Long-time Arnold teachers Clay and Julie Mohr seemed to be just “kids” themselves when they set out to find a school system that would be a perfect fit for both of them. Clay, 23, and Julie, 22, had just graduated from Chadron State College. With teaching degrees in hand, Clay was seeking a position in industrial arts and Julie was ready to teach art. With three interviews scheduled in one weekend, the Mohrs set out on a long trek, driving through flatlands up from Kansas. Arnold Public Schools was the last stop on their list.
“We came to Arnold through Grand Island and on up. We stopped at the top of Clark’s Hill to change into nice clothes, looked around and said, ‘We could live here. We could do this!’” said Julie.
That exact, beautiful location – with its rolling hills, canyons and trees – ended up being the spot where they eventually built their new home.
Other than finding their own personal paradise, the Mohrs chose Arnold Public Schools because it had openings for both of them. Clay said back in the day, some schools had openings for one or the other, but not both.
“Teaching in the same system was pretty important to us,” he said.
The day that Clay and Julie accepted a contract to teach at APS was a fortunate day for not only the school, but the community as well. Thirty-nine years later, after starting a firstof-its-kind student-ran business and winning numerous awards between them, they are now set to retire at the end of this school year.
Their entry into teaching at Arnold was filled with surprise and their exit comes at a historical time never before seen, as the school shut down in midMarch due to COVID-19.
The Mohrs had just moved here in June of 1981 when a big storm moved through the area, tearing the roof completely off the high part of the shop. Clay and other volunteers used stock trailers to move all the equipment out of the shop. The roof was repaired just a week before school started, and the process of moving everything back in and set up had to be done quickly.
Fast forward to 2020, and Julie said the coronavirus could be compared to a “big storm,” but much worse.
“It’s not what we had envisioned when we first came to town and this is not what we had envisioned ending our teaching career with no students,” said Clay. “This is much tougher,” Julie said.
In 2002 the Mohrs started a new program that they named School House Graphic Products. The student-ran business has been featured in many media articles and has received statewide recognition throughout the years. The program, using advanced technology, continues to this day.
“We had an exceptional group of students at that time and they were the driving force. They loved to learn and work and weren’t afraid of taking on new challenges,” said Clay. “In the future, it might be different, but they will be doing some of the same things. No one else in the area provides the service of some of things we are doing. The kids want to keep it going in some way and the instructors coming in kind of have that same belief. We’re willing to help, but not get in people’s roads. We have no intention of walking away from the school.”
Clay has taught classes in welding, construction, cabinet making, furniture making, graphics and electric programs, residential wiring, auto body and drafting. He has received the Great Plains Communications Outstanding Teacher of the Year award and the Nebraska Industrial Technology Program of the Year award.
An outstanding art teacher, Julie has received many awards, including winning the Governor’s State Mural Contest, earning the Outstanding Secondary Teacher by Nebraska’s Rural Communities Association, was recognized as the outstanding member of the South Region of ESUs through the Nebraska Teachers Association, and represented Arnold Public Schools in Washington D.C. at the first National Summit on the Role of Education in Economic Development in Rural America.
Clay said his teaching philosophy has been pretty simple.
“In one sense, my ultimate goal was to teach how to learn and how to work. To get the students enthused about learning anything – that is most of the battle. I wanted to teach them a good work ethic. When you see a job that needs to be done, don’t be afraid to take it on. Whether it’s doing it for your job, or just helping people out.”
Teaching the kids the importance of community service has also been the couple’s main focus. The number of ways they have involved the students in service to their town and its residents cannot be counted.
“I’ve never been able to understand other places where the school is pitted against the community and the community is pitted against the school,” said Julie. “The kids are here a big part of their day. These are your children and your school. It’s so important to be recognized as one in the same.”
The Mohrs feel they have been blessed to have “the world’s biggest family.”
“When we say they are our kids, that is from the heart. Over the years, we’ve probably learned as much from the kids as we have taught them,” said Clay.
“I was just cleaning out my desk and coming across stacks of photos of students and it makes you grin,” said Julie. “When we talk, we talk about ‘our kids’ and (people) think it’s our own personal children.”
Clay and Julie are a team and don’t plan to just enjoy the view from their deck after retirement. They have a big, vintage trailer that has been sitting in their tree strip that they would like to bring back to life. They want to see their grandkids that live far away. They both like to create and do things, but plan to still be heavily involved in the community and school.
“We have no intentions of going anywhere. Arnold is home,” said Clay.
article by: Janet Larreau
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