Janesville57.4°

Kindergarten teacher ends 30-year career molding Evansville kids

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GINA R. HEINE
June 9, 2009
— Evansville parent Cecile David tried to convince kindergarten teacher Steve Hoffenberg not to retire until her youngest child could be a student in his class.

Hoffenberg had a lasting effect on David's two other children, now 6 and 11.


"He just does things that make kids enjoy school. Both my kids really enjoyed going to school (and were) always sad when the weekend came," she said. "That kind of enjoyment of learning and going to school is something they keep having, and I attribute that to him."


The David family is just one of many Evansville families that have had their children placed in Hoffenberg's classes because of his patience, compassion and talent.


After teaching an estimated 930 Evansville kindergartners, Hoffenberg is retiring after today—the last day of school for elementary students. A community open house retirement party is planned for "Mr. Steve" on Wednesday.


"Steve embodies the various characteristics we love in kindergarten teachers: gentleness, musical, humorous and aware of each child's unique individuality," Levi Leonard Elementary School Principal Lou Havlik said last week at a school recognition event.


"He has become something of an icon in our community in his role as a half-day kindergarten teacher."


Hoffenberg taught in day cares for four years in Ohio and Madison before starting a 30-year run teaching kindergarten in Evansville. He's been "semi-retired" the last six years, teaching the single half-day, morning kindergarten classes.


When the school district considered ending its one half-day class a few years ago, parents, including David, fought to keep the program.


"I got involved with it because I really wanted him (Hoffenberg) to be Gabrielle's teacher because … I was afraid if they got rid of the half-day program, (she) would get another teacher," David said. "That's why a lot of parents fought for it and kept it going."


Teaching was "really the only thing" Hoffenberg found that he liked, he said.


"I really like kids, and I found that out when I was really young when I babysat and worked in some after-school recreation programs," he said.


He found summers rejuvenated him and helped him avoid burnout.


"The kids give me energy every day, and they keep me young," he said. "I'm somebody who is very blessed to have found a job that I really like going to every day. I just enjoy it, and it's mainly the kids."


Hoffenberg commuted from Madison everyday for 30 years. He planned, taught and ran a spring concert for the about 140 kindergarteners. He's written more than a dozen kids songs, including "Soybeans are Joybeans," written for and performed by his students at the city's Soybean Festival in 2007.


Hoffenberg plans to volunteer at a community center a few blocks from his Madison home and travel with his wife, Sue, who is a retired Madison teacher. They've been married for 18 years after meeting in a carpool when Sue taught at Evansville High School.


"I just want to thank the Evansville community. I'm not a small-town kid, I'm a big-city guy, and I came here," the Chicago native said. "And being a guy in kindergarten—talk about fish out of water.


"This community, right from day one, accepted me and embraced me and helped me the last 30 years."


If you go


An open house to mark Evansville kindergarten teacher Steve Hoffenberg's retirement will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the park shelter at Lake Leota Park.



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