‘I always gave it 100 percent’. District 105 kindergarten teacher retiring after 40 years

When Aug. 1 rolls around, Mary Pat Larocca will have a dilemma: She won’t know what to do.

For the past 40 years, flipping the calendar to August has meant it was time to get to work.

“The summer’s over on Aug. 1, so I don’t know what I’m going to do this year. Does anybody need any help? Can I come cut out things for you?” Larocca said.

Her August is suddenly open because she is retiring.

Larocca, 61, of Oak Park has taught 40 years of kindergarten students at Ideal School in Countryside. That ends on June 3.

In recognition of her accomplishments, Countryside Mayor Sean McDermott proclaimed June 6 as Mary Pat Larocca Day in the city during the May 11 City Council meeting.

The council presented her with a framed copy of the proclamation along with a bouquet of flowers as about a dozen teachers in attendance applauded.

Chatting outside City Hall, Larocca said she never grew weary of the “same school, same classroom, same grade.”

She treasures having had a chance to spend every day with children.

Larocca never wanted to become a principal or not teach kindergartners.

“They’re so honest,” she said.

Larocca taught a morning class and afternoon class her first 33 years. Full-day kindergarten was introduced seven years ago.

The children have not changed much, she said.

“Kids always want the same thing. They want to know that you hear them and you see them and that you love them. That hasn’t changed. I really do love them,” she said, dabbing tears.

Larocca, who is single, has 12 nieces and nephews. Invariably, when they visited her, they wanted to visit her classroom, she said.

The hardest part of teaching has been “saying goodbye to the kids every year. It’s fun to start with a new group, but you get attached.”

Larocca has grown as a teacher.

“When I started, there were no computers. You hand wrote everything,” she said. “I taught with no computer, and I’ve taught with only a computer. The last couple years we taught on Zoom.”

Teaching remotely because of the pandemic was not difficult “once I learned all the technology for it.”

In the past few months, she’s been busy another way.

“The hardest part now is cleaning out 40 years of junk. I’ve been doing it for months. Sharing it with the teachers,” she said.

Larocca is retiring because she wants to leave “on an even number” and 45 years seemed too many.

“In regard to my job and teaching, I always gave it 100 percent and did the best job I could do,” Larocca said.

She said she feels sorry for anyone who does not love their job or counts down the days to retirement.

“It’s an amazing place to work. Supportive,” she said of La Grange School District 105.

A 1978 graduate of Trinity High School, Larocca was the only teacher in the Class of 1982 at The College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minnesota, who did not have a teaching job lined up on graduation day.

“There’s no internet then. I think it’s because this job was waiting for me. I grew up in Chicago and wanted to work back here.”

She eventually found a job opening at Ideal School and was hired in September 1982.

As an amusing parting gift to some teachers, Larocca is giving them a photo of herself with the letters WWMPD, or What Would Mary Pat Do?

She taught the children of several former students.

“The first time it was ‘What?’ But after that I got over it,” she said with a laugh.

Larocca regrets she “never wrote down all the funny things they said. There are so many.”

Asked for a funny memory, there was the day when teaching the letter “P” she decided it would be fun to have kids catch popcorn.

She placed a popcorn maker in the middle of the room with the kids sitting around it, holding paper plates waiting for the popcorn to take flight.

Larocca did not realize she was supposed to use a hot air popper.

“I had the one with the hot oil,” she said. “The kernels starting going out, hitting them on their shins. It was supposed to be fun. I told them, ‘run, run.’‘’

She said she expects to work as a substitute teacher when needed “because I’ll miss the kids.”