Cedar Hollow teachers

(From left) Cedar Hollow first grade teacher Doreen Grupe and music teacher Joan Browning plan to retire from teaching at the end of the school year. Grupe has taught for 35 years, while Browning has taught for 22 and a half years. (Independent/Austin Koeller)

After dedicating the majority of their teaching careers to Cedar Hollow School, two teachers are retiring at the end of the school year.

First grade teacher Doreen Grupe has taught for 35 years — 25 at Cedar Hollow. Prior to teaching at the school, she taught for Grand Island Public Schools at Barr and Walnut middle schools.

Music teacher Joan Browning said she has taught at Northwest Public Schools for 22 and a half years, teaching at 1-R School and Northwest High School prior to coming to Cedar Hollow. She has been at Cedar Hollow for 21 years.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Browning said. “There was a gal who came to our house when we were kids and she was practicing teaching. I don’t know if it was part of her college studies, but she did that and I thought, ‘That is what I want to do.’”

Due to her love of music since she was 4 years old, Browning said, she went to college after high school to major in music education. Despite starting college right after high school, she said she did not begin teaching until she was 45.

“I really felt like I needed to do more to contribute to my family finances,” she said. “I felt like God really led me into doing that and going back to school, so I did. Before, I played the piano at Walnut and thought, ‘If she can teach, so can I.’”

Grupe said that when she started her career, there were not many career options for women, so she decided to become a teacher.

“I wanted to be a teacher because I also wanted to be a mom,” she said. “Those two went so smooth together and it worked for me.”

Browning said the biggest change she has seen from the time she started teaching to now is the evolution of technology. It has been difficult for her to keep up with the latest technology.

Cedar Hollow itself has also experienced drastic changes, she said, as the school building has had a number of additions. The number of class sections has also increased, with enrollment currently “maxed out.”

Grupe said education is “ever-changing.”

“By the time you think you’ve gotten something figured out, something new comes along like new curriculum or new technology,” she said.

While they have different teaching roles, Browning and Grupe said they work together on a few things.

Browning said they collaborate on the school’s annual President’s Day program where Grupe “gets things organized for me.”

“There have been a few times where, if I was teaching a specific unit, I might ask Joan if she has a song about the specific topic,” Grupe said.

She said she chose to retire now because she wanted to go out “at the top.” Browning echoed Grupe’s comments and said she still wants to experience life and spend time with her family while she still can.

Browning said she wants to be available for her mother and mother-in law. She also wants to travel and learn to play the violin once she retires.

“I got my grandpa’s violin and I want to learn how to play it,” she said. “I want to learn how to quilt, too. I have a whole list. We will see if it gets done.”

Grupe said the Friday after school adjourns for the summer, she and her husband plan to travel to Mexico for a week. Once they return from vacation, she plans to spend time with her mother and grandchildren.

On April 29, Grupe was diagnosed with breast cancer and she underwent her first chemotherapy treatment last Wednesday. She said her cancer is “very treatable” and should be fully cured within a year.

“The kids have been really supportive. I got a ton of notes and every kid in the school signed this gigantic quilt,” she said. “It was at the treatment center yesterday. Some kids were waiting for me. I walked in, I had flowers, this great big basket, the quilt and I had a neck pillow that was signed by all the staff. That is the kind of environment Cedar Hollow is. It is a very nurturing, caring and giving school.”

Cedar Hollow Principal Scott Mazour said he has been at the school for eight years, but has known both Browning and Grupe prior to taking on his current role.

Mazour said he will miss both Browning and Grupe when they retire at the end of the school year.

“Both Doreen and Joan are incredible team players,” he said. “Both are simply interested in the success of students and literally could not care less how we get there and who receives the credit for it, which makes them so easy to work with. In my estimation, that makes them incredibly valuable to our school as people and professionals. Cedar Hollow has been blessed by their presence and we will certainly miss them.”

What do Browning and Grupe want to be remembered for?

Browning said she hopes she gave students an appreciation for music, while Grupe said she wants to be remembered for the life lessons she taught her students.

“I just want students to remember to be gentle and kind, because that is really what I have tried to teach in my classroom,” Grupe said. “Also, I want them to just keep on reading.”

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