A long-serving couple both retired from the Milaca School District this year.
Gwen and Martin Garber worked in Milaca for three decades.
The Garbers came to Milaca because Gwen was applying for a job, though it was Martin who landed the first full-time gig. He saw there were two band positions opened and applied. He got it, and Gwen was hired full time a few years later.
She started as a substitute teacher in the area in 1987. She spent a year as a long-term substitute in the media center before getting a part-time job as a social studies teacher and went full time in 1992.
She spent almost her whole career in Milaca teaching ninth grade through 12th grade. Two years ago, she was switched to mostly eighth-grade classes.
“It was a nice change for the last couple years,” Gwen said.
One of the biggest challenges of teaching middle school instead of high school kids is keeping in mind what they already know, according to Gwen.
“Just making sure that you’re engaging them at their level of knowledge,” Gwen said. “Versus in high school they’ve had more life experiences, so there are things that you can draw from a little bit more.”
Not only was Gwen teaching, she spent much of her career also coaching students. She has been involved in sports since she was in seventh grade, so athletics have always been a part of her life.
“In high school I would go and help with the junior high kids with sports, and people would always come up to me and say ‘you should continue working with kids,’” Gwen said.
So she did. Gwen coached 87 seasons in various sports including volleyball, basketball and track.
“It’s so rewarding to physically see people improve, and in the classroom you see the mental improvement, but I also like to see that physical and mental improvement in athletics,” Gwen said.
Gwen is from Pierz and attended Pierz-Healy High School. She went to the University of Minnesota, Morris to study social studies education and got her coaching certificate there as well.
She experimented with a few disciplines in college before deciding social studies was the path for her.
“There’s a lot of variety of topics to talk about,” Gwen said. “People mostly think about history, but there’s government and economics and geography and sociology and psychology, and it’s just (that) I like all of that variety and trying to connect all of them to each other.”
Connecting with kids and making a difference in their lives is part of what drove her to continue teaching, according to Gwen.
“What keeps teachers going is when you see the student understand and like the light bulb goes on and they have those ‘aha’ moments,” Gwen said.
Gwen plans on relaxing during retirement, probably traveling and doing some substitute teaching, though she will miss her colleagues and students.
“I want to thank all of my past colleagues, present colleagues — both in teaching and in coaching — who have impacted me and how I teach and how I coach, and I want to thank all the athletes and students over my career who have made me a better person as well as a better teacher and coach,” Gwen said.
Martin was the elementary and middle school band director. He directed the fifth and sixth grade band for all 34 years he’s been in the district. Garber began teaching the seventh and eighth grade bands about five years after he was first hired.
At first there were about 60 kids in the fifth and sixth grade band, which was a single group, when Garber joined the district. It was about the same with the seventh and eighth grade band, according to Garber.
“We recruited like crazy and we ended up splitting all four groups into four different bands,” Garber said. “We at least doubled our number. So it’s been fun, it’s been a fun ride with that.”
Martin also attended the University of Minnesota, Morris, where he initially wanted to major in engineering but then tried for a math major.
“I decided to be a math teacher for the first two years, but I wasn’t doing very good in math and was getting A’s in all the music classes,” Martin said.
So he became a band teacher. Martin was interested in more complex music, like what he played in college. But when he took the elementary job he found it was fun to work with kids in that age group. Since he started he had seven chances to move to the high school level, but decided to remain at the middle school level, he said.
While he enjoyed playing with the kids, Martin is looking forward to playing music at his own level. He particularly enjoys playing jazz, which is what turned him onto being a music director, he said.
When he first registered for classes at the University of Minnesota, Morris, Martin was signed up for jazz, because he played the trombone.
“It completely took a hold of my soul and that has kind of been my go-to for everything,” Martin said.
Martin recommended that any student considering becoming a teacher should go for it.
“You always will need teachers,” Martin said. “You are always going to need people to help out with the kids.”