HANNIBAL | Elaine Booher began teaching 43 years ago, knowing from the start that God led her to a career of teaching generations of students in the Holy Family Catholic School and Parish.
When she graduated with her education degree in 1976, Booher applied for a teaching position at her former grade school, L.J. Pettibone School. She didn't get the job, but she soon received a call from the employment office about an opening at Blessed Sacrament School. Sister Janice Fennewald and Sister Mary Sienna interviewed her for a teaching role in Kindergarten, and she found out the good news the same day, beginning a 43-year teaching career at Blessed Sacrament School and McCooey High School — the Blessed Sacrament Parish and the St. Mary Parish combined to form Holy Family School and Parish in the former McCooey High School building.
“I feel that since I have lasted through so many years that I must have really been called to serve by God,” Booher said. “He daily has guided me in all I have done.”
When she set out on her first year, she started the kindergarten program up again at Blessed Sacrament School, teaching mixed classes in the afternoon. Soon, she formed a pre-K program in the afternoons, and she was teaching eighth grade English by her second semester. Booher enjoyed the opportunity to coach eighth-grade cheerleaders, and she was active in many Catholic Schools Week activities and National Catholic Educational Association conventions in St. Louis in the past. In 1989, Booher received the Golden Apple Award from WGEM, showing her humility and gratitude for her colleagues' dedication.
“What we need is an apple to split up,” Booher said. “We're like out name says, we're a family. We act like a team and everyone is so intermeshed, we know when each other needs a hug or a kick in the britches!”
Booher taught kindergarteners for 21 years and third-graders for 22 years, and her classroom reflects the interactive and fun ways she teaches students preparing for the transition to fourth grade and beyond.
A colorful giraffe's neck extends all the way over her desk — a new handmade section is added when students in the class perform acts of kindness. Signs dangle from the ceiling, each depicting a planet and math problem to guide students through daily multiplication exercises. Booher approaches each subject with a mantra she's held dear: Sister Betty Uchytil, SSND, principal, said students are captivated by Booher's stories and activities.
“The kids just cling on each of her words as they tell the stories of different time periods that relate to something they're studying,” Uchytil said.
Second-grade teacher Sara Viorel Hooley vividly remembers Booher having a class pet, sharing stories from the farm and bringing animals to visit her and fellow pre-K and kindergarten students.
“She always finds a way to connect with the students,” Hooley said. “It's definitely a community in her classroom.” Cherrie Allen, fifth grade teacher, echoed Hooley's sentiments about how Booher has always been a cherished member of the school family.
“She's a teacher who has so many assets and she's going to be missed greatly,” Allen said.
Fourth-grade teacher Patti Babyak said she and Allen call Booher “Mom,” and she supports them and imparts wisdom gleaned from her years of teaching.
“She loves frogs and I love how sentimental she gets,” Babyak said. “She has wonderful stories that she shares with the kids and always has their best interests at heart.”
Booher asked her students to stand if they had a family member such as a parent, uncle or aunt who she taught in the past. Almost every child stood up and smiled, talking about their loved ones who were part of her class.
Clara Combs said Booher taught her older sister, Cailee, her mom, Mary, and two of her uncles, Darren Armour and Mike Mischel. Her classmate, Alexa Arthaud, said her mom, Brittni, was in Booher's class as well. Alexa said she enjoyed the way Booher engages the students as they learn with her stories.
“I just love learning with her and her teaching,” Alexa said. “It's just been a great experience with her.”
Clara and Alexa are part of Booher's after-school Kids Who Care Club, joining fellow students to perform community service projects like buying food for the Loaves and Fishes meal ministry. Clara shared her classmates' sentiments that they didn't want Booher's career at Holy Family to end.
“I'm really happy that Mrs. Booher has a fun time with us, and I'm really sad that she's going to have to leave at the end of the year,” Clara said.
Booher has discussed retirement with her students before — and they made it clear they didn't want to see her go.
“When asked when I would retire by the students — I would always say, 'do you want me go?' — to a chorus of 'oh no!'” Booher said. “I would finish by saying God will tell me when it's time — and I know that it is, although I will miss it.”
Uchytil said a special reception will be held in Booher's honor, beginning with a 10 a.m. Mass and followed by a reception in St. Michael's Hall at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, April 26. She encouraged everyone whose life has been affected by Booher's legacy to send cards, photos and other mementos to Holy Family Catholic School, 1113 Broadway in Hannibal.