Reflections on 30 years in public education

A one-room Amish private school in eastern Holmes Co., OH.

It’s been 20 years since I retired as a public school educator in Holmes County, Ohio. I began teaching fourth grade at Killbuck Elementary School only weeks after the historic and devastating July 4th flood of 1969.

It’s fair to say that neither Killbuck nor I have been the same since. I can’t speak for the town, but for me, that’s a good thing.

I have many fond memories of my time in both West Holmes and East Holmes Local School Districts. I was hired just 10 days before school started. A significant teacher shortage had hit rural areas then. West Holmes still needed 10 more teachers before school started.

I had the two most important requirements needed to teach back then. I had a college degree and a heartbeat. The only education course I was certified to teach was driver education.

I was assigned to a tiny third-floor room in the old high school part of the school complex. I had 28 fourth graders packed into that small space.

I can still name every one of those 28 students. That’s the kind of lasting impression that experience made on me.

A retirement gift from the staff.
Students in the other eight years that I taught at Killbuck were equally enjoyable. I especially appreciated the support of the parents, as well as the camaraderie of the school staff members.

To keep teaching each year, I had to complete at least two college education courses. That meant many night classes and summer school for this teacher. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was what I wanted to do for a living. I loved children, and despite some of the silly state and local requirements, I enjoyed teaching.

I liked it so much in fact that I got my Master of Education degree and became an elementary principal in East Holmes. I also worked out of the central office coordinating the expanding federal programs. But it was the kids I enjoyed the most, plus the opportunity to help teachers teach.

I served as principal of Mt. Hope and Winesburg Elementary Schools for 21 years. I also supervised Wise Elementary for three years at the same time. To complete the triangle of visiting each school each day required driving 21 miles.

For me, the best day of each school year was the first. The students were always excited, scared, and ready to learn. Once they settled into the new routines that soon changed.

I marvel at those precious years, those shinny tiled hallways that bustled with the cheerful sounds of children laughing and learning and quietly chatting. I recall trying to chase teachers out of the buildings long after the school day had ended. Sometimes teachers were still there in the evenings grading papers, displaying student work, or planning for future lessons.

I recall marvelous, heartwarming stories involving children, their parents, teachers, and administrators. There were darker times, too, but far and away, the better memories rule.

It is hard to believe that two decades have evaporated since I retired from the profession I loved with all my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect in executing my responsibilities. I simply tried my best to be an educational leader for the community that I served. After all, the schools belonged to the community, not me.

I can say without hesitation that the 30 years that I spent in the hallowed halls of public instruction in Holmes County were some of the best of my life. But for me, now and forever, school is dismissed.

My last class as an elementary teacher.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

How retirement was meant to be

Virginia sunset, August susnet
Sunset wakes.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There we were, two couples sitting around a table at 10 o’clock on a beautiful but sultry Monday morning playing cards. Our only objective was to win the game.

Nana Neva and I had taken an extended weekend break from our part-time grand-parenting duties to explore a less-familiar area of Virginia with another retired couple.

We had worked all of our lives to reach this point. Playing cards followed by a round of dominoes seemed like the perfect way to begin a new week, especially on a hot and muggy morning.

We played until lunch and then walked down the slanting limestone driveway to a cozy eatery in a marina for some fabulous homemade ice cream. Choosing which flavor became the toughest decision we made all day.

The location had much to do with our buoyant attitude. We had rented a cottage situated on a point overlooking a man-made lake where the dam generated hydroelectricity. The lake was long and narrow, the product of a few creeks damned up to fill steep valleys in southern Virginia.

Such a project brought more natural benefits than producing power. Wildlife thrived.

Each morning and evening a resident bald eagle perched on a favorite snag, often on the same limb a quarter of a mile across the bay from us. We had a perfect view from our deck that faced the water, made murky by a series of recent heavy rains.

Osprey, Virginia
On the watch.
Before breakfast, I spotted an osprey perched on a dead pine farther up the narrow bay. The “fish hawk” stood tall and stately in the morning mist.

Pileated woodpeckers called and flew back and forth across the water, too, landing if only briefly in the sizable wild cherry tree in our front yard along the shoreline. An eastern kingbird, a much smaller species, chased the much larger woodpecker upon every approach. Fierceness is the kingbird’s nature.

The ripe fruit of the lakeside tree drew songbirds, too. The kingbird didn’t seem to be as bothered by the Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, and even young redheaded woodpeckers. I could have stayed there all day to watch that show.

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The previous day we ventured to Rocky Mount, the county seat where my maternal grandparents were born. We researched family records in the historical society. The lilt and soft, southern accent of our hostess could have been my grandmother’s.

In the process, I was a boy again, standing in the hot Virginia sun inserting a nickel into a parking meter for my father. Dad had to finish the task because I wasn’t strong enough to turn the knob so the coin would activate the meter. The street meters have long disappeared, just like the department store where a relative had worked.

We visited the Booker T. Washington National Monument where the famous educator was born and freed as a slave. The sweltering heat and humidity made it easy to envision the slaves toiling in the parched fields.

Back at the cottage, boats rippled the reflected sunset as they headed in for the evening. Spiders devoured gnats trapped in the delicate webs on the deck just as a young eagle glided across the dusk’s burnished light.

This is what retirement was meant to be. We are grateful to be at this phase of our lives.

That said a palpable quietude subdued any thought of celebration. Too many others would not know the same joy and appreciation. Empathy should temper our golden years. Compassion must rule the way to ensure a purposeful retirement.

retirement, Smith Mountain Lake SP Virginia
A picture of retirement.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Why I always dreaded August’s return

August, sunset, Virginia
An early August sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

August is upon us once again.

As I look back on it, I always dreaded the return of the eighth month. Through my not-so-nostalgic reflections, I realized that my reasons evolved across the decades.

As an elementary school student, I knew all too well what August’s arrival meant. We were down to one month of summer vacation.

Those were the days when agrarian mentality ruled the school year. All scholarly studies were squeezed between Labor Day and Memorial Day. When the county fair gates closed, the school doors opened.

Now, of course, no such luxury exists for students. Back to school shopping has already begun. With August at hand, many students start the daily countdown until the dreaded day arrives.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked school, well, the elementary version at least. However, I enjoyed playing much more so. Summer vacation generated much less stress for youngsters then. Our screen time meant going to the drive-in movie theater on Friday nights. Our phones stayed at home firmly affixed to the wall.

butterfly, wildflowers, Virginia
Male Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly on Cardinal flower.
So when the calendar flipped to August, the neighborhood gang of hooligans started planning our next sleep-out under the stars or our next daytime adventure at the creek down-over-the-hill. Time was a wasting.

In high school and college, it wasn’t playtime but work that got shortened by the start of school. At $2.06 an hour, I needed to work all I could to deter my own educational expenses. With younger siblings and a stay-at-home mother, it was the least I could do to help the family financially. My older brother set that model.

When I started my career in public education, I began to more fully understand the importance of August. It meant readying for another school year, only this time as the teacher and eventually principal.

The late summer days of August always meant sweating it out decorating my classroom before the students arrived. Those old schools didn’t have air conditioning. I could hear the busyness of protégés down the hallways also preparing for the coming school year. We came in early morning and early evening to avoid the afternoon heat.

August, Ohio's Amish country
Come August, summer winds down.
When I joined the administrative ranks, August meant meetings, which I loathed unless they were held on the local golf course. That venue seldom happened, however, despite the chatter around the window table at the locals’ favorite eatery.

I heard samplings of student whining from our son and daughter, who knew too well that the coming of August meant school band camps and fall sports practices. Our son chose wisely. He joined the golf team and scored much better than his father ever could.

Just like their parents’ childhood schedules, once the county fair ended, the school year began for our children, too. By then, however, Labor Day became the first school holiday, not the summer’s last.

Somehow, though, we all survived those August perils. As a retiree, August has lost it sting. I don’t have the self-imposed barriers to hurdle anymore. I can relax in air conditioning as the thermometer hits 90.

Like all the previous years, I anticipate golden sunsets sinking beyond the horizon. I’ll watch for the Perseid meteor shower, hoping that the August haze has faded in the cool of the night.

The fraternal twins of retirement and maturity have a mellowing effect on sour attitudes. Instead of dread, this August I’ll breathe in a deep breath, say a prayer of gratitude for another new month, and enjoy the moments at hand.

Ohio's Amish country, Amish
Back to school.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Moving to The Valley for the most important reason

Shenandoah Valley, sunset
The beautiful Shenandoah Valley at dusk.

By Bruce Stambaugh

My wife and I loved where we lived. We had spent our entire adult lives among the world’s largest Amish population in Holmes County, Ohio. Why would anyone want to leave that serene setting for the Shenandoah Valley?

Since we had visited The Valley several times in the last two decades, we could have provided numerous viable answers to that question. The picturesque mountains, the agrarian culture, the abundant natural beauty and recreational options, the rich history, the lively arts and educational opportunities all would have sufficed as legitimate reasons for new retirees to live in The Valley.

To us, however, those were all secondary benefits. Our move to Rockingham County was inevitable for one perfect, personal reason. Like so many retiring baby boomers, we wanted to be near our grandchildren in our senior years. We wanted to be close to them in their active formative years, and assist their busy household however we could.

little league baseball, grandson
Our grandson the pitcher.
We observed that we weren’t alone in relocating for that familial reason. We discovered many others either already had moved to the area or were going to do so. Grandchildren were important to them, too. That alone affirmed our decision to move.

Ironically, my older brother and his wife did the same thing for the same reason only in reverse. One month later, they moved from Williamsburg, Virginia to the exact same county we left in Ohio.

Before we pulled up roots, however, our daughter and her husband assured us that The Valley would remain their home no matter what path their careers took. With that, we moved to The Valley last May.

However, the planning and preparations began long before that. Before the move, we delved into the possibility of living in or near Harrisonburg. We spoke with friends who had already done so. Their advice was not to wait too long. The grandchildren grow up fast.

We researched the cost of valley living and discovered it was a bit higher than what we had experienced in Ohio. Housing was especially a concern. Our ever-alert daughter found a house in our price range that looked promising. Our real estate agent set up an appointment.

We liked the house and the location. We quickly agreed on a price with the owners. My wife signed the papers in a parking lot on the trunk of the realtor’s car late at night. Having gone home for some required monthly meetings, I signed electronically online, a new experience for me.

canning peaches, granddaughter
Our granddaughter helped with the canning.
We were in shock though. In our 46 years of marriage, my wife and I never had been spontaneous buyers. Here we were making the largest purchase of our lives only 48 hours after having seen the home.
Moving wasn’t an easy decision by any means. We thought long and hard about it. All the rest of our immediate family lives in Ohio, including our son. He gave us his blessing to move.

My wife and I were born and raised in Ohio. We spent our careers in public education there. We both served with several community organizations over the years. It wasn’t easy to let go of all of that.
To soften the change, we decided to deliberately take our time moving to the Shenandoah Valley. As quickly as we bought the house, we didn’t move in until 18 months later. My wife and I worked diligently for a year and a half to prepare for the move.

I’m glad it took us that long to transition from one place to the other. We didn’t want to merely cut and run from the people and place we loved. That interlude gave us the opportunity and space we needed to adjust to this major, life-changing decision.

Shenandoah NP, hiking
The exploring grandson.
We met with the local mover that we hired. A sincere young man, he clearly knew his business. We found the combination of his expertise and experience immensely helpful in deciding what to take and what to leave. Our Harrisonburg home was considerably smaller than the one in Ohio. We were downsizing after all.

We spent much effort sorting and packing clothing, furniture, and household goods. We found homes for family heirlooms that wouldn’t fit in our smaller Virginia home. We donated many items to a local thrift store. We also met with family members and close friends before we exited, often over meals. Relationships are worth more than any material item.

Between purchasing the house and moving in, we rented it to a family for a few months. After they left, we hired contractors to update the landscaping and the house. We wanted to put our own personal touches on the place to make it our own. The contractors were glad to have these small jobs during their usually slower winter season.

We’ve more than enjoyed our time in The Valley so far. We’re pleased that we took our time. Not everyone has the luxury of a slower moving transition like my wife and I did. But if you can, the benefits of taking your time can make it more than worthwhile. That’s especially true if you get to regularly enjoy your grandchildren.

grandkids, breakfast
Breakfast out with the grandkids.

This story appears in the current edition of Valley Living.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Neva is my wife

Less really is more

sunrise, Holmes Co. OH
The dawning of a new day.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m not sure what took me so long to figure it out. It’s not like I hadn’t heard the concept before. I just never seriously applied the principle that less really is more.

When my wife and I became annual Florida snowbirds, we learned to live with a lot less than we did back home. Since we hunkered down in a condo on the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Jacksonville in January and February, we had to plan for four seasons of weather. Winter weather is uncertain at best that far north in Florida.

Florida pond
Cool morning, hot afternoon.

We shared just one closet smaller than each of our own clothes closets at home. That meant taking fewer clothes to Florida, combinations that could be layered. If it was chilly in the morning and we were going out for the day, we dressed warmly in outer coats, jackets, or sweaters, shedding layers as the day warmed.

With less selection, we just got dressed for the occasion, whether it was for church, dinner out, a walk on the beach or a photo outing. Sometimes we did a combination of activities.

Clothes weren’t the only items that were less in volume than we were used to. We lived in a much smaller space and with far fewer “things.” We had less furniture, fewer dishes, cookware, and almost no storage space. And yet we always had an enjoyable time. There was a lesson to be learned there.

When we purchased a house in Virginia that was substantially smaller than the house we had lived in for nearly four decades, we had important decisions to make. We had to evaluate and prioritize everything we owned. Would we need it in Virginia? Where would we put it? We truly had to downsize. We took our time, but we started early.

We sorted mementos from our school careers. Photos, drawings, grade books, and old textbooks were tossed, given away, or donated to thrift stores. Family heirlooms were distributed to any takers. We said goodbye to travel souvenirs, photos, tools, quilts, chainsaw, and camera gear, even bird feeders.

Besides finding homes for valued family and personal items, we held a garage sale and donated items to Save and Serve Thrift Store in Millersburg, Ohio. Because we spread out this process over several months, we were able to sleep at night.

Amish farm, Ohio's Amish country
Springtime in Ohio’s Amish country.

By moving from the place where Neva and I spent the best years of our lives, we gave up everything. The familiarities that became so routine, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, the friends, neighbors, family members. We miss all of them, all of that.

painting furniture
Making old new again.
In a way, it was like starting over. Sure, we knew folks in our new setting, we knew places, but it wasn’t the same. By doing so though, we realize we have gained by living with less. We actually have more. The real benefit of living with less is that it has brought us more joy.

As we enter our retirement years, it feels good to have de-cluttered our lives. We feel alive in finding new adventures, making new friends, renewing old friendships, exploring new places, seeing new sunrises and sunsets from new locales, on new farms, and from cityscapes.

For us, less has become more. We have shed ourselves of the excess, and strive to enjoy each moment, each day, each person we encounter, whether at the hardware store, grocery store or serving at the local food pantry.

Downsizing has enriched our lives. We are ever so thankful to heartily say that less truly is more.

those blue mountains
Enjoying new sunsets.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Believe it or not, it takes work to retire

breakfast on the beach
Snowbird breakfast.

By Bruce Stambaugh

After all these years of work, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. It takes extra effort to learn to retire.

I officially retired at the turn of the New Year. I intentionally timed that major life event to coincide with the calendar and our annual winter trip to northeastern Florida. It just seemed logical.

After having worked my entire life, I decided to phase out of employment gradually. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or what retirement would look and feel like. My hope was that this snowbird time would help me reorient my routines and priorities.

My wife and I are still relatively new at this snowbird business. We are downright raw rookies at retirement. Parking yourself on the ocean’s doorstep has served as an excellent approach to finding our way through this new, uncharted territory.

I knew this particular geographic location well enough from our previous visits. Neva and I have wintered on Amelia Island, Florida’s northeastern most barrier island, for the last few years.

Cutting the ties to my part-time jobs would be the challenge. On our prior trips, I especially kept a close eye on events at home out of necessity. I daily maintained the social network page of the coop-marketing group I facilitated.

Ohio's Amish country, snow, Amish farm
Meanwhile back home.

I had township trustee issues and responsibilities to hash out from time to time. If snow was in the Northeast Ohio forecast, I couldn’t sleep well even though I was 800 miles away from home. I kept wondering how the road crew was doing.

Occasionally, residents would contact me to report a problem. Despite sketchy cell phone service, I’d have to try to communicate with the other trustees or our workers. Sometimes multiple calls were needed just to complete a single conversation.

Now that I was retired, all that was history. Those responsibilities disappeared. I will admit, though, that I have done a lot of the same old wondering this first month off the job. Old habits die hard.

I still checked the weather, both for home and for Florida. I did so more for comparison than anything else. I wanted to see what friends and family back home were enduring.

black skimmer, breaking waves
Magic in motion.

For our part, I focused my attention on the tide charts and when the sun rose and set. That way I could time my morning and evening photo shoots and plan our strolls on the beach. Of course, when you’ve camped yourself where the ocean is your front yard, alluring tactile distractions abound.

It’s much more enjoyable to walk at low tide than high. Shorebirds linger by the tidal pools and sandbars probing and fishing for food. The moist, flatter, firmer sand made for easier walking, too.

I also watched the weather forecasts to plan day trips to nearby state parks for events like outdoor lectures, photography walks, and plain old exercise. Saturday mornings were reserved for attending the fabulous farmers market where we purchased locally grown produce, homemade goodies, and fresh, locally caught shrimp.

I know. It sounds like a tough life.

I hope I don’t come across as rubbing it in. I just wanted to assure you that life on this side of retirement seems to be working out, excuse the pun, perfectly.

Neva and I will enjoy this life of bliss while we can. Once we return home, this version of retirement will come to an abrupt end.

So far it’s been hard work learning to retire. But I think we’ll survive.

shoreline fishing, Atlantic Ocean
Mauve morning.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

What’s retirement? I guess I’ll find out

Amish boys, harvesting corn
Working in the township that I love.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I started out the New Year the best way possible. I retired.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved working. I love working. Given that we are moving to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley next spring, it’s time for me to shift into a lower gear.

The transition from work to non-work has been a gradual one to be sure, much like how I transitioned my way into the wonderful world of work. Altogether, I’ve been working for more than 60 years.

cooper's hawk
I’m a hawk about work.

I started out at age eight selling seed packets door-to-door. I’ve been working ever since.

I delivered newspapers for two different urban publishers. Profits from those ventures were invested at the new McDonald’s built at the end of my route. A quarter bought me a cheeseburger and a Coke.

In high school, I pumped gas at Carl’s Garage in Canton, Ohio. Gasoline was 27 cents a gallon when I started, 31 cents when I graduated.

I was a Fuller Brush salesperson. That experience convinced me to go to college.

I attended night school for my first two years at university studying to be a journalist. During the day, I worked at a huge corporation where my father and grandfather spent most of their employment years. I learned from that experience not to work at a huge corporation unless I absolutely had to do so. I’m glad I never did.

I wove being a stringer for The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, in between my high school years and my college days. A stringer is a person who writes stories freelance. Ambitious stringers like me wrote for pennies on the word.

That connection, fortunately, led to an internship at The Plain Dealer. Remember what I said about working for a large corporation? I learned the same was true for a major metropolitan newspaper.

That’s how I ended up in Holmes Co., Ohio. First, I taught for nine years at Killbuck Elementary School. That saved my life, or maybe better stated, made my life. Folks welcomed me with open arms. I felt right at home.

I married, and my wife became a teacher, too. When our children arrived, Neva put her career on hold to do her very best at being both mom and wife. She got an A+ in both categories.

Winesburg Elementary School, Holmes Co. OH
Where I served as principal for 21 years.

After earning my Master’s degree, I became an elementary principal in the East Holmes Local School District. I also coordinated the district’s substantial federal programs. I learned to multi-task or else. Those were 21 marvelous years.

At age 51, I made yet another transition. I retired as an educator and served as a marketing and public relations guru for a few local businesses. Another job tied my education and marketing careers together.

I served as a Saltcreek Twp. Trustee for nearly 20 years, and with the impending move that community responsibility, too, has come to an end.

dog, granddaughter
Chasing the grandkids and the grand dogs will become my main job.

Now my work priorities have changed. The time has come to refocus my lagging energy and flagging memory to the top priorities in my life: my family and my writing. Retirement was necessary for that to occur. This blog will continue to feature my writing and photography, but will likely change name and format.

My wife and I will settle into our new setting near our grandkids in Virginia in May. I can let grandkids completely wear me out playing baseball, listening to concerts, and however else they choose to spend their time and parents’ money. We’ll be there cheering them on.

I’m looking forward to all the unknown adventures ahead. Just don’t wake me before 8 a.m.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017