Northwestern's 'Mrs. L' prepares to retire
After more than half a century of educating, coaching, encouraging and inspiring, English teacher Patricia "Pat" Luostari is retiring from Northwestern High School. She will continue to direct the school's one-act play, co-direct the musical and coach forensics over the next few years, but she'll leave the classroom.
"I've had a good run," Luostari said.
Her signature smile, energetic stride and ubiquitous pencil tucked behind the ear have been etched in the memory of thousands of students over the years.
"My first remembrance of her was in front of the class, pregnant and wearing the highest heels I had ever seen!" said Sara Martinson of the class of 1970. "She was the best teacher I ever had. I remember to this day how caring and kind she was."
"Mrs. L.'s love for teaching was eclipsed only by her love for each student that came into her life," said Ryan Mihalak of the class of 1998. "She had a deep, genuine concern for each person, and knew most (if not every) student by name, which was remarkable, considering she coached speech and drama, was the yearbook instructor and still had her normal teaching duties."
Luostari was also adviser for the school paper, The Octagon, for many years.
"She has more get up and go than most teachers half her age," said fellow teacher Kathy Lahti.
"In addition to having her as an English teacher, I was the yearbook editor my senior year and worked many hours with her on our yearbook in 1986," said Kathy (Hursh) Ronchi. "She was always very encouraging but had high expectations you naturally wanted to meet."
"I've never met someone with such a passion and vibrancy for both life and the written arts housed in such a tiny physical form," said Larissa (Flint) McDowell of the class of 2007.
It's been a boon for Luostari, too.
"I walked into the classroom and I was hooked. I was so hooked you couldn't believe," said Luostari, 79. "When I'm teaching and a child looks at me, and asks questions or gives an insight and their eyes go 'bing,' they got it, I am like on cloud nine. I am just floating. And so most days I float a lot."
"I can wake up in the morning with a headache and think I should call in sick and in 55 years I've probably called in sick half a dozen times, because once I get here, I know I'm not going to be sick anymore," Luostari said. "All I have to do is walk into that classroom and start working with those students and I'm fine."
She almost missed her calling. A natural born storyteller, Luostari was on track to become a journalist. A chance meeting and an Irish tale put the Brule native in the classroom.
Luostari was finishing her degree at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and working for a local publication, the Co-Op Builder, when she met Mr. O'Brien, who was seeking an English teacher for the Hayward School District. He asked Luostari, whose maiden name was Killoran, to tell him an Irish story.
"And I told him one, and he told me a couple, and we laughed," Luostari said.
She almost turned down the subsequent job offer, but was encouraged by her UWS professor to give it a try. Luostari made the commute from Cloverland to Hayward five days a week, most of it on gravel roads.
"I went through 10 or 12 tires because Larry and I, newly married, we were taking old tires off hay wagons," Luostari said. "I changed a lot of tires, me and the wolves."
After their second child was born, she settled in to be a mom, but got tapped to teach English and speech at the new Superior Senior High School.
"I had a little fun when I saw the bulldozers at senior high," Luostari said. "I outlasted the bricks."
Then she returned to Northwestern High School, teaching side by side with her own English teacher, Virginia Tarter.
"We got along famously," Luostari said.
She's been there for the past 51 years, even when she battled breast cancer.
"I feed off the kids. I literally get energy and most of my inspirations, my notions, my ideas, my motivation to go look something up and find out more, from them. It's just phenomenal. It's the most wonderful thing," Luostari said. "I always tell the kids I hope you can find a job you like as well as I like mine because you never, ever go to work. You never do and it's really true. It's my life, it's my hobby, it's my passion."
She's raised four children and hosted more than 30 exchange students from around the world with her high school sweetheart, Larry. They have 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and run a beef farm.
Luostari is retiring because it's the "polite thing to do" to pave the way for younger teachers.
"My life has been so full of so many wonderful kids," she said. "and I'd like to thank the parents because they have them first, then I get them to enjoy. I've had really good parental support."
She talked about students who struggle to learn, and how inspiring their success is.
"In all the years I've taught, I've never met a kid, I honest to God never met a kid who didn't want to be liked and respected and didn't want to learn," Luostari said. "You've got to figure out kind of where they are and start there."
Sometimes, she said, you don't reach them at all.
"If I could fix anything about education it would be to see to it that class sizes were much more manageable," Luostari said. "Teachers need to be able to call that student by name every single day, so there's that connection. They know you know they're there, they know you care. They know you're there to help."
The Cloverland woman plans to research school funding, recent executive orders and other topics in retirement.
"I want to be more knowledgeable," she said. "There are so many issues I'm concerned about."
And she'll continue to lead 4-H and support the Head of the Lakes Fair. Her oncologist hit the nail on the head during a recent checkup, at which she was declared supremely healthy.
"He said, 'I bet you a nickel when you come back here you will be teaching somebody something, someplace,'" Luostari said. "I probably will be teaching something somewhere."