Laura Daugherty waded through knee-high snow to reach the front door of the one-room school in Boscobel where she started teaching in 1961.
“I’ve seen many, many changes,” the Portage substitute teacher said, recalling that first job for context of her 57 years (and counting) in education.
Daugherty taught grades one through five in Boscobel’s school not long after John F. Kennedy succeeded Dwight D. Eisenhower as U.S. president, never forgetting the duties that might sound otherworldly to her peers.
“I swept the floor at night and washed the boards; I even helped to serve lunch,” she said.
Her ensuing career in education included 35 years as a full-time teacher — 29 of them as a sixth-grade teacher in the Portage Community School District — and since retiring from full-time teaching in 1996, Daugherty has spent 22 consecutive years substitute teaching in Portage.
Her nearly six decades in education earned Daugherty recognition last week from NBC’s Channel 15 in Madison, the teacher selected as one of five recipients of the Crystal Apple Award in 2018.
About 550 teachers from more than a dozen Wisconsin counties were considered for the Crystal Apple, including three others in Portage, the school district reported. Those nominees were Lonna Calkins of Woodridge Primary School, Jessica Howe from Bartels Middle School and Rich Hemler from Portage High School. The high school’s band director, Tom Shaver, won a Crystal Apple Award last year.
Daugherty’s TV segment aired last week but is available for viewing at nbc15.com.
Hemler — a 1993 Portage High School graduate — did not have Daugherty as a teacher when he went to school in Portage, but she’s been Hemler’s “No. 1 sub” in his technology education classroom since he started teaching in 1997, he said.
“I’ve seen her at all the athletic events, ever since I was a kid,” Hemler said of Daugherty. “And that’s the biggest thing: She’s always been so involved in the community.”
Among Daugherty’s favorite memories as a sixth-grade teacher — where she taught in the old Clough building and at John Muir Elementary — was taking her students to Washington, D.C., for 25 years. During that time she once presented a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia, for AAA of Madison, which sponsored those trips, she recalled.
In her substitute-teaching career, Daugherty spent five years at Madison College helping students earn their high school equivalency diplomas. Her subbing in Portage has seemingly covered all grade levels and subjects, she said, and she has spent the past few years subbing exclusively — and frequently — at Portage High School.
School board member and retired teacher Fred Reckling remembered Daugherty for being “a quiet leader who led by example” — a hardworking colleague, fellow union member and more-than-dependable substitute.
“She always saw the positive side of things, and she worked her hind end off for you,” said Reckling, who worked in education for more than 30 years before retiring in 2010.
Dan Brown, also a school board member and former teacher of 31 years, remembered Daugherty as the kind of substitute that every teacher wants for their classroom but can’t otherwise expect.
“As far as I’m concerned, she was the best sub I had in my life,” said Brown, who had called on Daugherty to sub in his high school English classroom until he retired from teaching about 10 years ago.
“With some substitutes, you might need to plan activities that are low-key, but not with her. ... She would call me personally and we’d talk about what was going on in my classroom, and she would ask me for the titles we were reading so that she could prep and read ahead.
“She deserves to be appreciated.”
So long as her health stays strong, Daugherty said she would continue substitute teaching in Portage.
“I like to follow rules and regulations,” she said of her traits in the classroom. “Basically, I love working with the kids and trying to understand their situations.”
Do many parents in Portage remember Daugherty as their teacher?
“Oh, you bet,” she said with a laugh, admitting it is often easier to remember faces than names.
She had no idea she’d been selected as an award winner until the high school surprised her in a ceremony late last month, her announced selection met with resounding cheers and standing ovations from the students and staff.
Daugherty’s opinion of Portage hasn’t changed since 1967.
“To me, it’s been great,” she said, “or I wouldn’t have stayed here.”