Students, staff say goodbye to five retiring staff members

Retirees include student advocate Steve Schmidt, college and career adviser Mary Lund, AP secretary Nina Swndig and English teachers Susan Wilson and Mary Jo Gunderson

By Miya Liu and Leila Salam

Five valuable staff members – Susan Wilson, Mary Jo Gunderson, Steve Schmidt, Mary Lund and Nina Swendig – retired at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Each of them uniquely contributed to the HHS community and will continue to share their gifts in retirement.

Susan Wilson

English teacher Susan Wilson is retiring after 30 years of teaching English at HHS.

“Retiring from HHS is very bittersweet,” Wilson said in an email. “I love interacting with students in the classroom. Some days I could hardly believe I was getting paid to discuss books and life with students.” (Photo courtesy of Susan Wilson)

Retiring from HHS is very bittersweet,” Wilson said in an email. “I love interacting with students in the classroom. Some days I could hardly believe I was getting paid to discuss books and life with students.”

Wilson said that while she will miss being with students, there are many perks to retirement.

“I will not miss the paper load,” Wilson said, “[and] all those hours and hours of essay feedback and grading over the weekends.” 

Wilson said her current priority is to help register voters for the November election, particularly in swing states with young voters.

“I had been planning to drive to the swing states,” Wilson said, “but I am investigating how to help since door-to-door canvassing isn’t a great idea right now.”

Wilson said retirement will also allow her to spend more time doing activities like traveling.

“I’d hoped to start planning my dream trips to Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal and India, as well as New Zealand with my husband,” Wilson said. “But obviously, with COVID-19, those plans will have to wait.” 

Wilson said she hopes to utilize some of the free time she will have on another one of her passions: reading. She is currently reading How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

“I have stacks and stacks of books I want to read,” Wilson said. “Maybe I can now actually read through the NY Times and Washington Post most days instead of [just] scanning headlines.”

Wilson said one of her main goals for retirement is to keep in touch with students and colleagues.

“I keep joking that in retirement I’ll somehow need to get my ‘teen fix,’” Wilson said. “I think retirement will actually hit me in fall when I won’t return to school.”

Mary Jo Gunderson

Another English teacher, Mary Jo Gunderson, is retiring after 15 years of teaching English at HHS.

Gunderson said she is grateful to not have to deal with the paper load anymore but that she will miss being with students and seeing their work because she was able to learn more about them individually.

“I think [I am most proud of] the individual moments with students,” Gunderson said. “The moments where they feel successful and can make the connections.” (Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Gunderson)

“I have many very special memories [from HHS],” Gunderson said. “I will miss having lessons every day [with students].”

“I actually enjoyed grading,” Gunderson said. “That’s how you realize what students learned and what [they] needed to work on.”

Gunderson said her favorite memories from HHS were from watching her students understand concepts.

“The really special moments would be the ‘aha’ moments,” Gunderson said. “Especially when we were doing poetry, [students] started out with skepticism and by the time we would be through the different poems, their attitudes would change and that discovery process [was] very special to be part of.”

Gunderson said retiring this year was not something she had planned.

“I had planned to retire at the end of next year,” Gunderson said. “But some family issues that came up, [and] I knew that I was going to need to spend some more time with my older sister in Southern California.”

Gunderson said she, too, is looking forward to reading in retirement.

“Even two weeks into summer, I can read Time magazine cover to cover,” Gunderson said. “During the school year, I am always reading whatever my students are reading, so I’m really excited to be able to read things of my choice.”

Gunderson said she will miss being in the classroom with her students every day.

“I think [I am most proud of] the individual moments with students,” Gunderson said. “The moments where they feel successful and can make the connections.”

Steve Schmidt

Another beloved staff member, student advocate Steve Schmidt is retiring after 30 years at HHS.

“Right now I’m just kind of looking forward to the process,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know what to expect. There’s a lot of things that I want to do.” (Photo courtesy of Steve Schmidt)

“I will miss the environment,” Schmidt said. “Being on a school campus is like being in a small town and everybody knows everybody.”

Schmidt said he has been available to HHS students through parent or staff referrals for kids who were struggling with emotional issues or social issues, depression, anxiety or school stress.

When Schmidt first joined HHS in 1989, the student advocate position did not exist yet, and Schmidt counseled students through an agency.

“In 1997, the district created the position of student advocate,” Schmidt said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since then.”

Schmidt said he is most looking forward to not having to wake up early in the morning to go to work.

“I’m not a morning person,” Schmidt said, “so having to get up in the morning and go to work is what I’ll miss the least.”

As of right now, Schmidt said he is excited to see what he is able to do with his newfound time in retirement.

“Right now I’m just kind of looking forward to the process,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know what to expect. There’s a lot of things that I want to do.”

Schmidt said he hopes retirement will give him the opportunity to do new things he hadn’t previously had time to do before, like traveling, and most importantly, taking care of his parents.

Retirement, however, wasn’t something Schmidt had planned on doing this year.

“I actually never imagined retiring,” Schmidt said. “I knew it was going to happen eventually. People kept telling me that [I would] know when it’s time, and I never knew what that meant. Now I do. It just felt right. It felt time.”

Despite the unexpected change, Schmidt said he is excited to see what retirement has in store for him.

“I’m just kind of open to whatever opens up,” Schmidt said. “It’s kind of exciting to see what the next pieces will be.”

Mary Lund

Mary Lund brought experience and training to HHS six years ago when she became the college and career counselor.

Before earning her college counseling certificate from UCLA, she worked in East Palo Alto for a total of eight years—the first two voluntarily. 

“The diversity gives us such great character and [makes HHS] a really comfortable place to be,” Lund said. (Photo courtesy of Mary Lund)

“I’ve built good relationships with the college admissions [representatives].” Lund said in a Zoom interview, “They know Homestead and our kids better.”

Along with her interpersonal contact with colleges, she also worked to foster connections with students by hosting workshops and informational meetings. She was then able to provide the resources and attention each student personally required to assure equity in opportunity. 

Lund said she has an abundance of compassion for students and genuinely wants them to succeed to the best of their abilities.

“I like being able to have a student come in here completely stressed out,” Lund said, “and leave here with a deep breath and knowing that it’s gonna be okay.” 

Priding herself on enabling students to have confidence in their academic future, Lund said she strived to provide a safe space for anyone who walked through her doors. 

“They [could] come in with no expectations and just hang, play music and relax in this space,” Lund said. 

Lund said she achieved another accomplishment in overcoming the greatest difficulty in working with students.

“I always like to challenge kids to think outside the box and not go to just the big brand name school,” Lund said. “They can find opportunities at these other locations.”

Lund’s hard work and dedication to her students has led to unprecedented results, she said.

“We’ve had about 30% of our seniors go to community college,” Lund reports, “Which is unique in the Fremont Union High School District.”

As a going away present, Lund received a gratitude book, a gift put together by guidance counselor Wilma Wu and signed by many students, to show their appreciation for her time at HHS. 

“The gratitude book means so much to me,” Lund said. “I feel like you guys have given me as much as I have given you. I really appreciate it.”

Lund said she will miss the unique environment at HHS, especially during the rallies where everyone shares the same community. 

“The spirit almost brings tears to my eyes,” Lund said. 

Through rallies, other events and her relationships on campus, Lund said she noticed that the differences between students, rather than their similarities, is what makes HHS so special.  

“The diversity gives us such great character and [makes HHS] a really comfortable place to be,” Lund said. 

Lund said she will forever revere the wonderful community the students create at HHS.

“I have learned a lot from the kids,” Lund said. “They always show me respect and kindness, and even amongst their stress and everything.”

Lund said she hopes students will also learn from each other.

“I hope that more students come outside of themselves,” Lund said, “and try to understand people from different cultures because we have so many here.”

Lund said she will forever cherish her time at HHS and wishes the best to everyone. 

Despite her leaving, Lund said she will continue to be involved at HHS, and plans to sub in the future. For the time being, she will be spending time with her four children, including attending two of their weddings this summer.

Nina Swendig

Nina Swendig, one of three AP — assistant principal — secretaries at HHS is retiring this year.

Swendig’s primary job was to organize a master schedule, taking into account all student activities as well as working with ASB. 

“Life is a long ride … and I think that it’s really important to figure out what makes you feel good and pursue those things,” Swendig said, ”we all have an impact in this world in so many ways.” (Photo courtesy of Nina Swendig)

Swendig said she will miss the community at HHS. 

“It was a great place to connect with people and staff members and have wonderful conversations,” Swendig said in a Zoom interview.

Swendig started working in attendance in 2008 before moving to a secretarial position, but she became involved with HHS in 2004, when her kids attended school here. 

Looking back, Swendig said one of her favorite memories at HHS was her daughter’s graduation. 

“We both had our own experiences,” Swendig said. “But we totally got what each of us was going through because we were in the same place.” 

Swendig said she was glad her kids were able to attend HHS notably because of the rich diversity the school offers.

“There’re people from all nationalities and vantage points,” Swendig said. “People come out of here and do wonderful things with their lives.” 

Swendig said she believes the healthy environment at HHS is also fostered by staff members.

“There are some very loving, caring, compassionate staff members that I think just really make Homestead what it is,” Swendig said. 

Swendig said she will always cherish the memories she has made at HHS, which she will take with her into retirement, and is looking forward to the new memories she will make in this new chapter of her life.  

“I’m really just [going to] take care of myself,” Swendig said. “I love gardening, … painting [and] the outdoors, so [I’m going to] enjoy each day for what it is.”

Swendig is currently living in Hollister, where, along with working on her hobbies, she is excited to spend more time with her family who live nearby.

“I’ve got three beautiful grandkids down here so [I’ll enjoy] being able to spend some time with them,” Swendig said.

While Swendig’s time at HHS has come to a close, she said she will miss the school community and plans to return soon as a sub, or just simply to visit. 

“Life is a long ride,” Swendig said. “I think it’s really important to figure out what makes you feel good and pursue those things. We all have an impact in this world in so many ways.”

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