Marquette’s Denice Melody stepping away after 42 years in ‘her niche’

Streator native retiring after the last 40 years with 2nd graders

Denice Melody (seated center) is retiring after 42 years in education, the last 40 with second grade at Marquette Academy Grade School. With her is her current class and teaching assistant Mary Dyche.

There are lucky people who find a job they love, a career they were meant for and the right place to enjoy it all.

Denice Melody is one of those people.

However, even she knew there’d be a time to step away and for her, that time is now.

Melody, a Streator native who for the last 40 of her 42 years in education has been in charge of the second grade class at Marquette Academy Grade School in Ottawa, is turning in her lesson plans for the last time this week and she will be missed by the generations of students and parents who’ve passed through on her watch.

“This is my family, to the point where I’m teaching children whose moms and dads I taught … and I’ve taught with people who I taught as kids.”

—  Denice Melody, retiring teacher at Marquette Academy

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Melody, fighting back tears at the very thought of stepping down. “This has been my home for all these years and so many of the people I’ve taught with aren’t just colleagues, they’re really, really good friends. This is my family, to the point where I’m teaching children whose moms and dads I taught … and I’ve taught with people who I taught as kids.

“There isn’t anything in the world I’d rather do than teach. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher. People ask me what I’m going to miss about it, I’m going to miss everything, the students first and foremost, but also planning lessons, bulletin boards, parent-teacher conferences, all of it. There isn’t one thing about it I won’t miss, but it’s time.”

Melody and her husband, former Streator and Marquette football coach Kirk Melody, have been living in Lake Wildwood near Varna for the last 20 years and the hour drive to Ottawa in the unpredictable Illinois winters has become increasingly more difficult.

Despite the offer to take whatever snow days she felt were necessary, Melody believes that wouldn’t be living up to her commitment to Marquette.

A graduate of St. Stephen Grade School in 1972, Streator High School in 1976 and Illinois State University, Melody wanted to return to her hometown to teach, a profession she had aspired to and was helped to attain and refine by her mentor, Joan Soltis, and colleagues like Joanne Landers and Judy Woods.

She started in eighth grade and then fourth grade in her first two years, but then was asked to lead second graders and knew right away that’s where she belonged.

A lover of reading and good books, Melody has encouraged her students toward the same and dedicates a large portion of their mornings on that, along with the principles of teamwork, friendship and Catholic values.

“The kids are young enough that they’re still excited about school and everything we do, but old enough to be independent and do things on their own,” Melody explained. “I’m so lucky to have found my niche.”

Along the way, Melody has enjoyed watching some of her former students play football for the teams her husband coached, but even more has relished seeing those students grow up to become personally successful and great parents in their own right.

“When I see that, it’s nice to think that maybe I played a little part in making them the people they are today. Plus,” she added in jest, “if you ever have to call a mom or a dad, no one is going to say no to their second grade teacher.”

Melody admits she’ll keep busy and may even substitute teach occasionally, but she’s sure it’s time for “out with the old, in with the new.”

“I’m sure once I get into the next chapter, get into retirement and have a routine, I think I’ll be fine, but it’s hard to get started with that,” she said. “It’s an emotional thing for me, but I think it will be a good thing.

“This year has just flown by. I feel like I was just getting my room ready, now I’m taking it down. Those 42 years have gone by in the blink of an eye. I tell all the teachers to enjoy it because it’s gone before you know it. I sure have enjoyed mine.”