Retiring teacher Kay Helfrich poses with her 7-year-old grandchildren, Sophia and Benjamin. Helfrich has taught for 21 years at Evangelical School in Godfrey and will be recognized June 7 at a special worship service for her years of service.
GODFREY — There is a certain buzz of excitement in the air as the temperature rises and the promise of summer has children counting down the days until their academic freedom.
The end of this particular school year is bittersweet for eighth-grade teacher Kay Helfrich, as she will be retiring after more than 20 years at Evangelical School in Godfrey.
“One thing I did say when I said I was going to retire was that I will never have to wear a visitor’s badge because this is my home away from home,” Helfrich, 61, said.
Evangelical United Church of Christ, along with Evangelical School, will honor Helfrich at a special ceremony during the worship service at 10 a.m. June 7. A reception will follow from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at Heggemeier Hall.
Since she was a girl, Helfrich said she loved learning and school, and with age that turned into a passion for teaching. After graduating McKendree University in 1976, she began her career as an educator at what was then known as North Junior High (currently North Elementary). After three years of teaching, she took a 15-year leave of absence to raise her two sons.
In 1984, Helfrich’s oldest son, Steven, began kindergarten at Evangelical. She fell in love with the school and admired then-Principal Patti Flippo Kratschmer, wishing to work for someone like her when she returned to teaching. As it turned out, Helfrich was hired in 1994 as a fourth-grade teacher at Evangelical and never left.
Helfrich said Tom, her husband of 38 years, has been her rock and has supported her “every inch of the way.”
“It’s kind of a funny story,” she said. “After my son was born, I said to my husband, ‘Maybe I won’t go back to teaching.’ He said, ‘That’s what you are. You are a teacher. I can’t imagine you doing something else.’
“I was kind of offended because I thought, ‘Well, I can do other things.’ But then I realized it was actually a compliment.”
Her sincere love of teaching has added to her accomplishments in 21 years. She was one of the first teachers to teach at the middle school and is proud of how much that school has grown. She also initially started an annual Washington, D.C., trip for eighth-graders back in 2005, and says one of her favorite moments was among those trips. While visiting the World War II Memorial, her students interacted with actual World War II veterans. She said seeing her students connect with the past was emotional for her and a highlight of her career.
Helfrich also says she is proud of the Veterans Day program she started with then-Principal Barb Jutting.
“We have school on Veterans Day,” Helfrich said. “Not because it’s not a holiday, but because we wanted the kids to learn the importance of it. She (Jutting) used to have veterans come in and speak to the kids, so I suggested we do something for the veterans.”
Teaching at Evangelical also has been a family affair. Her oldest son, Steve, and his wife, Daria, teach at the school; youngest son, Scott, tapes school programs and remains involved in the activities, and Helfrich’s two grandchildren attend Evangelical.
Helfrich may be retiring this year, but she says her days with the children are not at an end. Although she is retiring from full-time duties, she plans to stay in education through tutoring and substitute teaching.
“At this school we are a close staff,” she said. “I have worked for wonderful principals, students, teachers and colleagues.
“It has just been a glorious experience.”