Mary Brinkman may have ended her 34 years of classroom teaching at Aurelia, but she will never quit being an educator.
"Once a teacher, always a teacher," she said with a grin.
A native of Remsen, Mary came to Aurelia right out of Iowa State University in 1973 to fill a third grade-sixth grade science teacher position. She fell in love and married Jim Brinkman and never left Aurelia.
As enrollments changed over the years, "I wore many hats," she said.
She has taught social studies, math and even served as a resource teacher in addition to teaching elementary/middle school science, which has always been her passion.
She spoke of the "wonderful" teachers she had as a child and admitted she was truly fascinated with the mud puppy her third grade teacher kept in the classroom. Perhaps it was those experiences that led her to a career in education. Or perhaps it was her father.
There were many life lessons taught on the farm; his enthusiasm for nature was passed on to his children - as was his excitement to learn and teach.
Mary's students have taken advantage of her enthusiasm by bringing in "things" to her classroom for examination.
"I will miss the kids and the newness of each day. I never can tell in the spring or the fall what will be waiting for me when I get to my room. I have had many gifts," she said.
Those "gifts" have included bugs, rocks and snakes but the most unusual was by far the two-headed calf that was born dead at one of her students' farm. The student's dad carried the animal to the science room which brought up many topics of science discussion. She then passed it along to the high school science teacher which did the same.
The students, no matter how many years out of school, remember her. This spring she was surprised with a tub of salamanders from a student who had been out of school for over 20 years!
She often gets calls from people in the community to help identify "strange" things they have found. She is more than happy to assist.
She feels fortunate that she has had the opportunity to have most of the students in the district for four years in a row; for the past seven years, she has had them for five years, teaching fourth grade through eighth grade.
She has loved teaching this age.
"They're still children and are so curious," she said. "They observe things and aren't afraid to ask questions."
Science, she said, has been a wonderful subject to share.
"We can do quiet things, big crazy kind of things, we can watch things grow and we can look at stars and rocks."
She hopes her students will remember not only her zest for science but advice she has shared with them.
"Being a teacher has given me the opportunity to tell them the best gift they could ever give me is to never use illegal drugs or become addicted to tobacco or alcohol."
She has also asked her students to set idealistic goals for their lives.
Mary is not sad to be ending her career at the Aurelia schools. There are more things lying ahead of her and more opportunities to share her teaching skills. She is completing the process to becoming a foster parent where she surely continue to make a difference in the lives of children.