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Filed under News

Three teachers step into retirement

Dean Stewart

Mary Mason, Anita Unrath and Virginia Wills announced their retirements.

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In the upcoming 2013-2014 school year, the school will undergo many adjustments and school life will drastically change.  Along with the absence of public busing, the raising of athletic fees, and many budget deficits, the faculty will be losing three retiring teachers who have helped shape the school.

Piling more and more textbooks into a box, English 2 Honors teacher Mary Mason involves students in helping clear out her classroom. Mason and her students have spent the period moving books to another classroom, and while Mason has yet to reveal her plans of retirement, a student asks why the moving of materials is taking place. In response, Mason reveals her plan to retire at the end of the year. Mason, foreign language teacher Anita Unrath and Latin teacher Virginia Wills plan to retire at the end of the year. With the combined teaching experience of 70 years, the three teachers have helped create West Shore’s reputation of one of the best schools in the nation.

For the teachers, the news of retirement was difficult to break because of the many relationships that have been formed with their students and the school.  Sophomore Ashley Pekmezian, one of Mason’s English 2 Honors students, explained the reason of why Mason has decided to retire.

“Mrs. Mason told us that she was retiring to take care of her 13th grandchild,” she said. “I’m sad because Mrs. Mason is such a sweet lady and we’re going to miss her, but I’m excited that she gets to care for a baby. She’ll have another ball of joy in her life.”

Mason, who began teaching at West Shore in 2005, has taught English classes ranging from English 2 Honors to AP English Language. In addition to being a “professional grandmother,” Mason said she’ll be able to enjoy things she hasn’t had time for while having a teaching profession.

“I like to do crafty things such as embroidery, needlepoint, watercolor, stain glass and basket weaving. I love gardening and growing all kinds of flowers,” she said. “I used to do those things years ago, and now I’ll be able to do them again.”

Mason fondly regards her many years of teaching and explains what has made her job enjoyable for her.

“The best thing is absolutely the students and the friendships that are formed. Oh, and I love books. Who else gets to talk about books all day? For years, I would read The Count of Monte Cristo with the students, which has more than 1,000 pages,” she said. “This summer, I plan to read it again.”

As the nearing of retirement comes closer, Mason described her mixed feelings on her new freedom.

“I have mixed feelings on retirement. I’m looking forward to do the things I haven’t had time to do, but I’ll definitely miss the students and faculty,” she said.

One of Mason’s favorite memories was a past Wildcat Challenge.

“One year, my junior homeroom called themselves ‘Mason’s Mafia’ and wore white fedoras and T-shirts that looked like tuxedos,” she said. “The next year, they were ‘Mason’s Mexicans’ and wore big sombreros. The thing was, it was actually practical for the heat and sun.”

As of future campus visits, Mason said she knows it will be emotionally difficult to come back no longer a faculty member, but she plans on volunteering if her grandchildren are accepted to attend West Shore for high school.

Virginia Wills, the only Latin teacher at West Shore since its establishment in 1998, has taught Latin and English for about 35 years and plans on involving herself in many post-teaching activities during retirement.

“I’m doing a short-term substitution at Holy Trinity [Episcopal High School] from August to November for a teacher on maternity leave,” she said. “After that, I’m moving to Tallahassee where my grandchildren live.”

A natural caretaker of the youth, Wills said she hopes to volunteer for the Florida Ad Litem Program.

“I’m interested in the Florida Ad Litem Program,” she said. “When a child is involved in a court case like a custody case, someone is chosen to represent the best interests of the child. I really want to receive training on how to represent these children.”

Wills described how she feels on her retiring and one of her best memories from West Shore.

“It’s bittersweet. I’m looking forward to parts of it, but being a part of the school is a lot of fun. Also, being around young people keeps me feeling young,” she said. “I remember, at least three years ago, one student, Ben Schwaller came to school in a pair of break-away pants. He stood at the front of the room, trying to take them off, but he couldn’t. He kept on trying, but he pulled so hard he fell down on the floor and hit his head. It was scary, but someone put it on Youtube. He later told me that whenever he needs a laugh, he watches it.”

Sophomore Joseph Along, a Latin 4 student, described the students’ plan to give Wills a surprise gift.

“We gave her a plant, a gift card for Olive Garden, and we all signed a card,” he said. “Why? Because we love her. ”

Along with the many friendships and bonds formed with her students, Wills enjoys seeing how her former students become successful later in their life.

“Seeing students be successful and enjoy stable lives and be achievers makes me see that ‘Wow, they really turned out well,’” she said. “I love to see someone’s dreams come true.”

Along described Wills’ legacy on campus.

“It’s the end of an era,” he said. “She’s the best Latin teacher ever. The Latin program will never be the same without her.”

 Anita Unrath, who began teaching at West Shore in 2002, has taught French 1 and 2 and Spanish 1 and 3. Now that she will have more free time with retirement, she said she plans on working more closely with her church.

 “I am going to be heavily involved with ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America], working on the Haiti and Cuba Committees, two partner churches,” she said. “My first meeting will be in Bogotá, Colombia, in November.”

She said she plans to use her language knowledge in mission work.

“I’ll teach English in Haiti. It’s been three years since the hurricane, and many churches are still outside. They’re still rebuilding, and I want to help build churches, a school and raise money,” she said. “I just ask myself, ‘How am I going to help?’”

Although Unrath will be out of the country often, she’ll always come back to West Shore.

“I love the small feel of West Shore and how I get to see [old students] in future years. It’s fulfilling to see how much students have progressed. I still believe it’s the best school to teach at in Florida,” she said. “I’ll probably volunteer at West Shore. I’m already signed up.”

Junior Ilana Krause, one of Unrath’s homeroom students, has mixed feelings about Unrath’s retirement.

“It’s a bummer because we’ve gotten to know Mrs. Unrath for the last five years and now we’ll have our senior year without her,” she said. “But it’s great what she’s doing [in mission trips]. I know she’ll succeed in whatever she does.”

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Three teachers step into retirement