Teachers honored for excellence

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Lowery award recipients are selected by their fellow teachers

Times Herald Staff

Deborah School, left, receives the Richard T. Lowery Educator of Excellence Award for 2018-19 from Laurie Penkivich representing the Nicolet Oconto Retired Teachers Association (NORTA) during the Gillett Education Association banquet at the Main Event in Cecil. (Contributed photo)

Carmen Brown, NORTA member, congratulates Lori Rowland of Washington Middle School on her Educator of Excellence Award. (Contributed photo)

Heidi Gerndt, left, receives the Richard T. Lowery Educator of Excellence Award from retired Suring teacher Tina Nieling, NORTA member and secretary. (Contributed photo)

NORTA member and retired Lena educator Sharon Van Ark, left, presents Karen Gard with the Richard T. Lowery Educator of Excellence Award. (Contributed photo)

Correction: Lori Rowland's name was misspelled in the original version of this article, published June 26, 2019. The Times Herald apologizes for the error.

Teachers from area schools are being honored with the annual Richard T. Lowery Educator of Excellence Award, sponsored by the Nicolet/Oconto Retired Teachers Association (NORTA) and the parent organization, WREA (Wisconsin Retired Educators’ Association), Madison.

One teacher from each of the NORTA schools is chosen by their peers to receive this award. They receive a certificate from the state Department of Public Instruction and also a cash stipend encouraging them to continue in her outstanding fashion and encourage others to do the same.

The recipients this year are Deborah School in the Gillett School District, Lori Rowland in Oconto Falls, Heidi Gerndt in Suring and Karen Gard in Lena.


Deborah School’s first and only teaching job was in the Gillett School District, where she taught for 34 years.

School grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, and graduated from Warren Township High School. She attended Carthage College in Kenosha and earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in elementary education and a minor in U.S. history. She also earned a master’s degree from Viterbo College in La Crosse.

Over the years she taught third through eighth grade at various times, teaching the last six years in fourth grade.

She organized the Elementary School Science Fair for over 20 years, chaired the writing committee and was and active member of the Gillett Parent/Teacher Organization, including a term as president.

Outside of school, School is a member of St. Michaels’s Catholic Church in Suring where she was a lector, communication distributor and taught religious education for 25 years.

Deborah and her husband, Mike, have four children (Mande, Zachand Tab, Scott and Leslie and Jill and Derek) and four grandchildren (Ava, Garrett, Claire, and Brant) with one more expected in August. She and her family enjoy bike riding, motorcycle riding, traveling, gardening and spending time with her immediate and extended family.

Oconto Falls

Lori Rowland grew up in Herrin, Illinois, and while attending Emery Grade School, she had a great second-grade teacher who inspired her to become an educator. After earning her teaching degree from Southern Illinois University, Rowland was thrilled and humbled to be able to teach at Emery Grade School with some of her own grade school teachers.

When she and her husband moved to Wisconsin in 1991, Rowland enjoyed substitute teaching in Little Suamico, a school that reminded her of the small grade school she attended. She has been teaching for 25 years, two at Abrams Elementary and the rest at Washington Middle School in Oconto Falls.

She taught sixth-grade social studies for 21 years and has now held the English Language Arts position for the past two.

“It is an honor to work in the Oconto Falls School District, and I am grateful to be in the teaching profession,” Rowland said.

She credits her parents as being her role models for becoming dependable, responsible, and respectful. She said she enjoys working with her teaching team and appreciates that the team knows how developing strong relationships motivates their students.


Heidi Gerndt has taught physical education and health at Suring Area Public Schools since 1988, is currently the athletic director and head track coach. She has also coached many sports over the years as well.


Karen Gard was selected for the 2018-19 school year at Lena Public Schools. Originally from Addison, Illinois, Gard moved to Lena in the fifth grade.

She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. She began her career at Holy Cross Elementary School from 1989 to 1998, when she joined the Lena Public Elementary School faculty and continues to this day.

Karen and her husband, Joe, have two sons, Daniel and Michael. Daniel and his wife, Amber, have three children of their own, Brayden, Kylee, and Kellen.

Karen enjoys spending time outdoors, gardening, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Richard Thomas “Dick” Lowery of Townsend was a well-loved teacher, counselor and coach who remained very active in the community after his retirement from Wabeno High School in 1988 until his death in 2016. The award bearing his name was established because of his belief that educators need to be recognized and encouraged.

Any retired educator interested in joining NORTA may contact Jeff Werner at 920-834-2454.