Retiring teachers of LHS: their pasts and their futures

At the end of this school year, three teachers will be retiring from the full-time staff at LHS: Mrs. Cheryl Monken and Mr. Ron Russ from the physical welfare department and Ms. Amy Holtsford from the social studies department.

These teachers, who have spent a large part of their lives working at this school, have left an impact on the community, as teachers, coaches and friends. They’ve forged bonds with other staff, taught thousands of students and learned from their experiences as well.

The following is a closer look at each of these teacher’s lives at LHS and their plans for the future.

Mrs. Cheryl Monken

Mrs. Cheryl Monken began working at LHS in 1984, making this her 35th year teaching. She has taught several different physical education classes, including every level of Regular PE, Total Body Fitness, and Yoga-Pilates Fitness.

Recalling her favorite memories from working at the school, Mrs. Monken said, “There’s just too many things to say…Just seeing kids having fun and smiling and talking to them and getting to know them. I can’t think of a single [favorite memory]. I’ve loved my career, and there’s just too many.”

While Mrs. Monken does plan on returning to school to work as a substitute teacher, she has not made any concrete plans for the future.

“Other than [substitute teaching], I honestly don’t know. I don’t really have any passions for anything right now, although I [like] photography,” she said.  “Sports, people in general, and fitness have been my life.”

Though her passion for teaching physical education keeps her tied to the school, Mrs. Monken did admit that travel has recently begun to sound more interesting as an option for her after retirement.

Mrs. Monken made her decision to retire largely because of outside factors occurring at the school and within the state.

“About four years ago, when I put in [for retirement], I was at a place where we were doing a lot of changing of our evaluation system of teachers; I was kind of freaking out about it,” she said. “I was starting to think how long my body would last, running all over the place and trying to be a good role model.”

Furthermore, she expressed her sorrow at leaving the full-time staff, saying that the thing she would miss the most would be “[the students], for sure, the relationships [and] the staff. This truly is a huge community, and I know people say that all the time and it sounds cliché, but it’s true. As they say with teaching, the students keep you young, and it’s understated.”

Mrs. Monken noted that she was looking forward to subbing for different types of classes, as it would give her opportunities to get to know more of the staff and more students.

Ms. Patti Mascia, the Physical Education Department Supervisor, has worked with Mrs. Monken for 19 years. Prior to knowing Mrs. Monken as a fellow teacher, both of them were softball coaches, which Ms. Mascia said made it easier to get to know Mrs. Monken.

“Over time, when you start working with someone initially and then you spend almost 20 years together, you end up having a special bond. [Mrs. Monken and I] have become friends. We share in each other’s personal lives, what happens in and outside these walls,” Ms. Mascia said.

Ms. Amy Holtsford

Ms. Amy Holtsford started working at LHS in 1986, marking this as her 33rd year teaching at the school. Throughout her time at the school, Ms. Holtsford has taught all levels of Government, United States History, Current Issues and Law. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and her Juris Doctorate from Chicago-Kent College.

On her process of becoming a teacher, she remembered, “I had just finished at [the University of Illinois], and I applied to three or four schools. I went to two interviews and got two job offers. I chose Libertyville over the other job offer because I thought I would be in a better place for job security, and here I am 33 years later.”

As with Mrs. Monken, it was difficult for Ms. Holtsford to recall any specific one memory that stood out more than the others.

“Usually my favorite memories come down to an important, invaluable connection with students. I’ve had a lot of memories where students confided in me and have leaned on me for advice or help,” she said. “I just think part of the human experience is to be able to help others.”

Ms. Holtsford also remembered some fun memories from her classes, like a dance party with a six-foot sandwich during her homeroom class. As she stated, her fondest memories come from positive experiences with students, as well as making friendships with other staff.

One such friend is Mr. Kevin O’Neill, another teacher in the social studies department. Mr. O’Neill has worked with Ms. Holtsford for 17 years. Both teachers described their relationship as a mentor-mentee relationship, with Ms. Holtsford offering Mr. O’Neill advice when he needed it.

“Over the years, our relationship has changed into a peer relationship… My respect for her has grown,” he said. “While I still lean heavily on her intellect, I feel like I at least offer something in return now.”

Senior Alice Lillydahl, who is currently taking Ms. Holtsford’s AP Government class, admires her teacher’s enthusiasm for and quality of teaching: “I like how she takes what we’re learning and applies it to the real world, both history and current events… You can tell how much she [enjoys] teaching what she loves.”

Ms. Holtsford’s plans for retirement include continuing to coach girls basketball, traveling to Washington D.C. to watch oral arguments in the Supreme Court, traveling to Europe, and volunteering with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program at the Lake County courthouse.

As Ms. Holtsford described in an email, the work of the CASA program is about giving a voice to children in the court system, and it largely includes “helping kids transition from a home with family members or parents to foster care – and depending on the situation – back to parents.”

On what she was looking forward to about retirement, Ms. Holtsford mentioned, “I certainly will miss this building. I will miss the students, I will miss teaching, I will miss being in the classroom, and I will miss my friends. Yet at the same time, this is such a rushed, hectic job, and I feel like my mind can never turn off. I feel like I will appreciate a little downtime. Even with summer, it’s still hectic. I’m often working on curriculum or busy with basketball…So to have my plate not as full, I think I’m looking forward to that.”

Mr. Ron Russ

Mr. Ron Russ began working at LHS in 1984. As of this year, he has taught Driver’s Education, Regular PE, Health and Sports Medicine. In addition to teaching, he is also responsible for the administration of the Sports Medicine program.

According to the LHS website, Mr. Russ is a Certified Athletic Trainer  by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Clinically, he has worked for Physical Therapy Services, Ltd. and treated athletes from the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls and Sting, a former professional soccer team. His extensive career also gave him an opportunity to appear in the Warner Brothers movie “Wildcats” with Goldie Hawn.

Although Mr. Russ said he will miss the students, trainers, staff and maintenance crew, he does look forward to hunting and fishing during his retirement. He also plans on travelling to different states, namely Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, and Indiana. After a long career of teaching and training, Mr. Russ is glad to have “more time for [himself].”

Ms. Mascia, who spoke of both Mrs. Monken and Mr. Russ, applauded their determination in their work: “They both share a very similar trait, which is their dedication and their tenacity. What they give to their students day in and day out is amazing… Retiring from a place that they’ve worked for most of their careers, they could’ve gone out with an ‘I don’t care’ attitude, but neither one of them are going out that way.”