HARTINGTON — Four veteran Hartington-Newcastle teachers with a collective 163 years of teaching experience are spending their final days in the classroom this week.
Sue Brodersen, Dave Rehnstrom, Jerry Bult and Kristi Bult are all retiring this year.
When Rock Valley, Iowa, native Kristi VanderVelde and Wessington Springs, S.D., native Jerry Bult first met at Hartington Public High School in the fall of 1978, they rarely saw each other. Their daily class schedules didn’t align with each other, but similar interests and a similar group of friends soon brought the young teachers together. They married a year and a half later, and have worked in the same school together ever since.
All three of their children have gone through the Hartington school system. A little under 40 years later and they will be retiring together at the end of the HNS 2016-17 school year.
For the Bults, the students always came first in their minds.
Jerry Bult, a high school mathematics teacher and a track and football assistant coach, will miss working with all the kids he spent decades of his life nurturing and mentoring.
On top of his regular teaching duties, each year he paints the lines on the football field and maintains the track throwing circles. He established a recycling program for the school and supervises a winter weight room session.
HNS principal Corey Uldrich said Jerry Bult always goes beyond the minimum to be involved in the academic and extra-curricular activities of his students.
As a math teacher, students always come first for him. Whether it’s having them work out a problem at the smart board or cheering them on at a track meet, building positive relationships with his students is the most important thing to him.
“He’s the guy who does a lot of things people wouldn’t think to do,” Uldrich said. “He’s everywhere — he’s the epitome of just being there.”
Helping kids succeed in all areas of life is what he’s always enjoyed. It’s why he decided to teach, and it’s the hardest part about retiring.
“I’m sad that I will no longer be working with kids,” Jerry Bult said. “It breaks my heart to think that I won’t see some of these kids again.”
Kristi Bult comes from a teaching background. Her mother taught kindergarten when she was growing up, and her brother is also a teacher. Teaching was the only job she had ever thought of doing.
Much like her husband, she found shaping the futures of her students exciting and rewarding.
“I will miss watching the students grow up and graduate and then teaching some of their children,” Kristi Bult said.
During her time as an elementary teacher, Bult has been promoting wellness and physical activity among her students. She currently leads the Happy Feet program, a weekly after-school activity which seeks to educate students in the 4-6 grade range on the importance of eating healthy and exercising regularly.
Her compassion and commitment to her students was noticed by HNS elementary school principal Sarah Edwards during the three years Edwards has been at the school.
“Kristi gets to know her students and uses that information to build relationships,” Edwards said. “She believes all students can learn. Her students have great respect for her.”
There was never a dull day at work for her and every day was an adventure with her students.
She said they taught her to be flexible, and to take in the same excitement they felt when they got excited, succeeded or just enjoyed what was going on in class. It was learning to enjoy the little things in her job while not worrying about the equally small issues that were hardest for her to learn.
“Don’t sweat over the small stuff, which is easier said than done,” Kristi Bult said. “All teachers wake up in the night thinking about school – it’s never completely off your mind.”
With their upcoming retirement, Kristi and Jerry Bult may soon find themselves sleeping soundlessly during the night. The two had been talking about retiring for several years, and they want to travel while they are still able.
The first step for the Bults is moving to Madison, S.D. The couple bought a condominium on Lake Madison, where their son, Mark, and his wife, Laura, currently live.
“There are plenty of things to do on Lake Madison,” Jerry Bult said. “Kristi and I also love to travel.”
At the end of their careers, the Bults advise all upcoming teachers to always put their students first, no matter what. Jerry Bult said every student has a story behind them and they all deserve to be treated fairly and with kindness. He said teachers should never dwell on the negative aspects of teaching.
“Life will go on without us,” Kristi Bult said. “It is time for a new generation of teachers to take over.”