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Big changes at Helper Junior HS: Tom Montoya retiring

In an office that is decorated with 39 years worth of memorabilia, Tom Montoya holds the jacket he wore when he was a student at Helper Junior High School.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Tom Montoya, who quipped that he hasn't had a job in 39 years, is retiring.

"It was never job. I call it an experience," he said of his career in education in a conversation Friday. Montoya said he has been handling the pending transition from principal at Helper Junior High School to private life pretty well.

Friday was different though. That was the day for orientation for sixth graders who will be coming to HJHS. "The realization hit me that I won't be here to greet them when they arrive next year," he said.

The pang of separation is just an indication for him that he has been doing the right thing for almost four decades, though.

For Tom Montoya, the right thing was getting into teaching and staying with the profession. His first job with the Carbon School District was as a guest teacher, hopping from school to school. That grand tour included three schools that no longer exist - Durrant, Reeves and Peterson elementaries - and one whose building has become a city hall - Wellington.

"If you want to say who was my best mentor over the years, you can say it was Ralph Dyette, the principal at Wellington," he noted. Dyette taught him many things about dealing with students, faculty members and administration.

The current Wellington School was brand new when he was transferred to Helper to teach. Helper Junior High was already old when he came aboard. It was built as a Depression Era public works project in 1936. But HJHS was "never about about the building. It was about the people inside," he explained. "This is home."

Montoya went to the old Helper Central School and Helper Junior High. He still keeps the letter jacket he wore during his HJHS days on the coat rack in this office.

Montoya can go on and on about the kindesses his teachers showed him during his formative years, and he says this shaped his philosophy of teaching. "Never forget how you felt when someone did something nice for you," he declared. Get to know each student as a person and the teaching technique and disclipline will follow.

He said he will miss the day-to-day interaction with the teachers, staff and students. However, it is time to move on with the "third third" of his life.

"The first third is when you are young and small and going to school. The second third is your career, where you use the gifts that God intended you to have. The third is retirement, when you get a chance to reflect and enjoy the beauty God has set before you," he explained.

This is time for him to take the time to enjoy travel and hobbies. Montoya said he got a taste of the wide world as a student in the band programs. He got to see Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver...

"The world opened up," he recalled. "Now it's time to see more of the world opening up."

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