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Couple that taught in opposite worlds retires together

Lee and Nancy Aimers are opposites in the academic world.

“We teach in two different worlds. He teaches in the elementary, which I could never do. I teach up here (in the high school), which he claims he could never do. So, the differences are kind of interesting,” Nancy said. “He comes home with stories that I’m glad it’s him and not me, and I’m sure the reverse of that is true as well.”

Nancy is an Advanced Placement English teacher at Pine River-Backus High School. Lee is a Title One math teacher at Pine River-Backus Elementary School. As a couple, you could say they complement one another with their differences, and now, they are retiring together.

Nancy was born near Rochester and raised near Ely. Lee is from Wauconda, Ill., where he learned early on that he would grow up to be a teacher.

“I always knew I would be a teacher, I think. My father basically gave us two options. You either be a teacher like your mother or you get on with a company and stay with them for the rest of your life. So, I went into teaching,” Lee said. “My mom’s a teacher, my brother’s a teacher, my sister’s a teacher, I have cousins and nieces and nephews that are all teachers, so it kind of runs in the family.”

They both attended Bemidji State University, though during different years. During her time at BSU, Nancy took classes all year long and cut an entire year out of what is usually a four-year degree. She started teaching in Pine River almost right out of the gates in 1971.

“I’ve always loved it. I started teaching eighth-graders and that was an interesting experience,” Nancy said. “I started in eighth grade junior high English, which if anyone has spent time in a junior high classroom can relate to the challenges.”

Lee student taught at Pine River under Yvonne Johnson, but when he completed his degree in 1978, there wasn’t an opening for him in the district, so he taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade science for a year at Freemont Junior High School in Illinois. When he had a chance to return to Pine River in 1979, he took it.

“After I went to college here I started hunting, fishing, loving the outdoors, stuff I hadn’t done before so I decided to come back here,” Lee said.

Though they were separated by time at BSU and by grade levels and subjects at Pine River-Backus Schools, Lee and Nancy met over Nancy’s son, David.

“David was very tall, and I think Lee said something to the effect that he was the first third- or fourth-grader that was taller than he was,” Nancy said.

Lee and Nancy’s relationship began as that of colleagues, teacher and parent and even friends. It took more than 20 years before that changed. They married July 28, 2003.

A passion for teaching makes them a matched set.

“It’s a shared thing. We both share a passion for kids and for teaching, and so we talk about it at home and compare notes,” Nancy said. “It’s been good.”

Lee recently shared a story with Nancy of a young boy who hugged him and asked him not to retire. It conjured strong emotions in both of them.

“To me that’s kind of what teaching’s all about. It’s very rewarding that way,” Lee said.

“I don’t know any teacher who is more passionate about teaching than he is, and I really, truly believe those are big shoes to fill. He has created a niche,” Nancy said.

This year’s retirement will mark Nancy’s second. In 2005 she retired Sept. 22 and returned on a part-time basis Sept. 24. This one-day retirement was done to meet strict Teacher Retirement Association law.

“The district knew I was retiring but I had also said I would come back to continue teaching Advanced Placement if that was something they would like to see happen, and they did,” Nancy said.

Nancy said she was asked, “What made you keep coming back?” for the school yearbook.

“It was always the kids. It’s just fun. I’ve had a lot of fun,” she said.

This time, Nancy’s retirement will stick. When asked why they are retiring now, they have a similar, yet somewhat curious answer.

“Mainly, my wife’s retiring. My wife retired a few years back and she came back part time, and she’s been here a long time and she decided to retire and I thought I better go at the same time she does so we’ll be together,” Lee said.

“Partially it’s because Lee’s retiring also,” Nancy said.

Lee and Nancy each say they will miss their students and colleagues when they retire at the completion of this school year, though Nancy does not think the true impact of her retirement will hit her until the fall.

“I will certainly miss it, and I think that won’t truly happen until next fall, because I’ve been doing this for 41 years. It’s kind of a habit,” Nancy said. “So, next fall will probably be a bittersweet time when everybody’s headed back and I’m canning tomatoes.”

Lee intends to return as a substitute teacher like his 82-year-old mother is still doing.

“I’m going to follow in my mother’s foot steps. I’ll probably substitute as long as I can,” Lee said. “I’ll get other jobs, I like working. I love to work. So, I’ll be doing that.”

Nancy is keeping her plans more open.

“The reality is you have every summer off as a teacher, so I don’t think the reality of being done actually sets in until the fall,” Nancy said. “I think we’re just kind of leaving our options open right now. We don’t have any absolute plans.”

Lee and Nancy have each won Teacher of the Year awards. Nancy was honored in 2004, and Lee was honored in 2012.