Retiring teachers reflect on tenures

Marlys Good

Joel Kuper

It was in the fall of 1979 that a young Joel Kuper began a teaching career that has spanned 45 years, the last 24 as a multi-faceted teacher at Greybull High School. He has left an indelible mark on hundreds of teenagers who have passed through the halls of our local high school.   
Looking back to Kuper’s first teaching job, he explains that his contract at Riverton High School was for one year as he took the place of a teacher on a sabbatical. “They told me they didn’t think the teacher would be returning.”
Kuper taught Life Science and Physical Science as well as a class in Earth Science. A busy schedule, to be sure, but to top it off, Kuper was also the assistant speech coach to Lois Sackman. “She was Wyoming’s first Hall of Fame coach,” he explained.
The downturn in the uranium industry brought the teacher on sabbatical back to Riverton and sent Kuper looking for another teaching position.
He and his wife moved to Kaycee, where he taught in a 7-12 building. “There I was responsible for 7th and 8th grade science, chemistry, physics, biology and anatomy. I also started a science research program for middle and high school students, and sent my first  project to the International Science and Engineering Fair. I was also involved with the speech program again, which was initiated by my wife. After our son was born, we realized that the remote nature of Kaycee was not the most conducive for medical concerns and we looked elsewhere.”
The young family moved to Gold Beach, Ore., and the town on the southern Oregon coast became their home for the next 16 years.
“I spent 16 years teaching physical sciences and building the science research program there. My background in science allowed me to specialize in many contest areas, and I helped start the state and regional science fairs in Oregon. I ran the Southern Oregon Regional Science and Engineering Fair for 15 years, sending 75 students to the event with multiple projects receiving recognition, including three international 1st place award winners.”
His son graduated from high school in 2000 and Kuper said Oregon began to suffer from funding issues, He and his wife decided to move back to Wyoming to be closer to family in the Cody area.
He was hired to replace retiring long-time teacher Earl Jensen and thus began Kuper’s 24-years at GHS.
He taught every science class Greybull has offered. He also started teaching Forensic Science and Anatomy, and — just as he did in his two previous school districts — building a science research program.
In fact, Kuper said he was brought to Greybull, in part, to start up the science research program based on his previous successes, but “I have enjoyed both research and speech.”
And his impact on his students can certainly be seen in the successes in both.
“We have had more students qualify for the highest level of science competition (106) than any other school in the state since 2000. GHS had a representative at ISEF every year except 2020 when the event was cancelled due to COVID.”
Greybull has also sent the majority of Wyoming representatives to the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize competition, the nation’s top competition for water-related student research. This year, that includes Caroline Boyer. Tyler Searfoss, a GHS senior, was also selected to attend the inaugural US STEM Challenge in DC.
“We also have biotech Level 2 lab for bio-technology research,” said Kuper. “Ours is the only one at a high school in the state or immediate region. We have received grants for research into indigenous plant usage and medical research into Alzheimer’s and cancer.”
Under Kuper, the GHS speech team has also excelled. This year’s team ended the season in a tie for second place with Thermopolis, which is always a strong competitor.
“We had one 1A/2A state champion, Gabriel VanderPloeg, who competed in humor, and a 2nd place winner in Congressional Debate and a third place finisher in Humor, Tyler Searfoss, who was also selected as the only 1A/2A recipient of a WHDA Student Ambassador. Searfoss also received a WSDA Student Ambassador award for outstanding senior.
Reflecting on his 45-year teaching career, Kuper remarked, ”I have always enjoyed teaching, not only my content, but encouraging the students to ask questions and strive to learn. I feel that students will be better prepared to face the future if they are able to adapt and better understand the world they live in. Like any teacher, some days have been more challenging than others, but for the most part, I have always enjoyed being in the classroom. Even when encouraged to seek administrative roles, I always felt most comfortable sharing my time in the classroom with my students. Sharing in their successes has always made me proud.
“I have seen many of my most promising students attain high levels of success after school. I have taught a significant number of students who are now lawyers, professors, medical professionals and science specialists. Others are happily raising a family  or involved in careers not related to science. But, in most cases, those students have been thankful for the times we shared in the classroom, at extra-curricular activities or both.”
The Kupers have three children: Brian is a software system specialist working at the University of Arizona; Jennifer is happily raising her family in Keller, Texas; and Megan, who also lives in Keller, where she is employed as a loan officer at a bank.
When interviewing the three GHS honor graduates, Tyler Searfoss spoke mostly about Mr. Kuper. He said Kuper was a teacher he always went to when seeking advice or had a problem. How he ended his statement was perhaps the greatest compliment any teacher can receive: “I noticed that Mr. Kuper was always there for any student, whether they were in his class or not. He was ready to listen and help them in any way he could.

Brett Hanlin

Fishing, reading and disc golf await Brett Hanlin when he walks into retirement at the end of the school year.
Though Hanlin began his teaching career “years ago” at a middle school in Oklahoma City, he’s spent the past 10 years as an English teacher at Greybull High School where he taught “a combination of composition and literature throughout the year.”
While his subject matter might not have changed, Hanlin explained, “With standards, etc., there are certainly more things to keep up with. Curriculum has come so far today that it is much easier to plan and complete units.”
Hanlin’s favorite memories at GHS are those spent with his students “either discussing or engaging in activities that they were passionate about.” He said it is the students and these interactions he will miss the most.
What he won’t miss is grading essays, and he declared that with an exclamation point!
In addition to his retirement activities, Hanlin said he would probably “pick up some part-time work to get me out of the house.”
Hanlin is married and has two daughters, both of whom are out of college.

Dee Robertson

Dee Robertson, Special Education Compliance Coordinator for Big Horn County School District No. 3, will retire at the end of the 2023-24 school year.
It’s a long title, but Robertson said, “Basically, I am the ‘right hand man.’ I oversee all the special education documents and attend meetings of all special education teachers K-12.” These have been her duties for the past three years.
Prior to her job as a “right hand man,” Robertson worked as a resource teacher. In an interesting twist of fate, it was 15 years ago that then-high school principal Mark Fritz contacted Robertson asking if she would be interested in the high school resource room job after a sudden staff resignation.
At the time, Robertson had not taught in Greybull and was a stay-at-home mom to her sons Elliot and Caleb.
“But I took that big step of faith, accepted the job, and have never regretted it,” she shared. “Now, here he (Fritz) is as the superintendent when I retire.”
Robertson said that over the years, her job hasn’t changed much except for her ability to do more in terms of experience and taking on responsibilities.
She doesn’t have to think long about what she’s enjoyed most in her 15 years with the district.
“Working with the students,” she said, recalling the satisfaction of seeing students overcome a battle with a topic, concept or class. “They find success and it changes all the things they thought were possible for them, and they gain belief in themselves and it forms a kind of bond when you do. Then when you see those students later and ask how they are doing, and they thank you for the time you spent with them, it is so rewarding.”
In her more recent position, Robertson said she will miss traveling between the three schools--elementary, middle and high--every day; her fellow teachers; the staff, and “touching” the lives of the students. Few teachers enjoy her privilege of working with students from kindergarten through high school every day.
But retirement calls. Her husband Bill has been retired for five years. Now they can visit their sons, relax and “travel to places you need passports.”
Both she and Bill plan to stay involved in the fall musical and spring play, Bill as an actor and Dee as an assistant director and set designer. It is their tradition that they plan to carry on.