For the past few months Ann Wistrcill has been selecting her own art projects, from her landscape scenery sketches to the plans she has drawn up for concrete sculptures that will eventually find a home at the cabin she shares with her husband on a lake near Owatonna. It’s all a bit new for Wistrcill, a well-loved Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) teacher for 23 years, this feeling of having time with no long-term constraints. “I’m still in transition to get into the mindset of what retirement means,” she explained on an August afternoon, when she would normally have planned for the upcoming school year. “I’m very excited, naturally, although I’m still in a little bit of disbelief.”
Wistrcill and her husband have put their house in Winona up for sale and will claim Florida as their home for the winter months and their cabin near Owatonna as their home for the summer. “I’ll be a snowbird,” she said of her new lifestyle. “We’ve downsized and we’re starting fresh in Florida.” The retirement community Wistrcill and her husband will be moving to is called “The Villages,” which is near Orlando and inhabited by a number of other retired WAPS teachers. “It’s a fun place, a nice little Minnesota community,” she commented. “My husband’s cousin was a teacher and she lives there, and there are several other WAPS teachers [who live at The Villages].”
Although Wistrcill acknowledged that she is eager to welcome her new life as a retiree, she said that she has already found herself missing the Winona area, WAPS and the people she taught and worked with for the past 23 years.
Wistrcill started out at WAPS as an elementary school art teacher, traveling between Jefferson, Goodview, Ridgeway and Dakota for classes. In her second year of teaching she moved to Winona Middle School, before settling in at Winona Senior High School (WSHS), where she would spend the remainder of her 21 years teaching. “All levels [at WAPS] were very enjoyable,” she recalled. Along with being one of three art teachers at WSHS, Wistrcill also ran the photography club and was the coordinator of visual arts, which meant that she was responsible for all of the art shows and competitions throughout the school year. “I managed [everything from] the Minnesota State High School League show to the Scholastic Arts Competition. I did somewhere between eight and 10 programs a year,” she explained. “I also coordinated the senior show, which is a pretty big undertaking every year.”
Among her favorite WSHS student art projects, Wistrcill counted the Daffodil Day displays that were constructed in honor of students’ friends or family members who had either died of cancer, were living with cancer or were survivors of cancer. “We made big displays and students talked about the display,” explained Wistrcill, herself a cancer survivor. “I would buy hundreds of daffodils and although the displays were only left up for one day, it really made a big impact on the students and people who viewed them.”
Another favorite art project during her years teaching was the faculty portrait series, which involved WSHS juniors and seniors choosing a WSHS/WAPS staff member and creating that person’s portrait. “The students really liked doing the staff portraits,” she said. “I was a little apprehensive at first, but I think everyone really benefited from the experience.”
For Wistrcill, her greatest experience as a WAPS art teacher has been interacting with students and providing them opportunities to succeed at something they might not have realized they could do well. “I think providing opportunities for students to excel in an area where they may not have felt like they had the ability to be successful — seeing that metamorphosis, that change, has been really rewarding,” she said. “[My favorite part about being an art teacher] has been watching the students develop and build their skills, and ultimately seeing them express themselves through their work.”