Former students, colleagues express gratitude for elementary teacher

Photo by Barbie Porter
The Frazee Elementary Teacher of the Year Julie Wirth received a plaque commemorating the honor as well as balloons and plenty of congratulations and hugs. She became a kindergarten teacher in Frazee in 1985.

By Barbie Porter


Julie Wirth was recently named Frazee Elementary Teach of the Year.  

“It is humbling,” she said. “The teachers here are all great. It means a lot to be recognized by such a great staff. I look at all of them and have learned something from each one, and still do all the time. They inspire me to improve as a teacher.”

Her former first grade student, Molly Fairbanks, recently was provided the honor of being Teacher of the Year at Frazee High School. She pondered a moment back to those early years and fondly recalled Wirth was engaging while reading to the class and showed she had a kind heart and warm smile. When Fairbanks joined the Hornet teaching team at the high school as an art instructor, she occasionally ran into her former teacher. 

“She is still the happy, smiley person, who is always positive and great to be around,” she said.

Frazee Elementary first grade teacher JerriAnne Burton was also a former student of Wirth. In kindergarten Burton said she was a “very shy 5-year-old.” Wirth provided her impressionable mind with a feeling of safety and knowing she was a loved student.

“She made learning fun,” Burton recalled. “I loved getting her smelly stickers and sweet smiles when I achieved goals in her classroom.”

JerriAnne Burton, former student of Julie Wirth

As Burton entered the high school as a student, she returned to the elementary as a student assist. With a new set of eyes she saw her former teacher provided that same learning environment and feeling of importance to all of her students. Burton added her colleague’s influence on students is still apparent, as Wirth taught her daughter, Ava, four years ago.

“She (Ava) just adored having her as a teacher,” Burton said. “They will always have a special bond.”

When Burton began teaching, she  found Wirth to be a “wonderful mentor” that provided assistance as needed and, again offered that welcoming demeanor.

“I love how, after many years of teaching, Julie (Wirth) still has fun and new ideas,” Wirth said. “She is the kindest person I have ever known and it’s so wonderful to be around someone everyday with so much positivity.”

The positive impact Wirth has on students and staff can be found in subtle details, such as attending many of the athletic events to see and support her former students.

“Students from years past are often seen at her door or stopping her in the hall for a quick hug,” Burton said. “Julie (Wirth) truly cares about each one of them and will take the time out of her day to make sure they know that.”

Frazee Elementary Principal Travis Nagel also applauded the long legacy of commitment to education that Wirth has shown year after year.

“Julie (Wirth) is kind, caring, and dedicated,” he said, adding while there are many ways she leaves a positive impression, it is her ability to work with her team so well, and have a tireless work ethic to provide her students with top-notch instruction. That is very impressive.

“The one thing that resonates the most with me about Julie (Wirth) is how much she cares about the children and families of our communities.”

Frazee Elementary Principal Travis Nagel

Wirth was voted to be teacher of the year at Frazee Elementary by the certified staff at the school. She said having her colleagues present her with the honor meant a lot, as she holds them all in high regard.  

“I was surprised by it and had no idea,” she said. 

The video showcasing Wirth’s career at Frazee was created by Jolene Tappe, who also teaches at the elementary school. She explained creating the video and keeping it a secret wasn’t too challenging, as Wirth works on the opposite end of the building. With a co-worker, Tappe contacted Wirth’s sister to begin compiling photographs. She also went through the school photograph files. Putting together the short video was additional work for the teacher, but Tappe said going the extra mile for Wirth comes naturally.

“Julie (Wirth) is the type of person who comes early and stays late,” Tappe said. “She always has a smile on her face and her classroom environment is very warm and welcoming. Her calm, friendly personality is very comforting to little learners.  She is very easy to work with.  I truly believe anyone who has been in her classroom; student through adult will always remember her kindness.”

Wirth switches majors midstream

Wirth grew up in Henderson, Minn. When she headed to college her early aspirations were to enter the business world. However, her roommate was an education major and Wirth found she liked her roommate’s homework more than her own. After that revelation, Wirth switched her major and never looked back. She aimed for elementary, opposed to high school or college, because she thinks fondly of the years she was a neighborhood baby sitter as a teen.

“I’ve always liked working with kids.”

Julie Wirth

After graduating from college, Wirth taught third grade in southern Minnesota. Back then there were 300 applicants for a teaching job, so she wasn’t sure if she would even get an interview when she applied to the Frazee-Vergas School District. Prior to applying, Wirth divulged she had never even been to Frazee. 

“I got a map and found Frazee,” she recalled. “I was 25 when I was offered the job and came to Frazee.”

Wirth lives in rural Frazee with her husband Kelly. The two raised three children, which are all adults now. She is also the grandmother of 13.