In a small community like West Yellowstone one can't help but get to know familiar faces.
A bulk of those familiar faces have helped kids tie their shoes, learn how to add and subtract, and watch them as they progressively graduate year after year. The teachers and staff at the West Yellowstone School have done that and more through years of service to the children of the community.
But now for some their years of service are coming to an end. Guidance counselor and teacher Rick Armstrong, high school science teacher Connie Cusick, custodian Linda Daley, second-grade teacher Jeanne Hoskins and Title I teacher Juanita McCracken will retire at the end of the school year.
These individuals are known for their years of service and commitment to the education and wellbeing of local kids. Fellow teachers, parents and students will miss them as they enjoy new life experiences that await them in their coming retirements.
Guidance counselor and teacher Rick Armstrong has enjoyed teaching in the West Yellowstone school district since 1991, when he moved to town after completing his graduate degree in education and guidance.
"I became a teacher because I really like science and liked the guidance aspect, so I went back to school and then came to West," he said.
Supporting the students and helping them through challenges and with their academics is something he has enjoyed as a portion of his career. He has led career walks for the last 10 years with his careers and study skills classes, taking them on visits to many businesses and meeting with workers in the community.
He also expressed the importance of supporting his fellow teachers and has been the West Yellowstone Education Association president for more than 10 years.
Coaching might also be one of the aspects of his job he'll miss the most.
"I've coached track longer than I've taught," he said.
He has spent 25 years coaching at schools throughout the state.
"That was a great part of my career too, working with Connie (Cusick) for 25 years as the assistant track coach," he said.
Armstrong isn't sure what new hobbies or interests he'll dive into upon retiring, but knows that he'll enjoy some spare time.
"I want to thank the community for all their support over the years. It's fantastic how they support the school and the teachers in particular," he said.
Teachers wear many hats and high school science teacher Connie Cusick has many to choose from in her collection.
She has taught for 30 years, with 29 of those years being at the West Yellowstone School.
She has fond memories of staying at the campfire lodge as a child and spending summers in Bozeman with her family, which solidified her decision to make the move to West from Southern California.
Cusick decided to move to town permanently in the early 1980s after working at Eagle's Store since 1976.
She thought she would like teaching for a few years and ended up staying.
"I don't think that when anyone is 25-years-old they know what they want to do (for the rest of their life)," she said. "I have probably taught everybody in this community 45 or younger."
She remembers students from her first years of teaching like Kelly Burden and Stephanie Young.
She has watched the community grow and taught at the old school building for 10 years, which is now home to Madison Crossing.
Students in grades seven through 12 have experienced the hands-on learning environment in Cusick's classroom.
"With science teaching you have to entertain. Something in science intrigues everyone," she said.
Cusick has been wearing the "coach" hat for 29 years, with 25 years as the track coach, six years with girls basketball and assisted with boys basketball for four years.
Three years ago members of the boys track team placed third in state Class C competition, which was a memorable moment for Cusick.
She will continue to work as guide for Yellowstone Alpen Guides in the summer months, giving visitors tours through Yellowstone National Park, dabble with guitar-making and plans to ski another round in the Yellowstone Rendezvous Race next March.
The floors appear magically swept clean and free of litter. The sinks sparkle in the restroom. The chalkboards are wiped clean and desks lined neatly in a row.
West Yellowstone School custodian Linda Daley has been the maker behind all that cleaning magic for the last 30 years.
When Daley first started at the school she was raising her three daughters and needed a job where she could bring them along to work. The custodial position accommodated those needs.
Her co-workers are noticeably a favorite part of the job, too.
"It's nice because everyone who I've worked with for 30 years were having children, babies, marriages and divorces," she said.
She additionally enjoys the peace and quiet when completing her daily routine early in the morning or into the evening hours.
"You just do your job and you know what you have to do and you get all the benefits like retirement and health insurance," she said.
Daley is moving to Bozeman to live with one of her daughters after she retires at the end of the school year and is also looking forward to having a steady stream of weekends off, but she'll still miss parts of the job.
"I've had a whole group to lean on. I have never felt alone here," she said. "It's like the cycle of life in the last 30 years."
Daley's co-workers feel the same about her and her kind nature.
"She's in tune to everyone's needs. She will leave someone a small present when they're having a bad day," business teacher Debra Paisley said.
There is the seldom opportunity to meet a person who fits so well into their job position and second-grade teacher Jeanne Hoskins is one of those people.
Hoskins grew up in Pennsylvania and went to college with the hope of becoming a graphics art teacher. She worked as a graphic artist for one year. Then, she caught the bug, the one where you develop an uncontrollable love for Yellowstone National Park and all its natural beauty.
Hoskins vacationed to Yellowstone and stayed to work at Old Faithful for the summer. Then, she decided to see what it was like to experience a real Montana winter.
That winter, she met her husband, Dan.
Hoskins went back to work after the birth of her three children and worked in the school district for four years as a special education aid and one year a substitute teacher.
"I fell in love with all of it as an aid at the school and as a (Girl Scout) Brownie leader," Hoskins said. "I decided to go back to school for early childhood education."
Hoskins directed her young students a final time last week in the annual spring play, "Once Upon a Lily Pad."
She credits her creative class projects sprouting from once having young children of her own. She began to see what options for art were available to imaginative youngsters.
"The vibrancy of being around kids inspires you. I keep wondering what I'm going to be doing when it's over," she said.
But, Hoskins has also spent the last 11 years working at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park and plans to keep working there.
"I will have more time now for mini-trips," she said of plans to spend some extra time vacationing on short trips.
Title I teacher Juanita McCracken has been helping elementary school students to improve their math and reading skills for the last 13 years.
Her teaching career started long before she moved to West Yellowstone.
"I've been teaching in one way or another for 30 years," she said.
After 30 years, she's decided that this is the year she wanted to retire and take a rest.
"It was just the time to do some other things in my life," she said.
She works with a range of students and monitors their progress in the Title I program.
"Title I tries to get to them (the students) before they get too lost with whatever is causing the problem (in math or reading)," she said.
Students go through the Title I program before they get tested to see if they need to be placed in a special education program, according to McCracken.
"I get them to where they need to be and help them move on, sometimes individually and sometimes in small groups," she said.
She is impressed with new innovative reading programs that help children with reading comprehension and decoding.
McCracken originally hails from Arkansas and moved to West Yellowstone with her husband, Benny.
"The kids are very special. We love it her. I'm not retiring to go someplace else. I plan on staying here," she said, adding that the town has always been a really good place for them.
Like Hoskins, McCracken also spends her summers working at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.