NEW ULM - Bonnie Lilleodden's dream growing up was to be teacher.
But due to financial constraints, she never went to college, so working in the school system became her ideal career.
The media center secretary at Washington Elementary School is retiring, after 29 years in District 88.
Staff photo by Kremena Spengler
Bonnie Lilleodden is retiring as media center secretary at Washington Elementary School after 29 years in District 88.
Lilleodden grew up on a farm, the middle of five children.
"On the dairy farm, we had lots of chores and responsibilities," she remembers. "I had a good life enjoying the simple life - my bike and my tree swing were my two play things. We had no TV, so on Sundays, IF we had all our homework and chores done early enough, we could go over to Grandma and Grandpa's house to watch 'Lassie' on their TV and play the player piano. I played a lot of two-man team softball games with my brothers."
Lilleodden attended Trinity Lutheran School in Nicollet through eighth grade, then transferred to Nicollet Public School, graduating in 1968.
In the fall of 1968 she moved to New Ulm and worked as a telephone operator for New Ulm Telephone. Later, she held the position of inspector as Windings, Inc. After marriage, she worked at State Bond and Mortgage Company in New Ulm as a secretary, doing share transfers with New York.
"I worked on what was called the Teletype then - huge machine - and amazing that New York could type their answer right back to you," she said.
As time went on, she became "a jack-of-all-trades," assisting other departments whenever there was an absence.
In the fall of 1970, she moved to a farm in rural Hanska and became a stay-at-home mom and farm wife, until her three children were off to school.
In 1983, she was asked to help teach the Great Books Reading Series to the fifth grade at Hanska Elementary School.
In 1985, she was hired as a teaching assistant and worked as a personal aide to a newly-adopted Korean boy who knew no English.
"[Current] board member Patti Hoffman was my mentor, deciding what we would emphasize and teach each week," says Lilleodden. "This was such as rewarding year, watching the little guy work so hard. In one year, he was doing so well catching up with his reading and math that I didn't have to be with him as much."
In 1986, Lilleodden became the Title I person in Hanska.
"Another rewarding experience - many times bringing tears when the student would finally understand and achieve success in either math or reading," says Lilleodden. "I loved seeing the light bulbs go on."
In 1992, she was asked to become the secretary in the media center at Washington School. When budget cuts were a necessity, she served several years as part-time secretary to the school counselor as well. She helped move the media center to the newly-remodeled addition on the main floor and get the new media center set up. She also assisted in the computer lab when the first lab was installed at the school and for several years after that.
Lilleodden served on the SOS committee and a District 88 Task Force and chaired two Scholastic Book Fairs per school year for the last 16 years.
"The book fairs were a lot of work - but oh, so fun," she says. "We would get the students involved in activities, dressed in costume according to the theme: patriotic, Hawaiian, Beach Party, etc. ... Once we set up chairs to resemble an airplane and gave the students boarding passes for a 'Trip around the World'..."
"Working with the students was the high point of my job," says Lilleodden. "Lots of memories in the 29 years, many times bringing tears and making you want to go back the next day to be able to help another student if possible. ... The lonely little boy who would stand beside me during much of the class period and one day would not go on to his next class because, he said, 'I just need a hug first.' After a pat on his back, and some encouraging words, he smiled and continued onto his next class.
"Or the little boy who didn't know what book he would want to read, as he didn't think we had any good ones. After a little time with him, we settled on a book. The next time he came to the media center, he asked if there were any more books like that one. We found another by the same author. When he checked the book out, he bashfully told me that he did not like to read, but that he really liked reading these books and would be back to get another title next week. A little time and patience, along with a smile, can go along way with a student's eagerness to learn."
"Then there were the times kids say the darnest things," she said. "The first year I worked, I was in the kindergarten room, and there were a couple students that had a very unique way of telling about their lives and experiences. After a time of trying, as well as we could, to hold back the giggles, we would have to step outside the door to get the chuckles out and go back into the room as if nothing had happened."
"The desire to help someone, and each day being a new day, not knowing what to expect, kept me coming back," Lilleodden adds. "Before I knew it, I had been in the school system for 20 years already and still enjoying it. I just hadn't stopped to keep track of the time. I was hooked from the first day, and didn't consider doing anything else," she says.
Although she has mixed feelings about retiring, she and is excited that she will be able to have more time to spend with children and grandchildren, and being able to attend more of their activities.
Lilleodden looks forward to doing more gardening, sewing, cooking and baking, some traveling, spending time in a northern Minnesota property, deer hunting, enjoying nature, biking, walking, cruising in collector vehicles and church and community activities.
"I am pretty versatile, so the sky is the limit," she says.