Milton teacher recalled as dedicated mentor

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Friday, September 9, 2011
— Milton High School journalism and English teacher Nancy Becker demanded her students check their facts twice.

She pushed them to pursue their talents and to step beyond their comfort zones.

As the school’s journalism and yearbook advisor, Becker spent hours on weekends poring over students’ work on the school newspaper and the yearbook, her colleagues said.

Former students say Becker changed their lives. Her colleagues say that she pushed them to be better teachers.

“You have really good teachers, but then there are those who influence the profession and the field. Nancy really did both,” said Milton High School Principal Jeremy Bilhorn. “She was among the best.”

Becker died unexpectedly Sunday from complications related to abdominal surgery, according to a Gazette obituary. She was 65.

A Chicago native who attended UW-Madison and UW-Whitewater, Becker, a Janesville resident, taught advanced English and journalism at Milton High School for 21 years.

Under her guidance, students earned regional and national honors for the monthly school newspaper, MHS Today.

Jim August, who graduated from Milton High School in 1987, was photo editor and later associate editor of MHS Today under Becker.

August is now a graphic designer and is art director of the trade publication Chicago Realtor Magazine.

August said Becker recognized his artistic eye and pushed him to refine his talent—yet she forced him to expand his skills by writing sports stories, even though he wasn’t interested in sports.

It’s been years since he’s seen his former teacher and mentor, but August still thinks about Becker when he’s got a pressing deadline or when a project needs improvement. He said he owes his career to Becker, who always made him check his facts twice.

“She expected the best. That was how she was,” August said. “She ignited the passion in me for what I do today. Her passion became everyone’s passion.”

Long after she retired in 2005, Becker continued to foster learning and journalism.

“Nancy probably didn’t realize how many people were positively impacted by her,” said Kettle Moraine Press Association President Linda Barrington, a colleague and close friend of Becker’s.

For two decades, Becker taught summer journalism classes to high school students through the Kettle Moraine Press Association.

And from 2007 until just weeks before she died, Becker traveled throughout southern Wisconsin, mentoring new high school journalism advisors through the Journalism Education Association.

“Say the name Nancy Becker to almost anyone in journalism in Wisconsin, and they’ll know who you’re talking about. If they hadn’t met Nancy, they’ve heard of her,” Barrington said.

Don Vruwink, a retired social studies teacher at Milton High School, said he remembers seeing Becker working at school on Saturdays. He’d often find her buried in a pile of books, checking and double-checking students’ sources on research papers.

“Nancy didn’t cut corners,” Vruwink said. “She set high standards for students that she expected to be met, and she never backed down. And she lived up to those standards herself.”

Vruwink said Becker poured herself into mentoring and teaching because she believed she could help every student reach his or her potential. He said that’s a rare belief among teachers, and getting rarer.

“I really feel like we’ve lost a member of the old guard,” Vruwink said.

Last updated: 6:23 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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