Central’s industrial tech teacher, Mr. O’Brien, retires

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

After 16 years at Central Community School, beloved industrial tech and vocational agriculture teacher Jerry O’Brien is retiring. A lifelong resident of Volga, he came to Central because of the opportunity it provided and the stability of the district. He stayed for the people—the students, the co-workers and the community. 

It was with great fanfare, albeit mixed with sadness, that O’Brien accepted the traditional retirement bell Thursday evening following the graduation parade around Central school. The solemnity of the occasion was amplified by the surrounding crowd of family, teachers, students and school administration officials who stuck around to say goodbye. 

It was goodbye to a teacher who, according to Superintendent Nick Trenkamp, “You could always count on to have a smile on his face and the ability to lighten the mood of anyone around him.” 

With retirement comes reflection and thoughts of what will be missed. O’Brien said, “Without a doubt, I will miss the students the most.” He will miss the chance to see them mature and grow during their high school years. He will miss creating new memories like driving to the State Fair when Highway 20 was torn up and the truck and 24-foot stock trailer ended up at the same intersection three times before they simply decided to haul it all down San Marnan Drive. 

It’s also the students he is most proud of, never missing a chance to elevate them as people. He’s proud that students were suddenly “interested in things like welding, electrical and construction,” and they were able to compete in contests to test their skills. 

O’Brien is also proud of the fact that students were always willing to help out where they were needed and put their newly-learned skills to use helping build sets for school plays, fixing things around the school or simply lending a hand to the janitorial staff. 

He will also miss being the advisor for Future Farmers of America (FFA), a rewarding position that has turned into the largest extracurricular activity in Central. But it’s not just an activity—it’s a practical hands-on-learning experience that lends itself to real world applications. 

“The career opportunities are so diverse that there is something for every one, no matter where their interest lies,” O’Brien said. It’s an organization he will recall fondly for the breakfasts and banquets it put on and the support it garnered from the community. 

Admittedly, though, there was one major challenge O’Brien faced over the last 16 years, and it’s related to the biggest change: changing technology and the rise in its use. 

“The greatest challenge was keeping up with technology, and if it weren’t for Mrs. Healy and Mrs. Walz, I would probably be writing with a chisel and a rock still,” he said. 

As for any regrets he harbors, O’Brien wished “there was more class time to be able to offer more to the students.” It’s this attachment to the students and their future success that will see him remain active within the school, either as a substitute teacher or as a volunteer on projects that involve “real world job training” for students. 

When it comes to retirement, O’Brien just “felt like it was the right time.” In reality, it was a combination of things, from his age, 65 last December, the fact that his grandchildren are becoming more involved in activities that he wants to attend and, more simply, because he has other things he wants to do, such as gardening and watching his nephew’s dirt track races more often. Regardless, retirement beckons, and after 16 years of service, it has been earned. 

Speaking about the retirement, Central Principal Aaron Reinhart said, “We are very appreciative of Mr. O’Brien’s 16 years of service and we wish him the very best in retirement and hope to see him around singing songs again soon.”

As a teacher, O’Brien was dedicated to caring about the students, encouraging them to keep an open mind and in a message to the students, he added, “Don’t ever let people put you down. Every one of you has talents and gifts and good qualities. You are all unique.” 

He also, in a moment of somber reflection, spoke directly to the students, gently imploring them to “realize that life goes by very quickly and can be very fragile. It reminds me of that Kenny Chesney song, ‘Don’t Blink.’ Well, it’s true,” he said. “We had a good run…we had a good run,” he finished as the crowd erupted into applause.

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