"He will be leaving a big footprint on our school," Sunnyside Christian Elementary School Principal Del Dykstra said of Walt Wierenga.
After having educated students at the school for 40 years, Wierenga is retiring.
His career in education began 42 years ago in Cicero, Ill. "It's in the heart of Chicago," Wierenga explained, stating he taught at the junior high level while at that school.
He found his position had been eliminated in 1969 and there was an opening in a small school in a town known as Sunnyside, Wa.
So, Wierenga and his wife Linda, who had also secured a position with the small Christian school, moved.
"We arrived when the Yakima Valley was experiencing one of its notorious wind storms and we almost headed back," said Wierenga.
Mrs. Wierenga taught third and fourth grade students and he taught fifth and sixth grade classes. The couple's classrooms were side by side and together they made up half the teaching staff at Sunnyside Christian Elementary School.
She left the classroom when the couple began its family, but Mr. Wierenga continued to teach.
"We thought we would only spend a few years in Sunnyside, but those few years turned into 40," he said.
The Wierengas raised three daughters in Sunnyside and shaped the lives of many more. He figures 895 youngsters have passed through his classroom.
He said eight of those students have died, but countless more are leading lives he is proud of.
During Wierenga's 40 years at the school, he has taught fourth through sixth grade students and served under five different principals.
"Looking back...my goal is to impact kids so they will serve the Lord," he commented, stating he has done his best and so has the staff at the school.
Wierenga has seen the school grow from educating students in grades 1-8 to educating pre-school and high school students.
His oldest daughter was a pupil in the first kindergarten class, and he helped with the promotion team that spearheaded the development of Sunnyside Christian High School.
Wierenga has worked on fundraisers to help promote Christian education and has experienced the anticipation of students as they readied for the school's annual chocolate sale.
He also implemented the annual fifth grade drama production, which will be presented tomorrow (Thursday) at 8:45 a.m.
"Amos God's Angry Man" is this year's production, but it has been more than 20 years since Wieringa has participated in the event.
He has watched students learn new skills and use their gifts to become promising adults.
"I recently had one former classmate visit. He is in the Army and is in charge of making sure missiles are ready to be fired...my former students, well, I feel they develop to become people suited for leadership," said Wierenga.
He is ready for retirement, however and said he feels there will be many opportunities for him. "I feel the Lord will provide plenty to do...I don't anticipate being bored," he stated.
Wierenga will miss the atmosphere at Sunnyside Christian Elementary School. "It's like a family...the teachers, students and parents share values and are very supportive," he stated.
Dykstra said Wierenga has left a good impression upon the students and staff at the school. He said many have looked to Wierenga for guidance and advice.
"He's provided wisdom and knowledge...he's a great spiritual leader," said Dykstra, stating that Wierenga also expects the students to excel at what they do.
"We will miss him dearly," Dykstra reiterated.
To celebrate Wierenga's accomplishments, the school will be honoring him at its annual fifth through eighth grade concert tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Sunnyside Christian Elementary School will also host an open house in honor of Wierenga Sunday, June 7, from 2 to 4 p.m. and the public is welcome to attend both events.
"What Walt has accomplished...working in one school for 40 years...is rare and exceptional," concluded Dykstra.