By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
When Diane Wahl contacted the state of Michigan’s Office of Retirement Services and said she was retiring from Ann Arbor Public Schools after 50 years, the man on the other end was aghast.
He’d never met anyone who’d worked for 50 years in one district.
While these days it is indeed hard to imagine anyone working anywhere for 50 years, many would insist that Diane Wahl is one-of-a-kind for more reasons than that.
Wines Principal David DeYoung says it’s hard to imagine the school without her.
“She knows everyone,” he says. “Of course she knew each child by name, but she also knew nearly every parent by name, plus grandparents, aunts, uncles, and caregivers. She was, quite literally, a constant presence at our school and in our community.”
“I could literally go on an one about this outstanding educator and friend.”
Wahl was profiled four years ago in the AAPS District News, when she was the longest-serving employee even then.
Her family has been bugging her to retire for years, she says.
“The time just feels right,” says Wahl, 73. “I’ve never given up on doing anything ever. But after 50 years, it’s time.”
Wahl says the hardest part of this year school year has been not seeing the students in person.
“I miss their smiling faces and being able to talk to each one individually,” she says.
AAPS has been a part of Wahl’s life since kindergarten. She attended Eberwhite before she became a fifth grader when Wines opened in 1957, and later became one of the first students at Forsythe Middle School.
Wahl recalls fond memories of being a cheerleader for the Pioneers at Ann Arbor High School, from which she graduated in 1965.
After earning her degree from Western Michigan University, she immediately started teaching at several AAPS schools, before finding her permanent home at Wines 40 years ago.
She says in the beginning, she learned from the older teachers, and in the past few years, she’s picked up new teaching techniques from the younger PE teachers.
Much of her identity is tied up in the words “Miss Wahl/Wines PE teacher.”
“It’s who I am,” she says. “Everyone calls me Miss Wahl. My family all calls me that, too.”
Principal DeYoung’s memories of Wahl extend to when he himself was a student at Wines decades ago, and she was one of is favorite teachers.
“As my memories of elementary school fade, I still have hundreds of memories of her class,” recalls DeYoung, who is happy to say his twin boys—now in seventh grade—had the privilege of being in Wahl’s class, as well.
DeYoung says he is just one of many in the Wines community with a multi-generational connection with Diane Wahl.
“It’s hard for anyone in our community to conceive of Wines without Diane,” he says. “We will miss so many things about her. Rain, sleet, or snow did not stop Diane from being out at the crosswalk each morning safely helping students and families get to school. Her tireless energy is the stuff of legends.”
He says her lunchtime “Wahl’s Walkers” is a tradition at Wines and, that fortunately, she has already asked if she can continue to walk with the kids when everyone safely returns to the building.”
“That’s how I really got to know the kids, is during Wahl’s Walkers,” she recalls.
Wahl says she would happily do it all over.
“It’s been a great career,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for a better place to be. It’s who I am. I’m Miss Wahl, PE teacher at Wines. I never would have thought I’d last this long, but I’ve loved every minute of it. There have been hard times, but they’ve all been things that helped me grow.”
She’ll miss the kids’ hugs and greetings, and their thanks when they’ve learned a skill that was initially difficult for them. And she’ll especially miss her PE class of students with special needs.
And of course, the kids will miss her, too. In fact, at the close of a Schoology session on Monday, Wahl had to comfort a student who cried when told of her retirement.
Wahl, who lives in Dexter, looks forward to gardening, walking, working out, and spending time with her great-nephews, Giovanni,1. and Jackson, 6, and great-niece, Rayleigh, who is 1.
She and her niece will continue to run their produce wagon at the Wolverine Party Store during the summer, and she can’t wait to get back to playing softball with the co-rec league she’s been affiliated with for many years.
Back when she would make announcements on the P.A. system at Wines, Wahl would sign off with the letters: “TTFN!” which stands for “ta-ta for now.” The sign-off is on her home phone answering machine and concluded her goodbye letter to Wines parents last week.
Today, on her last day of work, she intends to stop by Wines in the morning to clear out her belongings, then spend the afternoon at a virtual meeting of P.E. teachers before helping with the distribution of supplies for Wines students.
Odds are good that more than once today—as she concludes a 50-year career—she’ll hear the words: So long, Miss Wahl. TTFN.