Norma Oberholtzer ’79, M.S. ’88, was 38 years old and employed as a secretary for Pontiac School District 429 when she decided she wanted a career change.
“I felt like I needed to do more in my life,” Oberholtzer said.
Oberholtzer took stock of her options. She wanted to stay in the Pontiac area for her family, and having previously worked in business, knew that it was not a career field that would satisfy her. That left two paths: become a teacher and find a job with the school district, or study social work and take a job at the prison.
Oberholtzer chose teaching.
Knowing Illinois State as the university for teachers, she signed up for 18 credit hours. Oberholtzer’s first day on campus was a frigid January morning. Walking across the bridge over College Avenue with cold winds blowing, she questioned if what she was doing was crazy.
It was a fleeting thought.
In no time she began excelling in her classes, forming close relationships with other students, and mastering the materials. She even used studying to become closer with her three children.
“I remember this great feeling of having all of us sitting around the table and studying,” Oberholtzer said. “I couldn’t have returned to college had it not been for my family.”
Oberholtzer’s heavy course loads, combined with credit hours that transferred from classes she had completed at Northern Illinois University 20 years earlier, enabled her to graduate ahead of schedule.
Following graduation she accepted a job in Pontiac as a kindergarten teacher. She held that post for 13 years before transitioning to third and then fourth grade.
“ISU really prepared me to teach kindergarten because the emphasis was on child development,” Oberholtzer said. “I got a good foundation for that grade.”
Meanwhile Oberholtzer had been serving as a cooperating teacher, guiding and supervising students during their student teaching experience. She proved to be so successful in this role that upon retirement she was offered a supervising teacher position at Illinois State.
Oberholtzer jumped at the opportunity.
“I was asked to supervise students, and I did that one semester,” Oberholtzer said. “The next semester I was teaching and supervising student teachers full time. It was like whatever I had done before was preparing me to teach at ISU.”
She started by teaching a science methods course though over the next 10 years she expanded into 14 different courses. Oberholtzer retired again in 2009, but still teaches one class a semester. For her it is an ideal retirement.
“Retirement is being able to do what you want to do,” Oberholtzer said. “I have a perfect life. I teach in the fall and then I go to Florida for the winter. I also am able to spend more time with my family.”
Outside of class, Oberholtzer continues to stay involved with Illinois State through Senior Professionals, Red Hot Society events, and serving as a mentor to students. By maintaining close ties to the University she has been able to see the University continually evolve through the support of donors.
“The growth in ISU from even the short amount I’ve been here is just amazing,” Oberholtzer said. “The buildings, programs, and status that ISU has attained can only be done with money. All of the improvements that have made have been through planning and leadership. But there always has to be financial support. A lot of it must come from the private sector because the state has decreased its funding.”
Having intertwined her life so closely with Illinois State and wanting to give back, Oberholtzer decided to make a planned gift to the College of Education at Illinois State—a gift she has doubled since the initial bequest.
“There are so many ways for alumni to still be involved with ISU,” Oberholtzer said. “You can still give to ISU of your time, your money, and your loyalty.”