After 32 years spent working for the Pine River-Backus School District, Kim Sheley was recently recognized as the Teacher of the Year.
But first and foremost, Sheley is a Backus local.
Born to parents Kathy and Harold Chitwood, Sheley grew up in the Backus area since sixth grade and had a slight inclination toward teaching from early on.
"I was definitely always making my brother sit and be my student," Sheley said. "I was always teaching at home. Almost always."
She once considered a future in nursing, but that didn't last.
"Nursing was kind of in my wheelhouse for a bit, but I think chemistry scared me away," Sheley said. "My kids also think I am not a very empathetic person. Maybe I wouldn't have been a great nurse. Teaching allows you to be a little tougher I think."
Sheley graduated from high school in Backus and met her husband, Dave Sheley, in Backus.
"He moved here from Illinois when he was a sophomore," Sheley said. "His first day in Mr. Hurdie's math class, he purposely dropped his pencil on the floor for me to pick up. I told him I wasn't picking it up. The rest was history from that. I think he liked my sass and attitude most of the time."
They didn't start dating until Dave had graduated from high school and Kim was finishing her senior year. They dated for five years, becoming one of those few couples to survive a long-distance relationship. Dave's college years were spent in Ely. Kim, on the other hand, took her higher education elsewhere.
"I actually started at Morris to be an elementary teacher," she said. "Three weeks into it I didn't know what I was doing there. I didn't like the school. I was there with my friends and one of my favorite high school teachers was Kathy Switajewski. I gave her a call. She went with me to Scholastica on the tour. The rest is history. I transferred and started winter semester and got my FACS (family and consumer sciences) degree."
After graduating, she returned home to Backus to marry Dave and they quickly laid down roots. They eventually bought her father's store just outside of Backus, and Kim started not in teaching, but working at the Dairy Queen in Pine River. When she did start teaching, it wasn't in FACS, like she had planned, but instead was in Early Childhood Family Education, a field she had completed on a whim.
"The only reason I even got into ECFE was that nun said I had all the requirements and might as well get the licensure," Kim said.
Backus School needed someone with just such a degree, so at age 21 she began teaching ECFE part time. Luckily for her, the school also had a part-time FACS opening, coincidentally right next door to Switajewski's room. This allowed Kim to teach at the school in a full-time capacity between the two subjects. Switajewski became just one of the many teachers to guide Kim in her career.
"I had really good friendships with Randy Schwegel and Jackie Bruns and a lot of fun teacher mentors," Kim said.
Fast forward 32 years and Kim has since raised three children with Dave - Tucker, Taylor and Tatum - and helped to manage the Corner Store. Approximately a year ago she became a grandmother as well, which gladly consumes some of her free time. She no longer teaches ECFE.
"Nine years ago this week the teacher before me, Dorothy Rollins, retired," Sheley said. "Then I was reassigned very happily. It was a really good fit. Most of the time I did full time with junior high students, which I really like. That's my comfort level. High school is a different deal. They are fun, but they can be challenging."
Kim wasn't exactly asking to be nominated Teacher of the Year.
"Being singled out isn't really my comfort zone," Kim said. "I think that's a teacher thing."
Even so, she said she was ultimately honored and delighted when coworker Lisa Toft nominated her for the award, and when she was chosen by her peers. To her, it is recognition not just for a career, but a passion.
"I think the FACS field, the foods and nutrition and child development, those are my passions and what I love to do," Kim said. "I tell my students how lucky I am to teach what I love. I think we try to push our students to pick what they love to do and maybe get paid for it."