More than a school teacher

Longtime Marquette Catholic School kindergarten teacher Vicki Hanson, second from left, and the school's new kindergarten teacher, Abby Mellsmoen, middle, are pictured with Principal Lisa Kvas and the Rev. Brandon Moravitz. A retirement party for Hanson, who taught at the school for 34 years, will be held from 1-4 p.m. today at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church's social hall.

VIRGINIA — Public school teacher Amy Fox and her husband initially enrolled their children at Marquette Catholic School with the intention of sending them there for only a little while, then off to public school.

But the family’s experience with kindergarten teacher Vicki Hanson soon changed their minds.

“Mrs. Hanson” was more than a teacher. She “took on the role of a parent.” She was another person who would “pray for and support” the youngsters — “forever,” Fox says.

“Thank you for having the courage to take that role on,” Fox said to Hanson on a recent day in an office at the adjacent Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Virginia. “You did that so beautifully for each of my boys.”

The longtime kindergarten teacher “has a motherly heart,” said the Rev. “Father Brandon” Moravitz, church pastor.

Hanson’s motherly style and 34-year career at Marquette will be celebrated from 1 to 4 p.m. today in the Holy Spirit social hall.

Abby Mellesmoen (“Miss Mell”), who is taking over for the recently retired teacher, will be there, too.

“I’m so excited to be here,” she said Wednesday, glancing at Hanson. “I hope to be just like you.”

When people say Hanson is leaving behind “big shoes to fill,” Hanson said she replies: “Not really. They are only a size seven.”

But in all seriousness, say parents, coworkers and former students, Mrs. Hanson has left a big, beautiful footprint on Marquette and will be greatly missed.

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Hanson said while in high school she wished to join the Peace Corps. Instead, “I began my mission here — to teach children about Jesus.”

For 34 years, beginning with the kindergarten class of 1986-87, Hanson “gently loved children and formed them in faith,” Moravitz said.

That “faith component” is what differs from public school, he said. At a Catholic school, “God is at the heart” of everything, and teachers “can pray with kids and parents.”

“It’s such a wonderful place to be,” agreed Hanson, whose own children attended the school. “It’s the experience of a family.”

Hanson said she made it her mission to help little ones “find success,” whether that meant “how to write their name, how to make the sign of the cross or how to eat lunch without wearing it.”

Moravitz said as a priest some of his fondest memories of Hanson are of observing her teach the kindergartners how to genuflect and make the sign of the cross properly, and watching the children’s growth “from the first day to two months later.”

“She prepared them so well” for how to behave during Mass, said mother of five, Betty Pulis, whose late son, Matthew, was in Hanson’s first kindergarten class.

Hanson, she said, taught the children to be reverent, to walk into the church during weekly children’s Masses with their hands folded, to cross their arms over their heart to receive a blessing during communion. “She patterned for the children what they were supposed to do.”

“I told the kids, ‘Jesus is your friend. We are in Jesus’ house,’” Hanson noted, and to respect Jesus’ house as they would their own friends’ homes — even, Hanson smiled, if that meant a little toe wiggling and thumb twiddling to let off extra energy.

Pulis said her son Matthew was introverted and “didn’t jump right in.” However, Hanson “took this shy little boy under her wing and loved and gently nurtured him. She stopped his fear of being away from his mama.”

Each year through his high school graduation, Matthew received a birthday card from his kindergarten teacher, Pulis said.

Her youngest child, Emilie, was even more shy, and Hanson also nurtured her. Pulis laughs remembering Hanson telling her partway through the school year, “Well, she’s talking in class now. Can you tell me how to get her to stop?”

Hanson “accepted them for who they were. She worked to bring out their strengths. She encouraged them to be more in such a loving way. I will miss her.”

Marquette parent Mara Spaeth said she and her husband immediately had confidence in sending their children to the school — all because of Mrs. Hanson.

When meeting her during kindergarten roundup, they knew their kids would be “important and loved,” she said. So important that if their child lost it tooth, it would matter.

Indeed, such things always mattered to Hanson.

The longtime teacher recalled one day following a Christmas program in the church when a kindergartner literally lost his newly lost tooth. Hanson got a broom and swept the floor until she found it.

Hanson said she will treasure the many memories collected through the years, such as the time one of her students called the parish’s then priest, Father Doyle, into the classroom. The youngsters were learning about “healthy bodies” and had a mock doctor’s office set up. The priest left the classroom “with bandages up and down his arms.”

She also enjoyed when the children would spontaneously “break out in song,” singing liturgical music they learned at Mass.

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Incoming teacher Miss Mell smiles listening to the others talk about Mrs. Hanson.

“I’m so excited to be part of that family and what you guys feel is so special,” she says.

Mellesmoen, who grew up in Embarrass, currently lives in Virginia and previously taught first grade in Hibbing, said she is both excited and a tad bit nervous for her new endeavor teaching the little ones. “There’s a lot of growth before first grade,” said the young teacher, who earned a degree in elementary education from Bemidji State University.

But Hanson has already promised to take Mellesmoen under her wing, just as she always has with other new teachers. Hanson plans to substitute teach at Marquette and be available to Miss Mell for anything she needs, she said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanson — like teachers across the country — didn’t have the chance to finish out the year with her students when schools closed and distance learning was employed.

That’s a difficult way to end a career, said Marquette first grade teacher Elizabeth Anderson.

Anderson, who attended Marquette and was a kindergarten student of Hanson, said her former teacher offered her “guidance and help” during her first year of teaching at the school, while also treating her like a colleague.

Hanson will also have the opportunity to reconnect with this year’s kindergartners next fall when they are in Anderson’s first grade class. Hanson plans to visit and do crafts and activities with the children that they missed out on during the pandemic.

Hanson’s other plans include spending more time with her almost 6-year-old grandson, she said.

Marquette Principal Lisa Kvas, who started at the school last fall, said she quickly learned how much everyone loved and respected Hanson. “She has left such an impression. She has left such a beautiful mark here,” Kvas said.

“The school welcomes Miss Mill in,” and will surely also miss Mrs. Hanson, who is role model for all teachers, Pulis said.

Hanson “was born to be a teacher,” she added. “She thrived because of the children and they thrived because of her.”

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