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The Octagon

Six teachers’ plans for retirement range from researching Native Americans to volunteering at the MIND Institute

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Jacqueline Chao
Art teacher Patricia Kelly shows freshman Jewel Turner how to paint a stamp in the Art Studio elective. Kelly said she plans to tour the northwestern Pacific Coast after retiring this year.

For many, this year seems like the end – and the beginning – of an era.

AP European History teacher Daniel Neukom, director of admission Lonna Bloedau, English teacher Ron Bell, history teacher Bruce Baird, AP Studio Art teacher Patricia Kelly and lower-school teacher Anita Kassel would agree. They all have announced that this will be their last year at Country Day.

Together the retiring teachers have put in 144 years at the school.

Neukom’s tenure stretched some 44 years, a record in Country Day history.

Bloedau has worked here for 25 years and admitted thousands of students.

Kassel has been teaching second to fourth graders since 1984.

And Kelly, Bell and Baird have been teaching high schoolers courses for over a decade.

As Neukom said, it is “quite a graduating class of faculty.”

The general feeling among them is that the time is right to step down and allow for the next generation.

Kevin Huang
History teacher Daniel Neukom

Eventually it’s time to move on and let the other folks in,” Neukom said.

“I remember when I was younger in my 20s just how excited I was to get in a classroom – even if I wasn’t (always) paid to teach. Now, I’ve been able to enjoy that for 45 years, and I think it’s time to let other people enjoy that.”

Though many of the up-and-comers had similar reasons for entering the teaching profession, their reasons for leaving are varied.

Neukom said he’s come to the end of an agreement made three years ago.

It was 2014 when 65-year-old Neukom, then dean of students, decided to retire from full-time employment.

But, according to Neukom, he had seen that people who went from a full-time job to full retirement didn’t transition as easily.

So he agreed to teach just AP European History for two years, gradually fading out.

“It was actually (head of high school) Brooke Wells who asked me if I could teach the class two more years so students I had as freshmen could take the class when they were seniors,” Neukom said.

His last freshman class is now the class of 2017.

Jacqueline Chao
Director of admissions Lonna Bloedau

Neukom wants to tutor in an adult literacy program.

And next year, when he’s not tied to SCDS’s rotating schedule, he’ll be able to commit to particular times every week.

Yet even then his true retirement life will have yet to begin as his wife, Octagon adviser and English teacher Patricia Fels, will not retire until next year.

“Then I’ll be able to see what retirement life is really about,” Neukom said.

Bloedau, like Neukom, is taking “the glide path out” and only semi-retiring.

Although she will be permanently out of the office, she will stay on campus to assist the international students in getting and maintaining their visas as well as overseeing their host families.

She also plans to add a transcultural element to the whole school, allowing international students to bring their culture here to a greater extent and, through activities, better preparing the students for American school life.

Jacqueline Chao
English teacher Ron Bell

For example, at the moment, international students don’t have the opportunity to celebrate Spring Festival/Chinese New Year (春节) at school, so Bloedau hopes that Chinese cultural events like this can be celebrated as holidays like Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day are now.

While not on campus, she will study topics that pique her interest: learning Italian, researching how the brain functions and volunteering at the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Bell and his wife, Joanne, are retiring in the same year and are already planning what they will do when they are freed of their work regime.

“I plan on going off into very remote places,” Bell said.

“I like the desert, Coachella Valley area, Sedona, Flagstaff, and I have a cabin in the mountains up along the American River.”

In addition, Bell said he will continue his research on Southern California Native American cultures like the Kumeyaay and the Cahuilla.

“I’d like to go down there and possibly learn from some of the people near Anza Borrego State Park,” Bell said.

Ever since Bell started his writing project, a complex novel with a character from a cultural background similar to the Kumeyaay and Cahuilla, he has become very interested in those cultures.

Jacqueline Chao
History teacher Bruce Baird

“Once I started researching this culture – its religion, its traditions, its shamanistic traditions – it took the writing to a whole different area,” he said.

Baird also hopes to expand his historical research.

“Learning is the thing that I’m addicted to,” Baird said. “(But) my research is all in my head, (so) I need to do something with people, too.”

Baird said he will also turn to activism.

“There are people in the Bay Area that share a lot of my common interests, and I’ve been going down to Berkeley a lot lately,” Baird said.

“To me the most important issue that the country needs to understand is ‘9/11 truth,’ or ‘What the hell happened on 9/11?’ People are demonizing Muslims.”

Kelly’s first thing on the agenda is to plan a trip to the northwestern Pacific Coast.

“I want to see the totem poles and go to Ashland, Seattle and Portland since I don’t recall having been there, and I feel like that’s the kind of place that I’d remember,” Kelly said.

Jacqueline Chao
Art teacher Patricia Kelly

Apparently, she and her husband have been wanting to go to Ashland since last year, when he started reading up on Shakespeare.

Kelly said she also wants to see the Space Needle and explore the art galleries in Seattle.

But in the immediate future, she’s planning on staying around her family in Sacramento.

“I have to clean my studio first, as right now I just kind of put things here and there,” she said.

“I’ve got two grandkids that I’m sure I’ll be spending more time with. Plus my youngest son’s getting married.

“And (I’ll) get back into my own artwork, of course, start some new projects.”

Jacqueline Chao
Fourth-grade teacher Anita Kassel

Kassel plans on taking care of her 90-year-old father Alois Peter, skiing more during the week, taking tennis lessons and traveling (in the off season, of course).

In addition, she will fly to Switzerland to see her family and to Hawaii.

In 1998 Kassel created a travel business, Family Holidays, and would make routine trips to Hawaii to inspect sites and see what services she could sell.

She said she hopes to start that business up again.

Kassel also plans to return to school and learn Spanish.

“I just want to be able to do whatever I want whenever I want kind of,” Kassel said. “I’m tired of getting up at 5:30 every day. No more alarm clock!”

In the months to come, these teachers’ replacements will be announced.

But for now, their legacies continue.

By Chardonnay Needler

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