Back in the saddle again

Retiring teacher, long-distance horseback rider ready to devote more time to hobby

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The chairs are stacked, the blackboards are clean, and the walls are cleared of all decoration.

Little by little, Betty Wolgram has been emptying her classroom during the past few weeks. And Friday afternoon, she was ready to walk out the third-floor door, leaving behind fond memories of Moffat County High School.

"I wanted to retire while I was still young enough to do the things I enjoy doing," she said. "If I worked for five more years, that'd be five more years lost."

But the English teacher didn't find her ideal career until later in life. After being a legal assistant, bank manager and real estate, oil field and housing operator, and then a single mom, she was drawn to teaching after an encounter at the track.

Her seventh-grade son, Jim Woods, was running for the track team, and Wolgram often watched him compete. She offered to help the coach, because she saw him trying to lead 100 kids by himself. So, he asked her to coach the girls team.

"I enjoyed being around kids so much that I decided to go back and finish my college degree and teach. And that's what I did," Wolgram said.

She started with seventh- and eighth-graders at a Catholic school in Aurora in 1982, then spent another three years in Summit County.

Seventeen years ago, she came to MCHS -- from where her husband, Ken, graduated -- and never looked back.

"We're really happy here," she said. "It'll probably take an atomic bomb to make me leave Craig."

She's especially glad she's spent her time working with soon-to-be adults.

"I would have gone insane teaching elementary," Wolgram said. "You can talk to (high school students) in more than two or three syllables when you're giving instructions."

She also recognizes a higher level of need in the secondary students.

"I think they realize by that age it won't be too long before they're out in the cruel, cold world," she said.

She'll miss the time spent with the kids and colleagues, but she plans to substitute teach in the winter. She doesn't yet feel that she's retired, and she doesn't think the reality will hit her for a while.

"It probably won't really dawn on me that I'm retired until August when everyone's going back to school," she said.

Then, she'll be glad to enjoy the "Indian summer" that accompanies September and October, when she's typically stuck inside most of the day.

She'll also not regret the absence of meetings and paperwork that seemed to dominate her responsibilities. More and more during the years, teaching has become more complex, she said, with state and federal requirements.

"We need to keep in mind, the quality of what we teach is more important than the mass production," she said.

She recalled a segment on Fox News when a man who used to be in the military spoke about the way to manage troops effectively, and Wolgram sees a correlation to education.

"He said that task overload leads to production inefficiency," she said, "and it applies in the classroom.

"I think a lot of teachers are experiencing a lot of task overload right now."

Wolgram is relieved to separate herself from that.

"I've never really had an opportunity to be a housewife -- and just spend time doing those things -- so I'm looking forward to that," she said.

Wolgram also is looking forward to some quality time with her horses. Long-distance riders, she and Ken are preparing for July's Tevis Cup in the Sierra Nevadas in California.

Last year, she struggled with the overnight portions of the 100-mile, 24-hour ride, so she wants to get out and practice riding at night.

But, regardless of how she spends her summer months and beyond, Wolgram is proud to look back on her years in teaching and the community she's grown to love.

"Craig is one of the most supportive communities of its schools that I could ever imagine living in," she said.

She has many friends who teach elsewhere, and they tell stories that make Wolgram feel fortunate.

"Hearing them talk ... makes me grateful I have been able to spend the majority of my teaching time here in Craig."

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