Far from a quiet farewell

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Forest Park Junior-Senior High School Extracurricular Accounts Treasurer Rita Sonderman of Ferdinand was honored at a retirement luncheon at the Ferdinand school Thursday. She has worked with the school corporation since 1973. Athletic Director Doug Louden hugged Sonderman as he told her how much he would miss working with her.


FERDINAND — They all wanted to leave quietly. But when you’ve touched so many lives, it’s all but guaranteed that won’t happen.

Forest Park Junior-Senior High School Extracurricular Accounts Treasurer Rita Sonderman, Ferdinand Elementary Principal Stacy Kitchin, four Ferdinand Elementary teachers, and a Cedar Crest Intermediate teacher will all retire from the Southeast Dubois School corporation after this school year.

The transition marks the end of an era, as most of the names listed above have worked in the corporation for north of three decades.

Sonderman has been with the corporation since 1973 and has been the ECA treasurer at Forest Park since 1976. She is currently the longest-tenured employee in the corporation at 45 years with Southeast Dubois Schools. And she has loved every bit of it — that’s why she stayed as long as she did.

“People don’t believe me, but I tell them there has never been a day when I thought, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t have to go into work today,’” the 79-year-old said Thursday. “I was always ready to come in. Every day is always a new day. No day is ever the same.”

Maybe it’s the energy of the school. Maybe it’s the nice, stable routine the ECA treasurer post provides. Either way, she has always enjoyed going to work.

As part of her job, Sonderman handled the funds from sports, clubs and other activities that totaled close to $750,000 in a single year, and also helped the junior-senior high school’s secretary. In addition to that, over the years, she’s helped out in the cafeteria lunch line as a cashier and did a little bit of treasurer work in other areas, such as the guidance department. Now, she works just under 30 hours a week.

But computers are moving ahead, and Sonderman — who calculated the finances manually with paper and pencil when she first started at the school years ago — said it was time to pass the job on to a younger, more tech-savvy individual.

Though she remembers a time when kids weren’t glued to their phones, she also said the kids who attend the school today are still good. She’s seen everyone come and go around her, and now teachers younger than her grandchildren are coming to work at the school.

Sonderman — who lives a block away from Forest Park in Ferdinand — is starting to look forward to retirement now. She put it off for years, always deciding that the previous school year passed too quickly and she wanted another one. She made the decision to step down last fall. It was just time.

She’s looking forward to traveling on family vacations with her husband, Art, and her children and grandchildren. Thursday, she met with a library full of faculty members and family for a retirement lunch celebration featuring fried chicken, coleslaw, green beans and more.

At the elementary school, Kitchin will retire from her role as principal at the end of June. She has led Ferdinand Elementary for five years and will be replaced next school year by Tyler Lemen, currently principal at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Jasper. Kitchin will miss the kids the most.

“You walk down the hall and you feel like a rockstar every day,” she said. “Little kids are like, ‘Mrs. Kitchin!’ like they’ve never seen you before. And they run up and give you all these hugs and everything. I’m going miss the hugs and miss the kids and their funny stories.”

Kitchin was excited when she arrived at the school and ready to work with her teachers as a team. But in retirement, she’s ready to move on to something else — screening children for dyslexia to help them tackle the disability and working with teachers to share resources they can implement in their classrooms to help them reach those kids.

“Having that connection — that one-on-one time with the kids — is what I’m looking forward to again,” said Kitchin, who has been an educator for 17 years.

Like Sonderman, Ferdinand Elementary teachers Kim Fleck, Kathy James, Julie Lindauer, and Kelly Wollenmann will also work their final day today. They have been teachers at the school for 22 years, 33 years, 30 years, and 31 years, respectively. Sharon Meyer, a fifth-grade teacher at Cedar Crest Intermediate, will also step down after 33 years with the corporation.

They couldn’t leave quietly, either. Recently, past students reached out to some of them to let them know the impact they had on their lives. Whether it was meaningful, like teaching them how to read, or silly, like letting them sit on their desks, the love was appreciated.

Fleck, a second-grade teacher at Ferdinand Elementary, said the outpouring of student support “was really awesome.”

“That was one thing you always hoped,” she said. “There’s some you can look back on and feel like, ‘I got to that one.’ You made a difference in their life.”

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