HOLLAND TWP. — Fifty years after entering the school as a kindergartener, Julie Diekema left West Ottawa’s Pine Creek Elementary as a retiree at the end of the school year.
Diekema, a special education assistant in the school’s preschool program, was able to finish her educational career right where it all started in September 1971.
“I didn’t realize how unique it was until somebody mentioned it to me,” Diekema said. “Then I thought, ‘Wow, this is happening, and it is really cool.’ Pine Creek has been part of my life for a long time.
“There is some sadness, but I was ready to retire. There was also a sense of pride, I was proud of what I had accomplished since being here as a student.”
Diekema went to West Ottawa Public Schools through her graduation in 1984 and worked for the district for more than 20 years.
“I was at West Ottawa altogether for 23-plus years. I was at Pine Creek for the last 11 of those,” she said. “The district was always good to me. There are so many great things at West Ottawa. They’ve done a lot for me.”
In retirement Diekema said she hopes to spend more time with her young grandchildren and do some traveling. She said the thing she’ll miss the most is working with kids in the classroom.
“I definitely will miss the kids. Even right now, I’m already wondering what so and so is doing, what this student is up to,” she said. “I just loved working with the kids, being able to make a difference, hopefully, in their lives.”
Much has changed in the educational landscape between the time Diekema started and finished at Pine Creek — including the actual Pine Creek building.
“It’s a different building now, it was in a different location when I went here,” Diekema said. “I still did go around the whole building on my last day. I thought back to that first day when I went back into Pine Creek. Even in the 11 years I was there, it has changed a lot.
“And school in general. In education over the years, things have changed immensely. Other than lunch and recess, there’s really nothing the same as it was as I was in school.”