Monmouth kindergarten teacher retires after 40 years loving ‘my little cherubs’
MONMOUTH — Teaching isn’t something that Vickie Dolk has done for 40 years, it’s who she has been since she was old enough to tell anybody what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Even though she has packed up her kindergarten classroom at Immaculate Conception School for the last time, she’s leaving the love she has for “my little cherubs” in nearly every heart at the Monmouth school. After all, most of the students there have gotten their start with her.
“It’s always been my first love,” Mrs. Dolk said of early childhood education and kindergarten. “They just absorb everything you tell them.”
That includes more than academics.
“Their faith is so open and so pure that when you’re talking about God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and introducing them to all the aspects of their faith . . . they love it and accept it so openheartedly. I just absolutely love this age,” she told The Catholic Post a few days before she retired.
The feeling is mutual.
Called to the rectory so Msgr. Thomas Mack, pastor, and Father Tom Otto, parochial vicar, could wish her well, she found the entire student body lining the main hallway when she returned to school to dismiss her students on the last day of classes.
“I cried and cried, but I hugged a majority of them walking down the hall,” Mrs. Dolk said, laughing at herself for getting misty again at the thought. “It was so touching.”
One of her parting gifts was a book with photos, drawings and letters from the students. Some told her they would miss her, while others advised her on what to do with her retirement — get more sleep and go shopping.
“They’ve done a wonderful job of sending me off,” Mrs. Dolk said of the students, staff, clergy and principal Randy Frakes.
ADVOCATE FOR PLAY
Growing up in Kewanee, Mrs. Dolk never wavered in her desire to teach, although she originally wanted to work in special education. That changed when she went to Marycrest College in Davenport and was recruited by an enthusiastic mentor to specialize in reading.
“I never wanted to teach at a public school,” she recalled. “My student teaching was all done in Catholic schools. That’s what I wanted.”
Mrs. Dolk started at Seton Catholic School in Moline, where she taught third grade and loved it. Eight years later she left to spend a year with her daughter and son, and then did some substitute teaching and put together an early childhood program at Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island.
Missing the classroom, she was hired at St. Mary School in East Moline to be the early childhood coordinator and helped to open an all-day kindergarten, a program for 3- and 4-year-olds, and a daycare. She would go on to teach at Immanuel Lutheran School in Rock Island, teach junior high at Visitation in Kewanee, and spend two years at Costa Catholic Academy in Galesburg, before arriving at Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth 12 years ago.
“A huge advocate for play,” Mrs. Dolk said a lot gets learned during this seemingly unstructured activity.
“Why do we have block time? That’s a cause-and-effect relationship. That’s building conversation skills,” she explained. “There’s so much involved in play that I like to share that with my families.”
When it comes to faith, what she tried to get children to realize is that everything is a gift from God, including them, and God doesn’t make junk.
“I want them to start developing that personal relationship with our Maker,” Mrs. Dolk said. “It’s so important. And the earlier you can start that, the better.”
“I still get letters and emails from students who are now parents and college kids. That’s very rewarding, when past students come back to find you.” — Vickie Dolk
Married 44 years ago to Jim Dolk, an electrician for MidAmerican Energy Company in the Quad Cities, Vickie Dolk is looking forward to spending more time with him and getting involved in their parish, St. Patrick in Colona.
She wants to take a class to be a baby “cuddler” at one of the local hospitals and hopes to do some work with the Humane Society in Kewanee. Also on her “bucket list” is getting a motorcycle license so she and Jim can serve as an honor guard at military funerals.
If she works up the courage, she’d like to get a small red rose tattoo to demonstrate her pro-life beliefs, too.
She’ll miss teaching, but says “my kids” know where to find her.
“I still get letters and emails from students who are now parents and college kids. That’s very rewarding, when past students come back to find you,” Mrs. Dolk said. “That’s something that warms your heart as a teacher.”