“I always did like children,” said Radtke, in her often-familiar
soft voice. “I was the third oldest grandchild out of twenty-five,
so I was always the one taking care of all the little ones. So I’ve
always had a love for children.” This love guided her towards her
passion in life although it did take her down a different path at
first. “I always thought I’d be a teacher. But then I got to college
and I thought I really like this social work end of it, too. I went
into the social work part, but then when I graduated there really
were not a lot of social work openings. Then the aide job came open
here (Mount Pulaski) and it was close to home so I took the aide
Radtke calls central Illinois home following a brief stint in Texas.
Her father was actually stationed in Texas while serving in the
Korean War. In 1953 the family moved back to Illinois and lived in
Latham and Decatur before settling on the family homestead located
in the Lake Fork Township in 1957.
Radtke attended Mount Pulaski schools and graduated from MPHS in
1970. She earned a B.S. in Sociology from Illinois State University
in 1974. She married William Radtke in 1975 and they built their
current home in 1976, just a quarter mile south of the family
homestead where Mary Ann grew up, according to daughter Renee
Renee is the reason why Radtke worked only five years (1975-1980) as
a teacher’s aide. Following the birth of Renee, Radtke decided to
stay home with her daughter. Son Chad would soon follow and give
Radtke another reason to stay home.
Radtke, who worked as a substitute teacher from 1980 to 1985,
explains, “I decided after I went back and subbed, this (teaching)
is what I want to do. I only had to go back nine months to pick up
the rest of the hours I needed and then I had to student teach.” She
received her teaching certificate from Sangamon State University in
Radtke did her student teaching at Elkhart Grade School and was
hired full-time there in 1985 as a kindergarten teacher. Not long
after being hired in Elkhart the third grade teacher would retire
and Radtke would move up to teach third grade. There was also a year
that EGS did not have a third grade class so she moved to second
grade and then back to third grade, subsequently having those kids
two years in a row. She would teach at EGS until its closure in
Radtke made the transition to Mount Pulaski Grade School in 2007
with a trio of other teachers from EGS. Those teachers were Shelley
Mason, Ann Olson and Jennifer Bone. More from these three coming up
Mary Ann recalls some memories
On the day of the interview, Radtke was feeling emotional and
admitted to being “like a faucet” with her tears in the final weeks.
“I’m gonna cry,” voice wavering, she said as she was put on the spot
to recall some of her favorite teaching memories.
“I’ve just always loved it. My philosophy has been that if I am
bored with something then they (students) are going to be bored with
it, so I have to make it fun. I have to change the way you do things
so that they can learn and enjoy learning and not realize they are
learning.” Holding it together quite well, she continued, “Cause if
I am bored with the textbook, oh my gosh, they are going to be bored
with the textbook. So you gotta change the stuff up.”
Without a doubt she added fun to all of her teaching methods and
that is what she is so well-loved, well-respected and well-known
Radtke flashed back to her days at Elkhart Grade School and pulled
out a fun memory that remains fresh in the minds of teachers and
students who walked the halls of the little school that sat on the
bottom of Elkhart Hill.
“Most of the children from Elkhart remember the 'Trip Around the
World,'” she said. “We had a reading book and it started in America
and it went clear around to every continent. So we had a story, we
had a project and the parents would bring in food from that country
and we just traveled the world for a whole entire semester. We
packed our suitcases at the beginning, and at the end when we came
home, the parents would have a cake and decorations for us to
welcome us home.” She continued explaining the unforgettable
experience for the children. “We would write letters like we were
really gone. We never left the room. The people from Elkhart and all
the children I have had over there still talk about the “Trip Around
She recalled the trip took them to England first, but made stops
just about everywhere. “We learned something from every country so
at the end they had a landmark of something that they could identify
with from every country. We had souvenirs and things and we would
make a project.” When the students returned from the trip, Radtke
said the halls were lined up with the other teachers and students
and families to welcome the kids home.
Talk about using your imagination and creating lifetime memories for
students. All the while making learning fun.
Back in the USA she talked about the Southwest trip she took the
kids on, even though the book only dedicated a page to San Antonio.
“Because our book only had one page on San Antonio, I was like,
really? So I turned it into a whole month,” she said smiling. “I
turned it into a Southwest trip where we went to the Grand Canyon,
we went to Carlsbad Caverns, Smokey Bear Historical Park, you know,
we did all the highlights of the states down there. We mapped out
the Four Corners and we all stood in four different states.
Once again we packed our suitcases, we lined up the halls and we
wrote letters home.” They did indeed mail those letters, too. “They
got to practice letter writing and addressing envelopes and we
actually mailed them,” she said, supporting the USPS as well.
Thoughts from former students
A few of her former students can still recall those trips. Sarah
Jackson Wilham had Radtke for both kindergarten and third grade at
EGS and she remembered cutting pictures out of magazines and gluing
them to paper suitcases to hang in the hallway. Her son, Kellen,
also had Radtke in third grade and according to his mom, “Kellen
remembers that when they “left” on their trip she had the class walk
down the hall, past the pre-school room and down the stairs where
they sat and ate cookies and pretended they were on an airplane
while Mrs. Radtke read them a book.”
Katey Bobell also had Radtke for third grade at EGS and she
remembered those trips, too. “That was probably our favorite things
to do in her class, but everyday was something completely different
and it was never boring that’s for sure!”
Marlea Elias was in Radtke’s third grade class, too, and although
she said she honestly does not have a good memory, she could recall
a thing or two about the memorable teacher. “I do remember the class
always said "I can't.” “I can't do this or that,” so she finally
made us make boxes and I can't remember exactly, but I know we had
to bury the words "I can't" in the ground on the playground behind
the school because she wanted us to know we can do anything and
wanted us to stop using the word can't because it no longer existed
in her class.
She wanted all of us to know we could do whatever we needed or
wanted to do. She made coming to school fun and enjoyable because of
her generous and caring personality she had for all of us as her
students. She always made sure we had fun learning during her
Elias also recalled the trips Radtke took them on. “The Trip Around
the World was so much fun because we got to bring in different foods
made from all cultures and what kid doesn't like food during class!
I also remember the Elkhart Hill trip. She had us write a book on
the Elkhart Hill after we took a trip up on the hill for a whole day
and learned the history of Elkhart and that was really fun. EVERYONE
who went to Elkhart and had her as a teacher would without a doubt
say she was the best teacher there ever was! She was and still is a
“All children are gifted”
The feeling is mutual. Radtke adored her students just as much as
they adored her. “They are a part of me. They are a piece of my
heart,” she said, on the verge of tears again. “You get attached.
They are my kids. I cried the last day of school all the time. I
just warned them up front that you are going to see me cry. Now I’ve
been crying all year. I just can’t imagine life without school.”
Changing the subject a bit, she said, “And I had one of the girls in
here, you know in my last class, I had her mother in my first class.
What are the chances of that happening?”
Karyl Davis was one of the lucky ones to have Radtke that first year
in kindergarten and then again in third grade at EGS. Her daughter,
Cecilia, was a student in Radtke’s last third grade class at MPGS.
Both mother and daughter shared their memories. "The third grade
class was always one of the best-behaved classes,” said Karyl. "It
was like they wanted to be good for Mrs. Radtke because everybody
loved her. To this day she is still my favorite teacher...that I’ve
Meanwhile, little Cecilia flashed a big smile when asked about the
beloved teacher and said, “Yes, she cried a lot.”
Tears flowing simply because this woman loved teaching children so
much. She had a genuine care and concern for each and every child
that she taught. She never picked favorites and she found something
special in each and every child.
“The motto that I live by is that all children are gifted, some just
open their package sooner than others. I don’t know who said that...
(tearing up and voice cracking) see I can’t even talk about it. So
that’s just been my philosophy to teach by. They are all gifted you
just have to find the way to get them to learn.”
Colleagues put their two cents in
Now it is time for the trio of ladies with decades of experience
working with Radtke, to weigh in with their thoughts on the woman
who has been dubbed the “ringleader” of the bunch.
Shelley Mason, a current kindergarten teacher at MPGS, has taught
with Radtke for over 30 years.
“Mary Ann is our ringleader,” she stated simply. Her retirement is
not going to hit me until in the Fall. She has been such a big
influence in all of our lives.” Reiterating the fact, “She is our
ringleader. She could get us to do things that I never thought we
would do before.”
Here come the stories:
Mason talked of something that happened back in the day at EGS to
the principal, Douglas Hawkins, and it was all cooked up by Radtke.
“We are going to make this calendar for Doug Hawkins. We are going
to dress up in different outfits for every holiday and give him this
calendar. She got us to wear...remember Charlie’s Angels...well it
was me, Jennifer (Bone) and Mary Ann and she dubbed us “Doug’s
Angels.” We were always playing jokes on that poor man and doing
stuff to him. Mary Ann could get that whole school wound up.”
Ann Olson, the current fifth grade teacher at MPGS was also Radtke’s
colleague for 31 years and she too has stories.
“My fondest memory is Halloween at Elkhart, oh my gosh. Mary Ann
loves to dress up. Every year we (the faculty) had to dress up as a
theme and she would pick the theme. One year we were a wedding
party, one year we were a sandwich, one year we were the Red Hat
Ladies and one year we were dressed like people from the 50’s. She
came up with a theme and we all had to dress up in the theme. I hate
to dress up but I did it for Mary Ann,” Olson said.
“There is another story but I don’t think I better tell that one,”
and then Olson proceeded to spill the beans on Radtke. “It dealt
with a costume of a female anatomy. Mr. Hawkins was having a really,
really bad day. It was graduation practice so she put on a raincoat
and this fake body and she flashed him.” Only Radtke would do such a
Olson summed up her friend like this, “She loves to have fun. She
laughs all the time. She loves to laugh just like Lucille Ball.”
Mason recalled that body suit, too. “And that thing with the body
outfit she had? Oh my gosh,” laughed Mason. “The day she did that to
Bill Rucks I thought he was going to fall out of his chair.”
Apparently she flashed Rucks during a teacher’s institute one day
and recruited Mason to help. Mason’s job was to make sure Rucks was
in his room alone and she told him, “Mary Ann needs to ask you
something and show you something.” Rucks did a double-take and had
the “silliest grin on his face” when he looked up from his desk and
saw Mary Ann sit down in a chair and reveal her body suit, said
Mason. Mason laughed recalling what Radtke said that day about Rucks,
“Man of few words, but that was worth it.”
[to top of second column]
Jennifer Bone rounds out the trio of teachers
that has taught with Mary Ann for decades. Bone, a second grade
teacher at MPGS, has 29 years of experience teaching with Radtke.
Bone was fresh out of college when she was hired at EGS and was
placed in a classroom next to Radtke.
“She was the one who was a great help,” Bone said of Radtke. “How
do we do lunch, how do we do this, what’s the procedure? I was the
young one and she was always the one that had whatever you needed.
If you needed magazines for the kids to cut pictures out of, she had
them. If you needed a ball of yarn in red, she had it. She collects
a lot of stuff. She’s a saver. When you need anything you can be
guaranteed she has it. She’s a great one to help out with anything,
too. We became good friends. My kids adore her.”
Bone mentioned how when her mother-in-law passed away and
daughter Allison was turning two, Radtke “showed up at McDonald’s
with birthday hats and the whole shebang” to help throw a birthday
party for the kids and make sure they could have fun despite a tough
family situation going on. Bone concluded with, “She goes above and
beyond what is needed for teaching.”
Her third grade
teaching counterpart, Megan Jones, joked that Radtke’s desk is
“usually a mess but she knows where it all is.”
"The motto that I live by is that all children are gifted, some just
open their package sooner than others. I don’t know who said that"
Mary Ann Radtke said while tearing up and voice cracking, "see I
can’t even talk about it.”
Megan Jones, the other third
grade teacher at MPGS, has taught five years in a classroom next to
Radtke and she offers the same sentiments as Bone. “I think she’s
willing to go the extra mile for the experience for the child,” said
Jones. “She will put in the extra hours in the evenings and on the
weekends to seek out those resources for the students. I saw her at
Dollar General the other day with a list of things for a project for
the kids. I think they were getting ready to make volcanoes. She
didn’t have the supplies so she had her list and she wanted to make
sure the kids got that experience.”
Jones, who admits that she has gotten to know Radtke real well these
last five years, said she recently told her emotional coworker, “You
know, I always tell her when she starts to tear up, that you’re just
a good example of someone who is retiring. She’s not bitter, she’s
not dreading to come to work everyday, she still wants to come.”
In fact, Radtke was having reservations about retirement as the end
of her teaching career drew near, but it was obviously too late to
change her mind. She put in for retirement four years ago, taking
advantage of the incentives and thinking she would be ready when the
time would come.
The heartfelt passion she showed for her job obviously impacted
Jones. “What a good way to go out. I hope that’s the feeling I have
after thirty-some years of teaching. She’s always ready for the day.
Ready for the students,” said Jones.
Finally, Jones also came up with an interesting fact about Mary Ann.
“She had a class in Elkhart that nicknamed her “Radical Radtke,”
said Jones, citing, “This is an example of how a lesson on
adjectives would end up going in her classroom.” But it’s not all
about putting the fun in learning for the students with Radtke, she
also has left a lasting impression on her colleagues.
Mason is certainly one of those friends and coworkers who has felt
her presence. “Mary Ann could always make me laugh, always make me
smile. She’s going to be greatly missed. She’s a wonderful teacher.
"One thing that she did that I do in my classroom now is I would
hear her doing the Pledge of Allegiance with her kids, and then they
would sing a patriotic song.” Radtke did this back in the day at EGS.
Mason continued, “She sang the whole song for the whole month. There
were days that I said if you sing that song one more time I am going
to scream. But I do it at MPGS now with my kindergarteners because
she had to stop doing it because she is in the pod area and she was
afraid of disturbing everybody.
"That’s one thing I get from her....making the kids do a patriotic
song and they absolutely love it. So that’s the legacy she gives to
Mason offered more on the do-it-all woman who has impacted the Mount
Pulaski community - past, present and future generations. “She’s one
of a kind. She was born and raised here, went through this school
system and came back and gave her all.
"The amount of stuff that she did for the community and what she got
her third graders to do that one year for the courthouse. When they
raised over $10,000, that was just absolutely phenomenal. She is
very inspirational. She’s a doer and she gets everybody united.”
Time to talk retirement
MPGS teachers and staff love a party and Radtke was going to be
treated to one no matter what, even though she preferred things be
According to daughter Renee Martin, “Mom was surrounded by her
fellow colleagues, principal, superintendent, and the president of
the school board, along with some family. Ann Olson, Shelley Mason
and Jennifer Bone gave a small introductory speech and Mr. Newton
presented Mom with a glass vase. Fried chicken was provided by MPEA
and her colleagues brought various food items to eat. They were all
delicious, by the way. Mom was also given cards and a lovely bouquet
The party lasted about an hour, said Martin, and “Mom laughed and
cried, but overall held it together nicely!”
Mason added. "“The other day she told us “I don’t want to talk at my
retirement, don’t do a video, don’t do a gag”....’cause those were
all the things that she would make us all do to the retiring people.
She said, “I won’t be able to handle it. I will cry.” Well sure
enough we didn’t do that and she cried anyway.”"
Martin also said that her mom looks forward to spending time with
the grandchildren and coming back as a substitute teacher at MPGS
during retirement. Radtke herself confirmed these retirement plans,
“We are planning on traveling. I don’t want to be here when school
starts so we are going to take a trip,” said Radtke, including
husband Bill on that trip. “But I will come back. The boys are going
to be in first grade and second grade. I will come and help with
them with field trips and if they need help in the classroom. I am
going to sub, too. I just cannot imagine life without school. It’s
been my life for almost 40 years.”
Her travel plans include the boys, grandsons Dean and Reed, whom she
babysits every Thursday and takes on adventures throughout central
Illinois exploring the local sites.
It’s certain that Radtke will keep busy volunteering, too. She’s
always been very active in the Mount Pulaski School District, the
local 4-H and the Latham United Methodist Church.
She is well-known around the area as the donut maker who has helped
to raise countless funds for the church youth group. Along with her
sister, Jean Davis, together the two ladies make quite the
Radtke should also have more time for fun for herself with this
retirement gig on the horizon. In the past, she has been a
contestant on “Let’s Make a Deal” and in the “Wheel of Fortune”
audience supporting a friend. She was supposed to audition for the
show herself but she could not make it, so her friend went instead.
“She took my audition for the “Wheel of Fortune” because I could not
go, so then I got to go with her for the show,” said the
Maybe when the next opportunity arises, she will have time to go on
that audition and then her friend can see her spin the wheel.
A final word from Mary Ann
She recently told her daughter in a conversation, “I have always
prayed that somewhere with someone I could make a difference. I sure
hope that happened.”
You can bet your life on it, Mary Ann! Congratulations on
I just cannot help myself....here’s my last word:
I recall sitting in Class 1A at MPGS when a new teacher by the name
of Mrs. Radtke joined our classroom. She would sit beside us and
listen to us read while our teacher, Ms. Gail Wise, was busy doing
other things. I recall that my first and lasting impression of her
was that she was just a pretty lady and a FUN person. She was always
smiling and had so much patience with us rowdy first grade students.
My opinion of her has never changed and my respect and admiration
for her has certainly blossomed upon hearing all the wonderful
stories about her and reading the various Facebook posts recently.
I also felt the need to reach out to Douglas Hawkins, the EGS
principal that Mary Ann and company tormented throughout the years.
Hawkins was pleasantly surprised to hear of Mary Ann’s retirement
and he offered this, “She is a wonderful person and a wonderful
teacher. I had a great staff and they were very concerned about all
the kids and how they performed. She was just a top-notch teacher
and I really enjoyed having her.” He laughed upon hearing that she
was hesitant about retiring. “Give her just a little bit and she
will get the taste of it and she will realize just how nice it is.”
I couldn’t agree more...I’ve yet to talk to a retired person who
says they don’t like it. I look forward to seeing Mary Ann again
In the meantime, when I told her this was probably the longest
article I’ve ever written, she wrote back, "“One sentence could be
enough - “Mrs. Radtke retires after 31 years.” lol quick read.”"
Finally here is a quick rundown of her family these days:
Her mother Mary Pope lives in Mount Pulaski and recently broke her
hip and foot. Add taking care of Mom to her list of retirement
Brother Jack Gasaway and sister Jean Davis live close by, like
really close by, with their families.
Husband Bill Radtke was not reached for comment, my bad, but I am
pretty sure he’s looking forward to having Mary Ann around more.
Children, Renee and Chad, and step-children, Dawn and Tyler, can
also look forward to more quality family time.
Grandchildren, Dean and Reed, will undoubtedly keep Mary Ann hopping
and by Christmas, I predict she will be laughing at people that are
still working full-time.
Last but not least, who is going to fill those shoes?
Recent Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville graduate Carly
Powell is set to be the new third grade teacher at MPGS. Powell is
the daughter of a teacher, Linda Smith of Elkhart, and a State Farm
Agent, Deron Powell, of Lincoln.
Many congratulations to Carly and no worries, you have a trio of
ladies there waiting to take you under their wing! Not to mention a
young counterpart who will teach you the ropes in “the pod” as well.
Best wishes to you!