Retired W-F teacher made the outdoors her classroom
By Angie Landsverk
Helen Jarchow’s love and appreciation of nature began when she was a youngster growing up in western Wisconsin.
“I grew up in the town of New Richmond, near the Twin Cities. I grew up in the Great Depression,” she said. “Laura Ingalls Wilder was just starting her books.”
Jarchow remembers her maternal grandfather reading those books during the day, while she was in school.
After school, she read them to catch up with him.
That grandfather also taught her lessons about the outdoors. In the woods along railroad tracks, he taught Jarchow how to identify flowers.
She said he was also a “magnet” and attracted animals of all sorts.
“We even had a pet goose,” she said.
His nurturing impacted Jarchow in numerous ways.
Years later, when Jarchow became a teacher, she hatched chicken and goose eggs with her second-grade students.
After the Weyauwega-Fremont School District developed its backyard, the outdoors became a classroom, she said.
Civic groups, residents and others helped make the backyard a reality, including a trail along the Waupaca River.
“Those were the best summers for summer school,” Jarchow said. “On the last day of summer school, we would go down into the shallow water.”
She said that was before computers.
“I think that kids are missing so much by not seeing things grow,” Jarchow said. “I’ve been so lucky all the way along to be surrounded by kids and to do things with kids that they sometimes would not have done.”
Her love of children is why she decided to become a teacher.
“I wanted to go to Stout,” Jarchow said. “But, it was cheaper to go to River Falls. It was after World War II. There were families living in Quonset huts on campus, guys coming back on the GI Bill,” she said.
As a college student, Jarchow learned more about poultry.
“Back then, women didn’t take any ag classes,” she said.
Jarchow agreed to sign up for a class with a friend.
Although her friend changed her mind, Jarchow decided to sign up anyway.
“I was in a class with all guys,” she said. “It was interesting. I had to change my whole schedule. I ended up with lots of guys in my other classes.”
After college, Jarchow taught for several years, including two years in New Richmond.
In the early 1960s, she and her late husband Merle moved to Weyauwega, when he became the school district’s superintendent.
The couple and their three children moved into a house next to the old middle school.
Jarchow later became a substitute teacher and eventually was hired as a second-grade teacher at Weyauwega Elementary School.
When she retired at age 70, she ended a teaching career that totaled 32 years.
“People would ask, ‘When are you going to retire?’ I always said, ‘I’m not ready yet,’” Jarchow said.
Now 85, she continues serving the community in numerous ways.
She delivers Meals on Wheels once a month with one of her sons.
Jarchow sets and decorates the tables for the monthly Community Dinner and donates side dishes when they are needed.
She also volunteers at Weymont Food Pantry, is a past Girl Scout and 4-H leader and has been involved at First Presbyterian Church “from the time we came to town,” she said.
Jarchow believes she is one of many who volunteers in the community and says “a person needs to delve in locally however they can.”
She likes reading, woodworking, listening to National Public Radio, antiques, fairy gardens and baking.
“There’s nothing like baking bread to get rid of your frustrations or scrubbing your floor on your hands and knees,” Jarchow says with a smile.
Most of all, she likes to be outside.
Jarchow enjoyed helping with her three grandchildren and watching them mature and is now doing the same with her five great-grandchildren.
This summer, they helped plant flowers by the church’s fellowship hall and during a trip to the Weyauwega Public Library, helped their great-grandmother pull a few weeds after she noticed them in front of the shrubs.
They often say to her, “What project are we going to do today?”
Jarchow will always be able to find one.