When Jane DeLay was growing up, free time often meant playing school.
Her mother, Erma DeLay, was a teacher, and leftover materials from her classroom became entertainment at home. It helped shape her youngest daughter’s future career.
Next week, Miss DeLay – as current and past students call Jane DeLay – will sort through 44 years of her own teaching supplies when she retires as the Title I teacher at Colman-Egan Elementary School. She will say goodbye to a career and a classroom that has been her devotion for generations of students.
“I’ll miss the kids,” she says. “They bring me their energy and their smiles and their work to help them with.”
On a recent day, she reviewed how to count syllables with five second grade girls. Their assignment was to show her the number of dinosaurs that equaled the number of syllables in each word. Then they tapped out the word on the table.
She often uses hands-on approaches to her lessons, she says. Her reward is seeing the students understand what they are learning, and in the case of mastering syllables, the girls gave her a bonus goodbye hug at the end of the day.
DeLay is willing to cheer kids on and always has a smile to share, says Superintendent Tracey Olson. “She has a big heart.”
Although she is an elementary teacher, DeLay fills all areas of the school’s walls with inspirational quotes, displays stories about student achievements cut out of the paper, organizes the annual breakfast for seniors on their last Friday of school, volunteers to help at sporting events, shares her baked goods with fellow teachers, raises money to help people in need in the community and has organized a Wall of Honor listing 350 veterans that are friends or relatives of any students in the school.
“She has dedicated many years to a profession she truly enjoys,” Olson says. “I think of her as Miss Hospitality.”
DeLay enjoys being involved in the school and community, says Lisa Paulson, the high school family and consumer science teacher who was a teacher’s aide for DeLay early in her career.
“She taught me a lot about classrooms and kids and just the general structure of teaching,” Paulson says. The two also have shared laughs about the priceless things children say and do. “She has a lot of compassion for students. She really cares that they’re learning, that they’re understanding. She has a passion for her job, for everything she does.”
DeLay grew up the youngest of four on a farm on the northeast edge of Egan and graduated from Egan High School in 1971. At the time, she wanted to join the Navy because her brother, Jim, had served.
“I always wrote letters to him weekly. He served in the Cuban crisis,” she says.
But DeLay’s father, Francis, didn’t like the idea, and she headed to college at Dakota State University in Madison, graduating in 1974 with an elementary teaching degree and a physical education minor.
She student taught at the American School in London, England, before taking her first job as a Title I teacher in Marietta, Minn., in the fall of 1974. The next year she took a position as the first teacher at the Pleasant Valley Hutterite Colony school near Flandreau, and in 1977 she started teaching third grade in her hometown. She also was the assistant girls’ basketball coach, assistant volleyball coach, assistant track coach and cheerleading adviser.
When Egan and Colman consolidated, DeLay remained with the district teaching first through fourth grades and Title I at various times. Her nephew, Scott Hemmer _ son of her sister Bonnie Hemmer of Egan _ grew up to become the Colman-Egan principal. DeLay also has a sister, Carol Kuehn, who lives in Luck, Wis.
Over the years, she has inspired others to become teachers, too. Sometimes, she hears back from those students who now share her lifelong profession and passion.
BilliJo Johnson, who teaches in Brookings, recently sent DeLay a thank you note that let her know she was an inspiration.
“It was in third grade when I first decided that I wanted to become a teacher like Miss DeLay,” she wrote. “Thanks to your kind, patient and caring style of teaching, I knew that I would go into education as my career.”
Some of DeLay’s best and funniest memories of school are stories from show and tell. On one occasion, a student teacher in her room had just taken a gulp of coffee when a little girl got up to say, “Last night, my dad’s truck died, and my mom’s car died, and my rat died.”
The student teacher’s coffee spurted out of his mouth as he tried to contain his surprise at the unexpected story told through a child’s eyes.
“Show and tell was entertaining,” DeLay says. “Some of them can come up with some good ones.”
DeLay, 65, says that she will continue to be involved in school and community events, might still bake a few treats for the teachers and would consider substitute teaching if she is needed. But she also plans on joining a quilting group at her church, Ss. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in Flandreau, and wants to garden at her home in Egan, travel and volunteer.
“It’s going to be a change. I think I’m going to grow into it. I think I’m ready. It’s time,” she says.