NEW ULM - Few people are more influential in a student's life than their first-grade teacher - and Marlene Hopmann has held that distinction in the lives of more than "900 little ones," to use her characteristic gentle wording.
She has been that key first influence that has the potential to set to tone for a child's school years.
Hopmann is a "traditional" - as in "firm but loving" - teacher. In that characteristic manner, she has guided children in mastering critical skills like reading, writing, basic math concepts and shaping letters - the key building blocks in the foundation of future learning.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Marlene Hopmann is retiring from teaching at St. Paul’s Lutheran School since 1973.
Each child is uniquely precious to Hopmann. At the end of a school year, each of "her" children receives a keepsake: a scrapbook meticulously crafted by her, documenting that child's life as a first grader. How many teachers do that?
Hopmann has taught longer than most of her more recent first-grade students' parents have lived, 44 years.
"Doing something other than teaching has never been a priority," said Hopmann. "For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher."
"I never wanted to stop - not until my energy gave out..."
"God has blessed me with the adventure of a lifetime during these 44 years. I love children, and I was privileged to touch the lives of more than 900 little ones."
Her students include fathers and their sons, and mothers and their daughters. Yes, she's called a few girls by their mom's first name.
The first-grade teacher at St. Paul's Lutheran Elementary School is retiring at the end of the current school year.
Hopmann was born in Watseska, Ill., and raised on a farm with her twin sister and an older brother.
She attended St. Paul's Lutheran Grade School, graduating in 1960.
She and her siblings played school; and she was encouraged in her choice by her family, friends and teachers.
"My first grade teacher was a tremendous influence. I wanted to be kind, loving and caring just like she was," says Hopmann.
She attended Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills, Wis., graduating in 1964; and earned her Bachelor of Education degree at Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm in 1969.
Her first assignment, in 1968, was teaching grade five at St. Paul's School in Stevensville, Mich. (She was called out of college to fill an opening). She second assignment, from 1969 to 1973, was in grades one and two at Christ Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Wis.
In 1973, she took up the first-grade position at St. Paul's in New Ulm where she has taught ever since.
"The greatest joy and privilege these 44 years has been sharing the truths of God's Word with little children," says Hopmann.
"Teaching them how to read is exciting, knowing that some day they can study these truths from God's Word on their own."
While any age group is unique, her greatest love has been working with first-graders, said Hopmann.
"Their eagerness and desire to learn is very rewarding. ... They soak it up, they want to learn. ... They are innocent, believe in what you say."
Many times, children have called her "mom;" in more recent times, she "graduated" to "grandma."
"When you have the younger kids, you and the parents are just very close," says Hopmann.
Each year has brought its ups and downs. Yet, looking back, she has no regrets. At the end of each year, she would look back and think, what a great year!
Technology has been one of the biggest challenges in Hopmann's teaching career. "My children know so much more about it than I do," she laughs.
In retirement, she is planning to move back to Lake Mills, Wis., to be close to her family.
"I plan to 'teach' my little nieces and nephews and share in all my family's lives," says Hopmann.
"I still would love to volunteer to rock babies in the hospital's nursery."
"There are so many memories tucked into my heart. I plan to take them out and treasure them," says Hopmann.
Any message to new teachers?
"If you are just beginning your career as a teacher, I want to wish you the best. Enjoy each day because the years pass so quickly," said Hopmann.