NEW PALESTINE — “Twelve more days until graduation!” It was written on his classroom dry-erase board in black marker.
New Palestine High School government and sociology teacher Lee Collier said he put it there for his senior students to get them to start reflecting about their final days of high school.
The last few days of high school were special for Collier, 64, as well. After 35 years of teaching at the high school, he is retiring at the end of the school year.
“I’ve never gone to work in 35 years,” Collier said. “I’m real lucky to have been here.”
Calling teaching one of the best things that ever happened to him, Collier said he’s been blessed to have found his true calling. He was in retail for nearly six years and in the financial field for another two years before he went back to college for a degree in secondary education.
He began substitute teaching for Warren Central schools in 1980 and one day, when a substitute job there was cancelled, he received a call to fill in at Doe Creek Middle School to sub.
An administrator at Doe Creek Middle School thought he had done such a good job, the school asked him to fill in for a math teacher on leave. He was then offered a teaching position at the middle school or a social studies teaching spot at the high school.
Collier took the high school job, the very one he will retire from at the end of the year.
“Had I been at Warren Central substitute teaching on the day that phone call from Doe Creek came in, I would not have ever been here,” Collier said. “It was fate.”
Collier will still coordinate the local teen drivers’ education program at the high school, something he has done since 1992, in his spare time. But he and his wife, Nancy, who is also retired, plan to spend their golden years with their two children — Korey Collier, 31, and Kasey Collier, 33 — their 3-year-old grandson, Carson Collier, and traveling.
“Lee is a little melancholy about retiring,” Nancy said. “He has such a passion for what he does and has thoroughly enjoyed the kids.”
The students have kept him young, he said, and he in turn hopes he gave young teens valuable life lessons. It was his real-life experiences before becoming a teacher he tried to pass on to students.
As a young teen, Collier said he wanted to become a dentist until one of his teachers, Ken Bundy at Creston Middle School, helped him see he would make a great educator. It was advice he never forgot.
“After he told me that, I didn’t want to be a dentist anymore,” Collier said.
It was that type of advice Collier said he hoped to pass on to the thousands of students he’s taught at New Palestine.
“It’s going to be bittersweet leaving,” Collier said. “I’m really going to miss the students so much.”
English teacher Caroline Clayton said it’s been a pleasure working and learning from a co-worker like Collier.
“Lee Collier exemplifies the life well lived,” Clayton wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “He’s kind, adventurous, generous, hilarious, challenging, noble, and sincere … I’m going to miss his influence.”
Collier and his wife also plan to stay active in the community and involved with the New Palestine United Methodist Church, where they’ve been members for decades.
There is nothing like leaving on a high note, Collier said.
“I’m leaving New Palestine High School after the best year I’ve ever had in teaching.”
Retirements from the Southern Hancock school district:
New Palestine High School
Lee Collier, teacher
Doe Creek Middle School
Jeanette Pineda, corporation nurse
Carlos Gray, teacher
Michael Tatom, teacher
Brandywine Elementary School
Mary Kirk, front office secretary
New Palestine Elementary School
Laurie Eckart, teacher
Deborah Ulrey, bus driver