MANKATO — Third-grade teacher Brian Eggersdorfer walked into the Roosevelt Elementary School office Thursday holding an astilbe for Betty Groth’s shade garden.
She’d been expecting his visit. Beginning 50 days ago, the countdown had begun for Groth’s retirement after 30 years at Roosevelt, 28 as the school secretary. Eggersdorfer, who started at Roosevelt about the same time as Groth, had been bringing her a gift every 10 days or so.
She’d received candy corn (she loves the stuff), rice crispy bars, fresh fruit, rice chips (a gluten-free delicacy) and wine. Today’s gift was the last, and it came with a touching card, photos from Groth’s retirement party and a very long hug.
It was a bittersweet day at Roosevelt school Thursday, the last day Groth would be found behind the desk in the office before retirement. She shed a few tears. But mostly she shined her signature smile.
“She’s the heart of the school,” Eggersdorfer said. “She’s something to everyone. If you’re celebrating, she celebrates with you. If you’re stressed, she’s confidence.”
Groth was raised on Record Street, she graduated from West and Mankato Commercial College, and she and her husband raised their two kids on Park Lane. The west side of Mankato has always been her home, so it was fitting that she came to work at Roosevelt in 1983.
For a couple of years she helped students with math and “color graphics” on very early Apple computer models. Then she became the school secretary, which was a very different job back then, she said.
“You were the secretary, you did attendance, you were the lunch lady, you were the nurse,” she said. “It was simpler times.”
Groth’s job became more streamlined over the years, and she became the face everyone expected to see in the office. Over the years she started seeing parents she had known as children bringing their kids to school there.
“They’d say, ‘I’m so glad you’re still here,’” she said. “That was nice.”
After 30 years, Groth said choosing favorite memories is just too hard.
“I don’t know what I’d say,” she said. “It’s just all about the kids. I always say kids are my business.”
Groth also has enjoyed her principals, and there have only been three over the years. Ann Haggerty is the most recent principal, who began four years ago and found immense comfort knowing Groth had so much experience at the school.
“She tells me what to do, and everything is better,” Haggerty said. “She will be missed in 100 different ways.”
Groth started at the school working with Principal Joel Botten for 15 years and then Rick Lund for about 10 years.
“Joel was a Norwegian, Rick was a Norwegian, and I married a Norwegian. Me and my Norwegians,” Groth said with a laugh. “I’m Swedish, and somehow we still get along.”
Groth has lots of plans after retirement. Her husband, Brad Groth, and she have gone to Sturgis many years, and they’ll go again this year. Both are avid motorcycle enthusiasts, which one would hardly imagine at first glance of her petite frame.
Groth also plans to do some volunteering at her church and Open Door Health Center, and also does hospice training.
“But for this summer, I’m just going to be. I’m not going to have a constant agenda,” she said.
Leaving the school Thursday just seemed like leaving at the end of any other school year, she said. It won’t hit her until fall that she won’t be going back to Roosevelt, she said, which will likely bring up the memories of all the parents and kids who came through the office this year saying, “I’ll miss your smile,” and “I’ll miss you always taking care of us.”
“I’ve been behind the desk for 28 years,” she said. “I’ll miss my family here.”