Back to class


GREENFIELD — They call him “Mr. Dadler.”

Tom Stadler, who spent his 70th birthday Tuesday at a place he loves, is among dozens of retired teachers throughout Hancock County who just can’t stay away from the classroom.

The former Mt. Vernon band director volunteers and substitutes regularly at local schools.

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His son, Nick Stadler, is also a Mt. Vernon teacher; and when students figured that out, they called the senior “the old Mr. Stadler.” But that just didn’t sit well with the spry retiree, who loves to stay active and keep tabs on what’s going on in the district he loves.

So “Mr. Dadler,” it was.

Stadler said he’s been blessed to have a career that’s brought him joy, even after having given up a full-time position.

“I loved my job (as a band director) as much the day I retired as I did they day I started,” he said.

Just kicking back and relaxing during retirement was not in the cards for Stadler. Shortly after he retired 11 years ago, he began filing papers for the high school office. Then he drove a bus for field trips.

Before long, he was back in the classroom.

After all, Stadler lives right across the street from the high school, so whenever they’re short a teacher, he’s among the first to get a phone call.

Each school district in Hancock County has its own tales of boomerang teachers — those who keep coming back to dedicate their time and talents to students.

There’s just something about education in their blood, and they’ve hit a sweet spot: They can spend time with students but enjoy their evenings free of grading papers.

School administrators say they’re invaluable.

Former teachers know what’s going on in the district and in the buildings, so they have a sense of what students and administrators need, said Scott Shipley, Mt. Vernon Middle School principal.

“They can be very productive because they’ve lived it,” he said.

Peggy Pritzke volunteers every Wednesday at Eastern Hancock Elementary School. After 31 years as a media specialist, Pritzke said she enjoys helping friend Kim Lowe teach first-graders, knowing firsthand how overwhelming the job can become.

“The fun part for me is the kids,” Pritzke said. “I really miss not seeing all the kids all the time, so it’s really fun to see them to help. You get a little dose of kids, and it’s cool because it’s not your responsibility anymore, so it doesn’t keep you awake at night anymore.”

And the atmosphere at Eastern Hancock is worth the visit, Sherry Trainor added. She retired last year after 40 years in the classroom. Now, she volunteers once a week.

A small school system, Eastern has a family atmosphere, Trainor said.

“It’s just a great place to go back to, and I feel like a celebrity when I walk in now,” she said. “I get hugs from all my past students; I just love it.”

Sonja Lowry volunteers at New Palestine Elementary School, regularly helping out in the media center cataloging books or digitizing videos.

As a media specialist for four decades, Lowry said it’s nice now in her retirement to kick back with a book of her own and have some down time. But she just can’t keep away from the school for long.

Former Greenfield-Central principals Candy Short and Steve Burt are also regulars in the buildings where they used to lead staff and students. Both are volunteer tutors for the ReadUp program, which helps third-grade students improve their reading skills. Short also heads back to JB Stephens Elementary to run a trading store for children who have earned reward tickets.

Short said giving back helps her stay active and in touch with the corporation where she spent many years and built countless relationships.

“It’s nice to hear the projects they’re doing and just seeing the children again,” she said.

“Mr. Dadler” spent the day Tuesday playing softball with eighth-graders as a substitute physical education teacher, beaming the entire time.

“He gets excited when we play games,” eighth-grader Jessica Thomas said.

“He does everything we do with us; he’s so enthusiastic,” added eighth-grader Halle Strege.

Stadler’s son, Nick, enjoys having his father around. It’s inspiring, he said, to see his dad continue to dedicate time to the Mt. Vernon community.

“That just goes to show how much Mt. Vernon meant to him, that he’s willing to give time back,” he said.

Put simply, Shipley said Stadler “bleeds black and gold.”

“I just do it to help out,” the elder Stadler said. “I still really, really enjoy being around them. I guess I act like a kid. I’m a kid at heart, and it keeps me young.”

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“I just do it to help out. I still really, really enjoy being around them. … I’m a kid at heart, and it keeps me young.”

Tom Stadler, retired Mt. Vernon teacher, on coming back to substitute and volunteer

“You get a little dose of kids, and it’s cool because it’s not your responsibility anymore, so it doesn’t keep you awake at night anymore. You just get to spend time with them and enjoy them.”

Peggy Pritzke, retired Eastern Hancock teacher, on volunteering in the classroom