During the summer of 1987, Kristen Mimlitz was working at an Elmhurst coffee shop while looking for a teaching job with the school year was about to start.
One day, a regular came in and told her about a new opening at Ames School in Riverside because teacher Roberta Janske was adopting a baby.
“[She] said, ‘Call this number now. My sister is going to pick up her baby from China, there’s an opening right now,’” Mimlitz recalled.
She made the call and was quickly hired. She thinks she had an edge because one of her professors at Elmhurst College, Ray Albert, had been a principal at Central School.
“I got hired three days before the start of school,” Mimlitz said.
She would stay at Ames School for 35 years, teaching fourth grade for all but her second year when she taught fifth grade, before retiring this month.
Mimlitz brought a loving personality, as well as her experience doing and teaching yoga, to her classroom. She was a natural in the classroom, where her sunny personality shone through. She worked for seven principals and said she liked every one of them.
“Kristen is someone who listens and truly cares about the people in her life,” said Ames Principal Todd Gierman in an email. “Kristen will always carry a special place in my heart as a teacher who cares and always advocates for what is best for her students and families.”
Mimlitz paid for two trees to be planted in front of Ames, one to celebrate 30 years of teaching there and one to celebrate her retirement. One of the trees is visible from her classroom window in front of the school.
Over the years, Mimlitz has maintained contact with a number of her former students. One of them, Holly Hickey, has become a close friend.
“I’ve been very, very blessed to develop so many amazing relationships, and I’m just so ever grateful for all the students and the families, all the connections that I’ve made,” Mimlitz said.
Mimlitz said she learned from her students.
“My students have taught me kindness, patience, empathy, resilience, humility, compassion — oh my gosh — grace and so much love,” Mimlitz said. “And there’s nothing like the brave and open heart of a 10-year-old boy and the unwavering confidence of a 10-year-old girl. I’m going to miss them dearly and they will all be in my heart forever.”
In retirement, Mimlitz plans to focus on teaching yoga, through her business Breathe to Balance. She brought yoga into her classroom, using breathing exercises to create a calm atmosphere in her classroom starting every day.
“It really helps with self-regulation and de-escalation,” Mimlitz said. “If students have a calm mind, they have a calm body.”
Longtime faculty retire at Congress Park
Mimlitz is not the only long-serving teacher retiring this year. Two long time staff members at Congress Park School in Brookfield, second-grade teacher Peg Sima and social worker Cherri Gibbs, are retiring. Sima taught at Congress Park for 33 years and Gibbs worked there for 25 years.
“She has been an integral part of the fabric of the school,” said LaGrange School District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher of Gibbs. “She has been a part of helping families connect with services they need, helping students and staff work with families to get what students need. She goes above and beyond as far as finding just resources, whether that’s helping families find food, find medical treatment if they need it.”
Gibbs, 62, came to Congress Park in 1998 after earning a master’s in social work from University of Illinois at Chicago. She introduced herself to students in classroom visits, calling herself the “feelings teacher.”
Gibbs worked hard at developing rapport with students, even sometimes dressing up in a superhero costume.
Barb Hendrickson is retiring after 23 years as a music teacher at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield, and Teresa Frey is retiring after teaching physical education at Komarek School in North Riverside for 20 years.
This story’s been changed to correct the subhead. Mimlitz taught fourth grade for all but one year at Ames School.