Lynn Owens, "the heart of Deephaven Elementary" for 46 years, dreads the last day of school.
Lynn Owens, a second-grade teacher at Deephaven Elementary in Deephaven for the past 46 years, has made a reluctant decision to retire at the close of this school year. Colleagues say her zest has never waned, as when she got down on the floor with students, from left, Natalie Smith, Sam Rotunno and Maddox Rickenbach.
Lynn Owens senses when the bell is about to ring without ever glancing at the clock in her classroom. After decades of teaching, she explains, it's just something you pick up.
"Friends, I want to thank you for being such good workers this morning," Owens tells her students just before they head off to gym class. "I'll see you again in just a little bit."
As the school year winds down, it's getting more difficult for Owens to say goodbye, even the temporary farewells like this.
That's because after 46 years of teaching second grade in the Minnetonka School District -- all spent at Deephaven Elementary -- Owens will retire next week. She has more than three times the experience of the average Minnesota teacher and is one of the longest-serving teachers in the Minnetonka school district.
She's an institution there, having taught generations of Minnetonka students. And if it weren't for her desire to spend more time with her 98-year-old mother, she'd probably teach generations more.
"I can't even talk about it," she said of her pending retirement. "The idea of not being around these kids every day, well, I just can't go there right now."
A deeply humble person who would much rather talk about her students than herself, Owens is busy these days deflecting colleagues, parents and former students who want to pay tribute before she leaves.
She even turned down Principal Bryan McGinley, who wanted her to speak at a recent staff retirement party.
"She does not want the hoopla," he said. "And she is so widely respected here, no one is going to go against her wishes. She just has this amazing ability to make other people shine. That's her gift."
Fresh out of college, she ended up at Deephaven Elementary as somewhat of a fluke in 1966. A product of Minnetonka herself, Owens was being recruited by several metro area schools.
"I was all set to go to Osseo," she said. "At the time, they had the new buildings and the reputation. But the principal here said, 'Lynn, I'm not going to let you out of the classroom until you sign with Minnetonka.' And I did. I'm so glad I did."
Tadpoles and turtles
At the time, smart boards where unheard of and so were computers in the classroom. Students took the Iowa Basic Skills Test in paper booklets and teachers were responsible for coming up with physical education lessons.
Looking back, Owens laughs at the memory of teaching square dancing and polka to her students.
Unlike many in her profession who end up teaching different grades over the course of their careers, Owens never considered moving out of second grade.
"At that age, the boys and girls work really well together," she said. "They come in every day and when you say, 'Here's what we're going to do today, boys and girls,' they say, 'Wow, we can't wait.'"
Colleagues say Owens' students' enthusiasm is spurred by her own desire to make learning fun.
Several described the elaborate "elf houses" Owens has built in the woods near the school to foster students' interest in nature. She's also proven to be a skilled insect hunter and tadpole catcher, they say.
During a recent field trip to a Carver County park, the 68-year-old Owens braved the rain, splashed in the puddles with her students, and found an impromptu opportunity to teach them about turtles.
"It might have been the best field trip we've ever had," she said.
But it's not just the students with whom Owens has shared her love of the outdoors. She also routinely organizes kayak adventures for fellow teachers.
"I think she is the heart of this school," said Jeanne Krake, who taught at Deephaven for 20 years. "Everyone -- staff, parents and colleagues -- benefits from her positive energy."
McGinley said Owens also dismantles the stereotype that experienced teachers are resistant to change.
Owens has embraced technology that drives classroom learning today, whether that's iPads or sophisticated computer applications.
"She's continually growing as a teacher," McGinley said. "She's exactly the kind of teacher I wish my kids could have had. I would have loved to have her as my second-grade teacher."
Nancy Schlenker Hanson did have Owens as her second-grade teacher in 1978. As a representative for the photography company Lifetouch, Hanson reconnected with Owens a few years ago during a visit to Deephaven.
She said she was stunned that Owens remembered her and even more surprised when her former teacher pulled her picture from a file cabinet. There, Owens kept composite photos of her classes, dating back to her early days at the elementary school.
"She introduced me to her class and told them stories about me and my classmates," Hanson recalled. "What other teacher remembers each of their students and their parents and still keeps in touch with them?"
Other than a trip this summer to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Owens has no immediate retirement plans.
She's asked her husband, Denny, for a stand-up paddle board as a retirement gift and will continue exploring the familiar waters of Lake Minnetonka where she's kayaked for most of her adult life.
She also plans to continue to work in education in some capacity as she can't imagine a life completely disconnected from students.
"I've had over one thousand students during my career and it's a miracle to me how each of them is so different," she said. "You just fall in love with each of them."
Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469