From an early age Karen Rhodes loved school and always knew she wanted to be a teacher. “I would set up a classroom and play school with the neighborhood children,” she said. “I told my first and second grade teacher I wanted to stay there day and night.”

Now, after 45 years of teaching—most of which has been spent right here in the Iowa-Missouri Conference—Rhodes has decided it’s time to retire.

Her teaching career began in Des Moines, Iowa, where she taught from 1972-1979. Rhodes then took a call to Idaho but returned to the Iowa-Missouri Conference just seven years later. She’s spent the last 31 years teaching at the Adventist school in Springfield, Missouri, making her the longest serving teacher at that school and one of the longest serving teachers at any one school in the conference.

Rhodes received a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Andrews University in 1971 and, after taking some additional courses, became certified for elementary education. She went on to receive a master’s in Curriculum Instruction from La Sierra University in 1995.

In May, over 200 friends and colleagues from around the conference and beyond gathered—some coming from as far as Texas—to celebrate Rhodes’ career and wish her well as she enters this new chapter of life.

“I have had the privilege of visiting Karen’s classroom many times and always looked forward to seeing the theme she had created for her students,” said Dr. Joe Allison, education superintendent for the conference. “The quality of instruction she provided her kids set them on a course of academic success and spiritual growth.”

Looking back, Rhodes says what she’ll miss most about teaching is being greeted by the students as they come to school or when they see her at church. “These little people come dancing into the classroom in the morning with their eyes sparkling and their stories bubbling up inside them,” she said. “It has always been heart-warming to see their excitement when running into their teacher somewhere other than school. The greetings and hugs, the smiles and waves from across the sanctuary during church bring a special joy.” She added that the greatest fulfillment in her career has been those moments when the light bulb went on and a student finally caught on to a concept they’d been working on.

Rhodes isn’t yet sure of her plans in retirement, but she’s looking forward to a break from early mornings and long hours, as well as the freedom to travel during the school year.

“Karen will be greatly missed by the conference, by her colleagues, and by her students,” said Allison. “Her students have gone on to be successful adults, many of whom credit their start down the path of success to the education they received from Karen. That is a recognition fitting for someone who has given so much to Adventist education.”