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Laura Austin Photo / Ellen-Marie Knehans, who has been teaching for 40 years, is getting ready to retire and is beginning to pack a few books and supplies for her classroom.

Knehans retires from SSUSD after 40 yrs teaching

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer–    On May 30, Ellen-Marie Knehans says goodbye to her students and co-workers as she leaves a 40-year teaching career and heads to South Carolina. Sierra Sands School District has been her home base for the last twenty-five years. She has taught at Murry Middle School, Richmond Elementary, Gateway Elementary, and Las Flores, and for the last three years, she has been teaching at Mesquite High School.

Knehans did not set out to be a teacher. She tells us, “I was going into the retail management side of it. I grew up in a delicatessen in New York, so I knew the business. That’s what I knew. It was cut and dry. And that was where I wanted to go.” Then, she had her first post-college professional job. “I was assistant manager of the men’s department in a family-owned store on Main Street in Annapolis, which would be ideal. I could walk to work every day. It was wonderful. I hated it.”

She headed home to Mom to regroup.  “I called the principal of the elementary school I had attended as a kid, where my good friend was teaching second grade. I called and said, ‘If you need substitutes, I haven’t found a position.’” Knehans was aware that “it’s always hard to find substitutes in Lutheran schools, private schools in general.”  The principal was the same one she knew as a child and was aware that Knehans had been a camp counselor and taught swimming and vacation bible school.

Her introduction to teaching was shadowing a second-grade teacher. That was all it took. “After observing those three days, I went, ‘Oh my gosh, this is where I’m supposed to be.’ I’m a firm believer that God puts us in places where we need to be, and that was my place.

“My first teaching partner was my BFF from first grade. We had met on the first day of first grade, we had mixed up lunchboxes, and we became friends. And she was my first teaching partner. We had worked a camp together. We were good friends. And there she was, my new teaching partner. And that’s where it started.”

It is difficult for Knehans to name just one favorite student success story; there are many. She shared that there were twins in her third and fourth-grade combination class, Stacia and Steven. Sadly, Stacia has since passed from breast cancer. “She wrote me a note when I was teaching at Richmond.  I kept in contact with the family because I just adored them and loved them. She wrote me a letter when she was an adult and had graduated from UC Irvine. And she said, ‘Thank you for believing in me, that’s why I was so successful. Thank you for making me realize I was smart.’ And that warms my heart every day and she’s gone. I keep in contact with her mom and her brother.”

How does she want her students to remember her? “That I was fair, that I was lovingly firm. And I really did care. Because I do.” One of her favorite characters has always graced her walls. “I love Snoopy; when I taught Snoopy was everywhere in my room because everybody can relate to the Peanuts gang. There’s one character that every kid can relate to. And they see that even if they have issues, they eventually get along, and they work together as a gang.”

Family is important to Knehans. Her husband has been supportive from the very beginning when they conducted a long distance military relationship in their youth. “His name is Bill; every step of the way of my teaching career, if he needed to come in and hang bulletin boards, if I needed help, you know, making sure that the desks were moved or whatever furniture needed moved he would help; he always had time to help me.” Her sons were also very helpful. “I am such a proud mom of my two boys. Ted is now 32. He taught Biology at Burroughs for three years. And I have another son, John, who is 27. And he’s the dad of my first grandson.”

Why South Carolina? There are lots of reasons. “South Carolina is very fair to military retirement. My husband’s a retired helicopter pilot. And financially, it’s a win-win for us. Some other financial things are really good about it. But it’s beautiful. There are four seasons, but the winter is not very long, and it’s a mild winter. It’s great. And I’m from the East Coast. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. It means that I’m not that far from Hood College, and I support it tremendously. My brother is there now. My favorite cousin is there, and my husband’s cousins are there as well. And they are both, you know, like 20-40 minutes, either direction.”

Knehans credits her Norwegian heritage for her being a well-rounded individual. Her father wasn’t in the picture, but her grandfather was always in her life. He gave her a toolbox when she was a kid, even before she had a doll stroller. Her mom always made sure she “could do it.” And she has a great attitude about life. “Even in bad times, tough times, you can still learn something.”