By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Mrs. Wenger's final lessons
Times photo: Mary Jane Grenzow Margaret Wenger helps her first-grade students practice reading aloud in her classroom at Monticello school. Wenger is retiring this week after 49 years of teaching 42 of them in Monticello. Order photo
MONTICELLO - A small sign above the door to Margaret Wenger's first-grade classroom at Monticello school reminds visitors the importance of hugs:

"A hug is a great gift - One size fits all and it's easy to exchange."

For Wenger, they are words to live by. She always give her students a hug as they are leaving.

With a career that spans 49 years, that's a lot of hugs. But come Wednesday, Wenger will hug her last student as she says goodbye to her classroom and turns the page to the next chapter in her life - retirement.

Wenger said the time was right to retire. "I was going to retire in June," she said. But an opportunity to travel to Thailand with her brother and sister-in-law made her push retirement up a few months.

Growing up in rural Blanchardville, Wenger attended a one-room country school. It was there she decided she wanted to become a teacher.

The teacher she had in eighth-grade was a major influence. "She was young and pretty," Wenger recalled. "She gave us girls perfume for Christmas."

In retrospect, Wenger said she realizes the teacher was more a friend than a teacher. Nonetheless, Wenger used her experience as the second-oldest of 10 children to help her teacher with the younger children in the class.

Thus, a teacher was born.

Wenger graduated from Blanchardville High School in 1958 and went to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and then Green County Teacher's College in Monroe. She began her career teaching first- through eighth-grade at Owego Country School in Lafayette County.

The past 42 years she has taught at Monticello. The first 18 years she taught a combination first- and second-grade classroom.

Working with first-graders for almost five decades has given Wenger a wealth of memories. She remembers an ice storm in the 1980s, for example, that kept some of the students at school until 8 p.m. "Buses couldn't run," she said. "We were huddled under blankets in the gym."

Then there was the student who, in response to Wenger's remark that he had grown considerably, replied, "Well, I'm seven now."

Wenger always has remembered that phrase and plans to use it as she pursues another passion: Writing.

"People always say I should write a book," she said. And that's just what she wants to do in retirement. In fact, she already plans to write a collection of her experiences and anecdotes from the classroom in a book celebrating her students, most of whom turn from 6 years old to 7 during first grade. The title will be "Well, I'm Seven Now."

That planned book will add to Wenger's established repertoire. She had a poem titled "Is There Really A Santa Claus?" published in the American Anthology of Poetry in 1985. She's also written children's stories and has two, "Christopher Cricket's Christmas" and "Jerry the Jar," submitted for publication.

Wenger has seen many changes in education and the children themselves over the years. "It just used to be they sat there in straight rows," she said, referring to the children at their desks, "and we marched them down the hall."

Children today come into first grade knowing more. "A lot know how to read ... and they've been exposed to so much more than they used to be," Wenger said, noting that can be a good thing.

But "it's harder to meet their needs for discipline," she said.

One thing that hasn't changed is how attached a young child gets to his or her teacher. Wenger said when she broke the news of her impending retirement to her class, some of the children began to cry.

She said she will miss that bond and the interaction with the children when she retires. But Thailand and her writing beckon.

"The time was right," she said.