SYRACUSE — After 40 years of teaching at the same elementary school, making the decision to retire was not the least bit easy for Don Bokhart. He had no negative feelings about public education and very much enjoyed teaching, but wanting to spend more time with grandchildren, he felt it was time to retire.
But then about a year and a half after retiring at the end of the 2014-15 school year, a door opened and Bokhart finds himself still involved in public education, though from a different perspective. He was appointed to replace George Gilbert on the Wawasee school board. Gilbert had submitted his resignation earlier this summer.
“I still have a passion for education,” Bokhart said, commenting on why he sought the school board seat.
He grew up in Mishawaka and graduated from Mishawaka Marian High School in 1971. He attended Ball State University and met his wife, Elaine, there before graduating in 1975. A few years later he earned a master’s degree from the same university.
Don began teaching at Chamberlain Elementary School in Goshen in the fall of 1975 and moved to Syracuse at the time, where he has lived since. Elaine was also a teacher for many years and retired from teaching at Wawasee Middle School after teaching at the old Syracuse Junior High and also in Warsaw.
Don was a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Chamberlain until the last two years of his career when he was, essentially, an assistant principal but officially known as a teacher on special assignment. He was responsible, in part, for teacher evaluations and was able to see first hand the many positive things teachers do in classrooms.
After Gilbert resigned, Mary Lou Dixon, a member of the Wawasee school board, called Bokhart to see if he was interested in applying for the board seat. Dixon, a retired teacher, knows Bokhart’s wife well. He felt it was a good opportunity to stay connected to education and chose to apply for the board seat. His first board meeting was a special budget workshop Aug. 2 and he was also present for the regular monthly meeting of the board Aug. 9.
A goal for Bokhart is to “continue to help Wawasee be an outstanding school corporation.” A daughter, Janice, and son, Brent, both went through the Wawasee school system and had positive experiences, Don commented. Janice now lives in Oxford, Ohio, and works for a dental company while Brent is a middle school principal in Crawfordsville, Ind.
Bokhart also looks forward to experiencing the success of Wawasee students. He believes the negative is focused on too often in society with youth and the positive things they do outweigh the negative.
He has already been impressed to see the number of volunteers who helped with the 1:1 computer device rollout last week at Wawasee High School. “There were many teachers who helped with that and they gave up a lot of hours at the end of their summer,” he said.
His seat is open for election in November and he plans to run.
Bokhart is active in the community as treasurer for the Knights of Columbus, is a Eucharist minister at St. Martin De Porres Church in Syracuse and is a member of the Elkhart County Retired Teachers Association. He enjoys bicycling, kayaking, woodworking, traveling and pruning a small apple orchard on his property.