerd said he felt his biggest achievement as superintendent was getting the staff and students to all work in the same direction.
“In the five years I was superintendent, East Holmes received either an Excellence or Excellence with Distinction rating,” he said.
“Those results weren’t me,” he continued. “Those were the students and teachers working hard on student achievement goals.”
Wengerd said school board members were gracious in accepting his resignation.
“They told me they valued my leadership,” Wengerd said. “I greatly appreciated their comments.”
Wengerd said the board would work with the Tri-County Educational Service Center and the Ohio School Board Association in formulating a plan to search for a new superintendent.