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Banks waves goodbye to some longtime Braves

Springtime retirees rack up a collective 179 years in the school district


NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Shirley Soper has driven a school bus in Banks for 40 years. Now shes retiring to spend time with her family and watch her granddaughter play softball in Montana. In the fall, the Banks School District will start a new school year without several of its longtime staff members.

The schools will see new faces everywhere — from the superintendent’s office to the athletic fields to the buses to the special education department. While plans for retirement differ, all the retirees have one thing in common: they say they’ll miss the kids the most.

Shirley Soper

Forty years ago when Shirley Soper decided to drive a bus for the Banks School District, she took her driving test in a Volkswagen bug.

She passed, was hired on by Shafer’s Bus Services and spent the next four decades getting Banks kids to school safely.

Soper is retiring this week when school lets out for the summer and plans to enjoy the newfound time she hasn’t had since she sent her youngest off to school and took the wheels of Banks’ big yellow buses. Soper drove her own kids and eventually her grandkids to school, sports competitions and field trips on her buses along with hundreds of other Banks students, which gave her access to a part of her children’s and grandchildren’s school lives most parents miss.

Soper worked the majority of her career with Shafer’s before the company was sold to Mid Columbia Bus Company.

“Shafer’s made it so fun,” Soper said. “It really was a family.”

Once in the early 1990s, the Shafers had to rescue Soper and her bus on a hilly road near Buxton after a storm blew trees across the roadway. They cut the trees so she could drive her bus back to the barn.

“I said I wasn’t leaving my bus there; it’s my baby,” she laughed.

Soper has had to find her way back to town on old logging roads. She’s slid into a ditch during inclement weather. She has chained up in the snow and ice.

But the memories that stand out most are the everyday interactions with kids, parents and school staff. Soper is a true Brave; she watched all the games she drove to, whether her grandkids were playing or not. And even after she retires, Soper plans to come back to Banks Elementary School to volunteer in the classrooms.

“Kids can be so fun ... you watch them grow up,” Soper said.

While transporting students with special needs, Soper felt like her eyes were opened to children with disabilities who were often not treated like other kids. “They’re real special kids,” she said. “I miss that.”

Soper laughed thinking about all the families she’s gotten to know over the years, including one set of siblings she called “ornery.” When one of those girls was all grown up with her own daughters riding on Soper’s bus, she told them they better never act the way she did around “Mrs. Soper” as a youngster.

There were also the kids who liked to hop out the back door of the bus instead of the front, where they were supposed to go.

While Soper has noticed that the respect she receives from students has declined over the years, she’s still known for her no-nonsense attitude. “The kids call me ‘Sergeant,’” she said. But she mostly tries to keep her focus on the road and connect with students, even those who make trouble.

“Some kids just don’t have any home life, so I try to make their days a little special,” Soper said. “I tried to listen to them and ask them questions. You can find out a whole lot on the bus.”

Tim Hardie

Tim Hardie has spent the last 30 years walking into his office at Banks High School and leaving the door wide open.

“I hate shutting my door,” Hardie said. “Students know they can come in and chat about anything.”

In the last 30 years, his job as school counselor has evolved into a position Hardie describes as encompassing everything that doesn’t fall into the classroom or administrative categories. Hardie starts working with kids in middle school — the time in his life Hardie himself first considered becoming a school counselor — helping them organize their schedules so they can meet requirements and pursue interests. He continues to work with them through high school, helping them prepare for and pick out colleges, trade schools, military branches, after-school internships and apprentice programs — as well as jobs.

“It’s been a joy, an honor and a privilege being the guidance counselor here; it’s been my love and my passion,” Hardie said. “It’s an incredibly wonderful place here.”NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Tim Hardie congratulated students he counseled for the last few years at the Banks High School graduation Saturday, June 6.

In 1997, Hardie loved the place so much he wanted to integrate his own family. “One of the highlights of my career has been being a part of the community — being the guidance counselor, coaching and sending my daughters to school here,” he said. “My life has been here; I don’t know if I could have asked for anything better. If I could do it over, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

As the guidance counselor, Hardie gets to know every single youth. It’s perhaps one of the only positions in the district that requires contact with every enrolled student. “I’m the first point of contact for many students entering high school,” he said. “I think that’s one of the most important things teachers can do for students — show up every day.”

Hardie has developed relationships with countless students over the years, and while it’s always rewarding to see youth grow up, graduate and take the next steps, it never gets old for Hardie to see those kids who have struggled with family life — some who aren’t even able to live at home — earn their diplomas and start better lives for themselves. Most of the time, that success started with a little guidance.

Bob Huston

While Bob Huston moved to Oregon nine years ago, he’s just now looking forward to really exploring the state. After he retires from his position as the Banks School District’s superintendent, Huston will continue to stick around and mentor his replacement, Jeff Leo, but he’ll also get to spend more time traveling, gardening, woodworking, biking and spending time with his 18 grandchildren.

While Huston is sad to go, he’s convinced the district is on the pathway to good things. His proudest moment in Banks was the recent opening of the new Banks Middle School. “It’s like a big exclamation point on my career as an administrator,” he said.

Huston is wrapping up his 43rd year in education with six of those years as principal of Banks Elementary School and three as superintendent. “Overall, I’m so blessed to finish my career in education here which I have loved so much,” Huston said. “I will miss all of the people I work with in Banks, but not the work.”

Pat Ball

Pat Ball is retiring for good this year. He retired from his teaching position at Banks High School a few years ago, but wasn’t quite ready to give up coaching, his passion for 40 years.

Now 64, the Hillsboro resident wants to spend time traveling and working on his house.

For the retired teacher and football and wrestling coach, “getting up off the mats isn’t as easy as it used to be,” he said. “It’s a young man’s game.”

Ball has had a lot of success in the last four decades, and while winning was fun, it’s the daily practices, the camaraderie and the shared team experiences he’ll miss the most.

Ball has learned to adapt with the times and find out what motivates students. Coaching today isn’t like it used to be, he said. He’s softened his approach during his coaching time. Young people don’t respond to being yelled at by authority figures like they once did in the 1970s and 1980s when Ball started coaching, he said. Now it’s more about developing relationships.

That’s the attitude that’s kept Ball in touch with many of his students and those he’s coached, hoping their time in Banks sports will stick with them. “Reaching beyond what you can do and working as a group and using what you’ve practiced — these are life lessons.”

Donna Niessner

Donna Niessner is retiring after 15 years in the Banks School District and 38 years total working with kids who have disabilities.

When Niessner was in college, she volunteered to work with special needs students and was instantly hooked. “I fell in love with it. I love seeing the end result. I love seeing them be successful,” Niessner said. “Seeing that light come on is so rewarding.”

Although a lot has changed since she was in college, Niessner has embraced her role as a learning specialist at Banks High School and still loves it.

If it weren’t for the loads of tedious paperwork that’s increased tenfold in the last decades for special education teachers, Niessner could see herself teaching another 40 years, she laughed. “Besides the paperwork, it’s been a wonderful ride.”

In her retirement, Niessner plans to golf, garden and shop.

Tina Spiering

Tina Spiering started out as a kindergarten aide at Banks Elementary School 28 years ago and she’s ending her career this month as an instructional assistant in the elementary school’s special education department.

“Seeing progress with the kids is just fantastic,” said Spiering, 65.

Spiering has grown fond of most of her students, but there are few who stand out for her, making it even harder to leave. “One kid learned to write on the wall to communicate with me,” she recalled. Eventually, that student graduated, got a job and learned to take care of himself.

While having a job where “no two days are the same” can be stressful, Spiering will miss the district and all the people she works with. “It’s a cool system we’ve got going on here; everyone helps each other out.”

Ramona Rigert

While Ramona Rigert plans to retire from her position as an instructional assistant for Banks Elementary School’s special education students this week, she’s already plotting how to get back into the classrooms.

She’s been with the district 17 years.

Rigert plans to be a substitute teacher or just volunteer next year, continuing to help students read and learn math. “It’s very fulfilling to help the kids and see their progress,” she said. “When children come to you and thank you for helping them — that’s the most rewarding.”

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