DUS honors retiring faculty, staff members

DOWAGIAC — A group of retiring Dowagiac Union Schools educators were honored this week for their years of service.

The Dowagiac Union Schools Board of Education honored seven Dowagiac staff and faculty members retiring at the end of the school year during its meeting Monday at Dowagiac Middle School.

Each retiree was awarded with a special commemorative trophy with their names engraved on the front.

Renee Grady was the first to be honored at the meeting. An English learning paraprofessional at Patrick Hamilton Elementary, Grady has served the DUS district for 22 years. Grady, who was not present at the meeting, began her career as a playground aide at Lincoln Elementary before moving to Justice Gage Elementary as a pre-kindergarten parapro before ending her career at Patrick Hamilton.

“She has really enjoyed building relationships with students and families throughout many years,” said Patrick Hamilton principal Nicole Robinson. “She said the best thing is being able to see those little kids grow up and now being able to work with their families and children as well. She’s going to miss everybody.”

While Grady will be retiring, she is not done working with students. According to Robinson, Grady has inquired about coming back to volunteer in the building.

Gail Gersonde was the next retiree to be honored. While not present, superintendent Jonathan Whan presented those in attendance with her background. Gersonde worked with the district for 21 years and spent the school year as a K-5 virtual teacher for the elementary schools. She began her career at DUS as a physical education teacher at Dowagiac Middle School before moving onto the elementary level.

“We wish her well and thank her for her service,” Whan said.

Kincheloe Elementary School principal Kathy Stone presented retirees Elaine Bansen and Vickie Farleigh with honors.

A fourth-grade teacher at Kincheloe, Bansen — who was not present — has been with the district for more than 33 years. During her time with the district, Bansen has taught at McKinley Elementary, Patrick Hamilton and Kincheloe.

“During her teaching career at Dowagiac, she has enjoyed her time here, and she’s honored to have had the chance to touch so many families in this community,” Stone said. “She says it’s been as much a pleasure to learn from each student and family as it has been to teach them. We thank her for all of her service.”

According to Stone, Farleigh began her career with DUS as a breakfast aide in 1994. Dan Smith, who was a principal at the time, asked Farleigh to help in classrooms as a classroom aide. She has worked in every grade level and has spent the last eight years a special education paraprofessional.

“Some of her best memories include running lunchtime and the soccer games,” Stone said. “She has enjoyed seeing all the renovations and improvements there as well. She says she’s ready for the next chapter.”

Union High School principal Kelly Millin was on hand to present the retiree tandem of Katrina Hargreaves-Lee and Becky Turner.

Hargreaves-Lee has worked for DUS for 33 years. She coached girls basketball and volunteered for the athletic department.

Turner’s family has deep ties to Dowagiac education. Her husband, Bob, and son, Jason, are both teachers at the middle school, and her daughter, Kristyn, is a teacher at the high school.

She has worked with the district since 1996 after a stint of teaching at Brandywine Community Schools. Turner has coached and assisted with boys and girls golf and currently volunteers with the softball team.

“Normally, I would introduce retirees individually,” Millin said. “But it’s much more fitting to invite them up here together. They have been colleagues, room neighbors and, most importantly, friends for more than 25 years and have taught math at multiple levels. … Both have volunteered to help with many extracurricular activities, and both have inspired their families to be the next generation of educators. They have supported each other and the students they serve for more than a quarter-century, and they are indeed partners in crime. What one doesn’t think of, the other will.”

Lastly, Superintendent Whan honored DUS facilities director John Juroff for his years of service. Juroff has served the district for 32 years and has been a member of the community for 51.

According to Whan, Juroff has been a key piece in the district’s ability to educate students.

“What most people don’t understand is that, as a facilities director, his day doesn’t have a normal start and end time,” Whan said. “No matter what he’s doing, there’s something else that needs to be done. From working with staff in the facilities, maintenance and custodial departments to supporting our teachers and students, he’s been instrumental in keeping the district running. Solving problems and everything John has ever done has been focused on serving the district.

“I have had the pleasure of working with 10 different facilities directors over my career, and I kid you not, he is the best and we will sorely miss him. We thank him for everything he has done for us and we wish him great times in retirement.”

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