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USD 428 celebrates 2021 retirees, 25-year employees
Receiving certificates of recognition from the University of Kansas for 25 years of teaching at Great Bend USD 428 are, from left: Traci Miller, Signe Cook, Pam Jordan, Kim Heath, Jeff Lutt, (Superintends Khris Thexton), Beth Rein and Carol Pfannenstiel. Not pictured: Amy Karst.

Great Bend SD 428 proudly celebrated 323 cumulative years of service to the students and families of Great Bend Schools with the retirement of 15 teachers and staff at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

An Employee Recognition Banquet held on Wednesday, May 5 at the Great Bend Middle School celebrated retirees as well as teachers who have completed 25 years in the profession.

“It’s been a memorable school year for sure,” said Khris Thexton, superintendent of USD 428, “but in the face of challenges, these dedicated individuals have risen to the occasion to support our students. We were fortunate to celebrate their career accomplishments and special moments in-person this year.”  

2021 will see the retirement of two principals from the district with long-standing careers in Great Bend.

Randy Wetzel, vice-principal at Great Bend High School, came to Great Bend 23 years ago after teaching and coaching in Saline, Russell, Seward County College, and Pan American University. At GBHS he has been integral in the advancement of Career and Technical Education Programs, the expansion of technology and supporting students. 

“It is hard to leave a job you enjoy and even harder knowing you will not be working with great people,” said Wetzel. “The district and students are in good hands and will grow with the leadership/staff we have.”

Phil Heeke, principal at Park Elementary School, has dedicated 27 years to education in Great Bend. After working as a classroom teacher at Riley Elementary and GBMS, Heeke moved into leadership at Park. During his tenure, he’s been instrumental in the growth of community partnerships and social-emotional support for students. 

“I have enjoyed working with the staff, families, and students to make Park School an awesome place to work and educate students,” said Heeke. “In retirement, I’ll continue to cheer on the Park Tigers!”

Retiring classroom teachers include Mandy Charles, GBHS; Tim Brooks, Great Bend Middle School; Karen Smith, Lincoln Elementary; and Carla Markovich, Eisenhower Elementary.

Teaching 9-12 grade biology, zoology and advanced biology at GBHS, Charles recounts her fondest memories as “building relationships with students that endure, and having students share the value of their experiences with me and especially that they enjoyed the time we had together.”

Brooks served USD 428 as a physical education teacher at GBMS, as well as on the basketball court at GBHS as the Lady Panthers Basketball Head Coach. 

Smith’s tenure of 33 years has been dedicated to Lincoln Elementary teaching 4th and 5th grades. Misty Straub, principal at Lincoln, touted Smith’s ability to build relationships and camaraderie with staff and students alike. 

“Teaching is at the core of who I am,” said Smith. “You haven’t seen the last of me yet,” indicating that she plans to volunteer in Great Bend Schools in retirement. 

Markovich may be the teacher that’s served the most buildings and students during her time as a music teacher for 33 years in USD 428. Teaching at Washington, Morrison, Jefferson, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Great Bend High School, Marckovich stopped “traveling” in 2000 and called Eisenhower home.

“My time at Eisenhower has seen many changes in society, the family, and students, with the advent and growth of technology and its ready accessibility to all,” said Markovich. “Public education has evolved right along with technology. Music and the arts are a vital part of that curriculum, enhancing brain function, building character, and providing students an avenue to express themselves while learning skills that will go with them their entire lifetimes. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the transition.”

Three Special Education teachers will retire from Barton County Special Services/USD 428: Teresa Frieb, GBHS; Linda Reschke, Jefferson Elementary; and Diana Zecha, Hoisington High School.

Frieb worked at GBHS for 20 years and commented, “I will treasure my memories of connecting with my students and earning their trust.”

Reschke served Jefferson Elementary for 27 years and shared, “I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching in this district and at Jefferson School. I have worked with some great educators and administrators in this district. USD 428 provides a lot of great opportunities for student success.”

Zecha has taught in USD 428 for 25 years and acknowledged there are “too many fond memories to choose from.” However, when asked about positive moments from her tenure, she quickly commented by saying “being part of helping a student to grow in confidence and  become successful socially and academically, and ready to move on to their next phase of learning/life.”

Support services

Retirees from USD 428 support services include, Marilyn Deason, food service (46 years); Connie Watts, food service (10 years); Carolyn Roth, food service (7 years); Bonnie Peacock, food service (11 years); Jan Peterson, teaching assistant at GBMS (6 years); and Albert Robinson, crossing guard at Park Elementary (20 years).

“You just have to stop and smile when you think of this group of retirees,” said Thexton. “As they set off to enjoy extra time with family, hobbies, or whatever their next adventure, we know they carry forward their tireless dedication to our community’s young people and love of education. We express our deepest gratitude for their commitment and service to USD 428, and wish them congratulations!”

25-year awards

An additional eight teachers were recognized for completing 25 years in the teaching profession. 

Receiving certificates of recognition from the University of Kansas were Signe Cook, Park Elementary; Pam Jordan, Jefferson Elementary; Kim Heath, Great Bend High School; Amy Karst, Riley Elementary; Jeff Lutt, GBHS; Traci Miller, Riley Elementary; Carol Pfannenstiel, GBHS; and Beth Rein, Riley Elementary. 

For more information about recognition programs or careers in USD 428, visit or contact the District Education Center by calling 620-793-1500.