When most people retire, they stop working.
When teacher Ilene Gorzitze retired, she kept teaching — for free. Gorzitze, 82, has volunteered at several area schools, teaching physical education and keeping kids supplied with goodies, for about two decades.
“My grandchildren were here and I got hooked on it,” Gorzitze said, referring to her volunteer work at Upland Terrace Elementary in Millcreek. “I’m the one who benefits from it.”
Gorzitze, along with 10 educators, is being honored with prestigious Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education this year.
Winners receive $10,000 each and will attend a banquet later this month honoring them for their work. A committee chose winners from a pool of nominees.
Gorzitze was helping at Upland Terrace’s annual Mountain Man Rendezvous (she supplied the prizes for the trading post, as usual) on Friday when her family, friends and Jennifer Huntsman Parkin surprised her with the award.
“This is kind of a shock,” said Gorzitze, known at the school as Mrs. G. “I just about fainted.”
Those who’ve worked with her for decades, however, weren’t surprised.
Before retiring, Gorzitze taught physical education and health and worked as the athletic director at Highland High in Salt Lake City. After retiring, she began volunteering at Upland Terrace, teaching as many as 10 hours of PE classes a week.
That was before the school had a PE specialist, meaning that Gorzitze’s PE classes were the only ones the kids got. Teachers were otherwise expected to integrate physical education into their lessons.
“She knew what she was doing. She took charge and she made it fun,” said Liz Wetmore, a former behavioral health specialist at the school.
Gorzitze said teachers are already busy enough, and she wanted to help.
“Everybody needs to know how to move and exercise,” she said. “If they don’t learn it here, I don’t know where they’re going to learn it.”
She was known to teach kids how to bowl and play badminton, among other activities.
“You’d think it would be kind of weird to have your grandma be the PE teacher, but all the kids loved her. It was always so much fun,” said Gorzitze’s granddaughter Erica Dutson, who was a second-grader when Gorzitze began volunteering at Upland Terrace.
Dutson ended up following her grandmother into teaching and now works at West Jordan’s Jim Bridger Elementary, where Gorzitze also volunteers.
Gorzitze is also a bargain shopper extraordinaire who uses her skills to keep the schools stocked with PE supplies and prizes for events such as the Mountain Man Rendezvous. Years ago, she created an entire workout room at Upland Terrace.
“She has this little secret way of knowing what you need and finding it and putting it in your mailbox,” said Lauri Hansen, a fourth-grade teacher at Upland Terrace who helped nominate Gorzitze for the award.
On Friday at Upland Terrace, kids congregated behind the school around the trading post filled with prizes Gorzitze purchased, despite pony rides and a lifesize tepee nearby.
They snapped up eagle figurines and stuffed animals.
Upon announcing the award to Gorzitze, Huntsman told her Friday that she has to spend the $10,000 on herself.
“You can’t buy PE equipment,” Hunstman joked.
Educators win awards
In all, 10 Utah educators and one volunteer are being honored with Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education this year.
Principal • Jonathan Adams, Elk Run Elementary School, Magna
Teacher • Darla Stapel, Brookside Elementary School, Springville
Teacher • Tina Nilsson, Longview Elementary School, Murray
Principal • Joel K. Perkins, Lehi Junior High School, Lehi
Teacher • Roger K. Donohoe, Cedar Ridge Middle School, Hyde Park
Teacher • Dawn Monson, South Hills Middle School, Riverton
Principal • Gina Butters, Roy High School, Roy
Teacher • Kyle H. Bracken, Highland High School, Salt Lake City
Teacher • Priscilla Leek, Springville High School, Springville
Volunteer • Ilene Gorzitze, Upland Terrace/Jim Bridger Elementary Schools
Mark H Huntsman Award • John Jay Harris, Eaglecrest Elementary School, Lehi