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Iowa Valley drama teacher retiring after 33 years

By NICK NARIGON

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Bev Wagner, Iowa Valley teacher is retiring at the end of the school year.

After 33 years of teaching, Bev Wagner will take her final bow at Iowa Valley Friday, May 28.

Wagner, 55, has directed every play at Iowa Valley since she started in 1977, in addition to teaching language arts, drama and speech classes. Now, the mother of two is opting to take the school district’s early retirement package, and will leave the only teaching job she has ever had.

Wagner grew up in Pella and always knew she would become a teacher. Her father, Earl Vermeer, was a farmer and worked at the bank, while her mother, Etta, was the elementary school librarian. Bev said she has older twin sisters, who also became teachers.

“I always knew right away I would be a teacher. I watched my mother, and I knew I wanted to interact with kids as my lifelong career,” Wagner said.

She became involved in theatre during high school, and was influenced by her high school drama teacher Will Kirschman to continue into college. Wagner attended Central College in her hometown, and majored in drama, with an English minor.

She acted on stage in college, performing as Daisy May in “Lil Abner” and had a part in “South Pacific” among other productions.

She also helped backstage, doing everything from costume design to make-up design.

“I enjoyed the whole production,” Wagner said.

She married John Wagner in 1976, and they both graduated from Central College in 1977. John was accepted into law school at the University of Iowa.

Bev was looking for teaching jobs in the Iowa City area, and Iowa Valley had an opening for a mass media teacher and at the age of 22, Wagner accepted the position.

The Wagners graduated from Pella on Sunday, and moved to Marengo the same day. John then started law school on Monday.

In her first year at Iowa Valley, Wagner was charged with directing the school play, and has done it ever since. She had a large cast to work with in her first year, so she chose to produce “The Egg and I,” a story that takes place in the back woods of the south.

In the last 33 years, Wagner has produced a variety of shows, basing the selections on the cast available, the different talents of the students, the space available and the budget.

Wagner said it is hard to pick one favorite, and she did say she enjoyed putting on musicals.

Some of the performances had spectacular special effects. For instance, for the production of “The Wizard of Oz,” two large flames shot out on either side of the wizard. Also, for “Grease,” they dismantled a car and had it reassembled on stage.

She said the costumes for “Beauty and the Beast” were extravagant, and she enjoyed the simplicity of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

“Everything single one of the plays had something unique about it,” Wagner said.

She remembers during some performances, the set would fall down on stage, or one time the curtain wouldn’t close after the first act. During “The Wizard of Oz,” the Tin Man pulled on the Lion’s tail, and the tail came off.

“I always tell the students, the wonderful thing about live performance is you never can tell what will happen,” Wagner said.

One of the joys of Wagner’s career was being able to teach her own children, and having them involved in the plays, she said.

Sarah, now 28, acted in several of the plays while Dan, 23, helped out mostly backstage.

“Instructing them was a special thing,” Bev said.

Over the years, Wagner has also coached the large group and individual speech teams as well as the thespian club.

She said she has received help from many of the staff and teachers. She said Dr. Lin Buswell served as her mentor, while vocal instructor Neal Schwarting and band instructor Brian Redington helped with the performances. In addition, she said Mike McBride and Tim Reihmann were a big help with set design, construction and repairs.

Wagner said she never had thoughts about leaving for another school district.

“I grew up in a relatively small town, and I thoroughly enjoy the small school atmosphere,” she said. “I have had a lifelong career here at Iowa Valley.”

Wagner said she has so much to do before the end of the school year that she hasn’t had much time to think about her retirement. A friend of hers who is retiring in Cedar Rapids told Wagner, “rather than living to work, she is going to be working at living.”

Wagner said she is going to spend retirement gardening, golfing and traveling. In particular, she said she would like to visit Athens, Greece, where live theatre originated, and where much of the mythology lessons she teaches are based.

She said one of the reasons she took the early retirement package is that both of her parents and John’s parents are in their 80s and 90s and are still living at home. Bev said she wants to spend more time with them, as well as her own kids.

She said she will miss her students, as well as her co-workers. The transition into retirement will be different, she said.

One of Wagner’s favorite scripts is the classic play, “Old Town.” She said the message reminds her of Marengo, and her life here. She said the play revolves around a small town, where nothing special happens, but the script focuses on the relationships of families and neighbors.

“The message is you have to stop and take time to live life,” Wagner said. “And that is what I am going to do.”

UPDATED May 11, 2010 2:07 PM

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