ELK POINT, S.D. | When the bell sounds at noon Thursday, a 71-year run in the classroom ends for Delores Vondrak.
The Central High (1954) and Briar Cliff College (1958) graduate toiled as a student for 16 years. She then taught and served in various roles for 55 years in the Elk Point-Jefferson School District.
As a professional, this is the only workplace Vondrak, 77, has known. She wore white gloves, a hat, a dress and heels while interviewing for the school's home economics job in 1958. The interview took place at an implement dealership in Elk Point. The school board president owned the business.
"They kept apologizing for having me come to an implement business for a job interview," Vondrak recalls. "I didn't mind. I was used to it. I went with my dad lots of times to implement dealerships."
The daughter of Sioux City farmers Lawrence and Cecilia Vondrak got the job. Signed on for $4,000 her rookie year.
While that beginning salary seems paltry today, Vondrak says a semester of tuition at Briar Cliff cost $125. She and her mother paid her way through college by selling eggs off the farm to Briar Cliff.
Vondrak taught home ec for 27 years before immersing herself in special education.
"I could see families and the world changing," she says. "Most homes had two parents working. Sit-down meals as a family weren't big anymore. I had taught sewing, and I could see there would be many who wouldn't use that skill."
Vondrak landed a position in the Elk Point-Jefferson special education department and remained there until her retirement. "I taught two to three children personally when I started," she says. "And soon, special education needs warranted more professionals."
"She's still able to connect and get kids to buy into what she's saying," says Doug Brusseau, elementary principal and special education director at EP-J. "It's never one-way communication when she's working with a kid."
Vondrak also serves as a crossing guard and reports to school at 7:30 a.m. daily.
"I'm looking forward to sleeping more some mornings," she says of her retirement wish list.
Vondrak also plans to travel more and will seek volunteer opportunities in Sioux City, whether it involves serving at Sioux City's Gospel Mission or the Bargain Center. She may also read to children in Sioux City elementary schools.
"And if there is someone who needs a ride somewhere, I can take them and sit in the corner and read while they're at an appointment," she says.
Medical appointments are few for Vondrak, who, knock on wood (or white board, in this case), enjoys good health.
Perhaps her health stems from a foundation of work on the farm north of Sioux City, a place where she'll reside in retirement. She sold the mobile home she owned across the street from the school in Elk Point.
Although Vondrak didn't raise children of her own, she says she had a hand in the upbringing of thousands of children around Elk Point and Jefferson. Her first travel adventure as a retiree involves a trip to Seattle to spend time with a nephew. She'll also check in on three siblings who live north of Sioux City, in Le Mars, Iowa, and Omaha.
After more than seven decades, it's time for a few new experiences. Who can blame her?
"When you have enjoyable kids, when you like what you're doing, it doesn't seem like it's that long," she says. "I love it here. I'll miss it greatly. I'll still come back for games and activities. You can't walk away from a place that's been part of you."
As she walks away on Thursday, she'll sport a different ensemble from the dress, hat, gloves and heels she donned for her job interview 55 years ago. At a retirement reception last Wednesday, Brusseau gave Vondrak a pair of bib overalls, clothing she'll need as she returns to the farm.
"I'm wearing the overalls for my last day of school," she says.