Linda Willoughby will be retiring from teaching after serving the youth of Ottawa County for almost forty years. Mrs. Willoughby is a graduate of Bethany College and holds degrees in Early Childhood Education and Administration, Elementary Education, and 5-9 Science. During her time in education, Mrs. Willoughby taught a variety of different ages. She began her career running Sugar and Spice Preschool out of the basement of her residence in Minneapolis for a decade. During this time she collaborated with a local speech therapist to provide critical services to her students. After her time at Sugar and Spice Preschool, she spent 27 years teaching for USD 239 where she was always willing to accept new challenges. Mrs. Willoughby’s first job for the district was teaching science for two years at Minneapolis High School. The next stop in her teaching career was at Delphos Attendance Center where she served as a third-grade teacher for two years. She had one more stop as a fifth-grade teacher at Minneapolis Grade School for one year before discovering her teaching niche.
Mrs. Willoughby spent the next twenty-two years teaching middle school science at both Delphos Attendance Center and Minneapolis Junior-Senior High School. Her passion for teaching science was evident. She would often spend long hours with her students after school tutoring them in multiple subjects, mentoring, or providing emotional support. Mrs. Willoughby always made time for her students despite how busy she was. She coached Science Olympiad for twenty-two years and spent long hours after school with her students working on and perfecting their events. Her dedication to her students and coaching was demonstrated by the superior performance of her teams year after year. During those twenty-two years, her teams qualified for state twenty times, placed third once, second seven times, and first an additional four times. In her final year as Science Olympiad coach her team won regionals, medaling in nine of their ten events, and finished fifth at state in the small school division. Minneapolis Junior-Senior High School Principal Terry Moeckel said, “Mrs. Willoughby has the perfect mindset for middle school science. She keeps the students engaged with so many different labs and activities making the learning an active process that junior high kids really are geared for.” Mrs. Willoughby always found unique ways to engage her students in the learning process. One example was the variety of animals she brought into her classroom such as rats, hissing cockroaches, bats, tarantulas, millipedes, and dogs. One of her favorite activities was to engage students in singing about science and learning different jingles and songs she wrote like the Photosynthesis Song. She is often heard saying, “The aha moment when a student finally gets it is the greatest part of teaching.”
Dogs have always been an important part of Mrs. Willoughby’s life and one of the ways she was able to connect with her students on a deeper level. She trained two service dogs who spent time in her science classrooms comforting students, providing them with motivation to work hard, and improving their confidence. Her Labradors, Sadie and Tillie, were both able to provide vital support for her students. Mrs. Willoughby plans to spend her retirement years following her grandchildren’s activities, training dogs, and traveling the country to dog shows with her companion, Tillie, a Silver Labrador Retriever.
Mrs. Willoughby’s commitment to her students went beyond just teaching and coaching. She served as a line judge for both high school and junior high school volleyball for twenty-five years. During events like quiz bowl, she would often provide the meal for all the participating students. Until the last few years, she organized the concession stand with her Junior High Students for multiple sports, including high school baseball and softball. She spent many hours working with her students at the Minneapolis Community Gardens and Owl’s Project. For years Mrs. Willoughby organized a special event in the fall for the Delphos Attendance Center students where they had guest speakers and spent time learning about different businesses in Minneapolis and the Owl’s project. After 911, she helped organize a recognition of local first responders and brought in a Black Hawk Helicopter for the community to tour as part of the Fall Fest Activities. During her summers she served the youth of Ottawa County by starting the Red Cross Swimming Program and providing lessons for well over a decade. Her dedication to the youth of the community was always evident.
In 2017, Mrs. Willoughby was nominated and received the local VFW Teacher of the Year Award presented to a teacher each year for their outstanding commitment to teaching Citizenship to students. Mrs. Willoughby often told her students that as important as teaching them science, it was equally important for them to learn to work together be good leaders in the classroom. She went on to win the VFW Regional Award and State Teacher of the Year Award for her activities working with local youth over the years.
Mrs. Willoughby’s family would like to invite her present and former students, colleagues, and members of the community to come celebrate her and fellow teacher Lana Reinhart’s retirement. The joint retirement celebration will take place at the Minneapolis Junior-Senior High School lobby on Sunday, May 23rd from 1-3 pm. Come show your appreciation for two ladies whose careers positively impacted many of the youth of our community.