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May 20, 2014 | 02:25 PM
FONTANA — After 33 years and countless connections with elementary students, vocal music teacher Mark Wenzel is retiring after this year.

Wenzel said he started teaching in Hebron, Ill., at a K-12 school for three years before coming to Fontana Elementary School. In Hebron, he had a cart instead of a classroom.

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“I’d load up the cart and bring it around to the different classrooms,” he said. “Coming here (even before the building was expanded) was a joy. All this space.”

Wenzel said coming to Fontana was “the next step in my career at the time.”

“Did I expect to stay here 33 years?” he asked. “Probably not. This place truly became enjoyable for me.”

At Fontana, he coached flag football and boys and girls basketball. Wenzel said he has at least 20 years experience with each of the sports teams.

“Coaching helps in the classroom environment,” Wenzel said. “The boys saw that you can be involved in athletics and music ... We never had a problem getting boys to sing here.”

Wenzel also advised the middle school’s student council.

In between all of that, Wenzel earned his principal’s and superintendent’s licenses.

“Everybody does something because they think they can make a difference,” Wenzel said about his career move into the administrator position. “I asked myself if I could make a difference outside of the classroom for the district.”

For two years, Wenzel was the principal while he finished earning his superintendent license. The district hired a part-time superintendent for the administrator duties.

“Then I had that dual role (of principal and superintendent) for three years,” Wenzel said. “I knew the school really well and I thought I would help move us forward (by being in that position) ... but the switch from teacher to principal changes how students look at you.”

Wenzel said he missed the daily interaction with students that he had had as a teacher.

“That dual role pulled (me) away from being in the classroom,” he said. “It’s a balance, having the two roles. It’s very difficult.”

At the end of five years in administration, Wenzel said he spoke with the board about his struggles.

Fortunately, the vocal music teacher the board had hired to replace Wenzel had resigned to move to another district.

Wenzel was rehired for his old position.

“It was hard coming back (to the classroom),” Wenzel said. “That prior teacher had made some connections with the kids while she was here.”

Even though he didn’t stay in administration, Wenzel called the five years a “wonderful experience.”

“It really makes you stronger,” he said. “I feed off that energy and enthusiasm of the kids. I needed that.”

What’s next?

Wenzel said he has no plans after the school year ends in June.

“The door is open for opportunities,” he said.

He might revamp his lawn maintenance business that he started in 1998.

“I like being outside,” he said. “That business was kind of reduced while I was administrator.”

His family is both happy and apprehensive about the upcoming retirement.

“My children are so happy for me,” Wenzel said. “They think I’ve earned the right ... (my wife,) I think she’s happy for me. She realizes it’s something I want.”

Wenzel’s wife, Linda, is a first-grade teacher at Walworth Elementary School.


Tags: Geneva Lake West

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