VUES retirees shared love of job, pupils, community
VERGENNES — Two teachers with a combined 72 years at Vergennes Union Elementary School — and two lifetimes of experience in the Vergennes area — showed up for their last day of work on Monday morning.
One, 5th- and 6th-grade science teacher Kitty Muzzy, 64, has been commuting for 41 years to the East Street school from nearby West Main Street.
Muzzy never really left Vergennes, except for college: She’s a native and attended city schools — she was a member of the first class at Vergennes Union High School.
Kindergarten and 1st-grade teacher Jane Nimblett’s VUES tenure is a little shorter, but still spans decades: The Ferrisburgh farm girl and member of the first class at Ferrisburgh Central School came to VUES in 1979. Because Nimblett, 61, took one year off her career there lasted 31 years. Her commute is a little longer than Muzzy’s — she comes into the city along Green Street Extension from Waltham.
There’s more the two retiring VUES veterans share.
Both went to Vermont colleges, Muzzy to Johnson State, and Nimblett to the University of Vermont. One year, both became pregnant at the same time, and gave birth to daughters the same September. Those children later became college roommates.
As they discussed in a joint interview, their paths to teaching did diverge.
Muzzy said she already had her career chosen as a 5th-grader.
“I just always knew I wanted to be a teacher. And I never even wavered in college,’ she said. “And I’ve never regretted it, obviously. I just really enjoy teaching. I enjoy being with the kids.”
Nimblett went to UVM not knowing she wanted to teach, but took education courses and became intrigued. Then she found herself at home as soon as she started student teaching — at Ferrisburgh Central School.
“I had always liked working with children, but (teaching) wasn’t where I intended to go. But I found it very satisfying going into classrooms,” she said. “I was already thinking, ‘How would I handle this? What would I do?’ So right away my mind was thinking in the teacher role. It felt quite comfortable.”
Nimblett and Muzzy also share enduring respect for one another, and the conviction they could not do each other’s job.
Nimblett praised both Muzzy’s knowledge in her field and her ability to deal with students just reaching adolescence.
“(It’s) the hormones. She certainly needs patience and compassion and understanding,” Nimblett said. “I’m sure she has all of that to deal with that age level. And I think her focus on and her love of science, I think she really brings that to the kids. She’s got a wealth of knowledge in the science area and does all sorts of projects and hands-on activities. I just love that.”
Muzzy is impressed by Nimblett’s ability to remain poised while dealing with younger kids Muzzy likens to “little yo-yos that bounce up and down all the time.” Muzzy said that poise in contagious.
“I’d be on the funny farm if I had to teach first grade,” Muzzy said. “But Jane always had this calm demeanor about her around the kids, and I think that’s infectious … They feel this calmness flowing over them.”
Both also regret the early-1990s teacher strike that proved divisive in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, but it did have a silver lining — Nimblett met her second husband there, retired Vergennes Union High School middle teacher Ron Nimblett.
But regretting that strike does not mean Muzzy and Nimblett hesitate to take stands on behalf of students, even if it means some conflict.
“We’re both strong advocates. It gets us in trouble sometimes. We’ve gone up against principals before,” Muzzy said.
Nimblett said the students have to come first.
“We’re both going to fight for their needs,” Nimblett said. “I guess others don’t always agree with us.”
For example, Muzzy said she took a stand against a move two decades ago to track and teach children according to ability.
“I really fought against that because there would be no role models, and I really depend on cooperative grouping. And no matter how high or how low a student is, they can always bring something to the table,” Muzzy said. “So I stepped on a few toes to advocate against that.”
Nimblett said she has always insisted that all children be treated equally regardless of their backgrounds. Also, she once helped her students write a letter to the VUES board against a proposed cut of a kindergarten and 1st-grade teacher, and then lobbied herself before the board against the move.
“At this level, the smaller the class sizes, the better. If we can give them a good start, it makes it a lot easier on the other end. I’m not talking ridiculously smaller class sizes, but the needs of children have changed, and there’s a lot that we have to deal with on a daily basis. And if we can keep the classes a bit smaller I think it’s much, much better for the children,” she said. “I’ll let some things go, but when it actually comes to the kids, you don’t let it go.”
Both said their husbands have waited patiently for them to retire, and that family plans will take up much of their immediate time. Nimblett will help her sister’s family with a medical issue, and then do some traveling, including a once-planned Nova Scotia trip that was delayed by her broken leg and then some more journeying by train — Ron is a railroad aficionado.
“I’m sure we will be doing that trip and some train trips as well, and spending some time with the grandchildren,” Nimblett said. “We’ll be busy.”
Muzzy’s older daughter has 5-year-old twins and a 3-year-old, and her younger daughter is getting married this summer — at Muzzy’s lakefront camp in Addison. A family retirement gift of an Alaska cruise for Muzzy and husband Lou will wait until 2012.
“I just want to get the wedding all ironed out and planned,” Muzzy said.
Looking back, both said they were thrilled to have spent almost their entire careers working so close to their childhood homes. Just as was the case when they talked about retirement, the word family kept coming up when they talked about VUES.
“I’ve met so many wonderful families,” Nimblett said. “I just really appreciated the chance to know them. Because I’m from the area, and Kitty, too, you are a big part of the community. So it feels very good. It was very, very comfortable.”
Muzzy said it just felt right to be in her hometown.
“I taught some of my husband’s relatives, and my cousins. I taught my daughters, which was an amazing experience. It just seemed right. (People) would call you at home and say, ‘What’s going on with this homework?’ … It just seemed so warm and comforting to be able to live and be in the community,” Muzzy said. “Through the years, many families have become lifelong friends … It’s just been great. I don’t regret a thing about it. Nothing.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]