Legendary “Mean” Meininger calls it a career

Rhett Breedlove
Posted 5/31/23

Schools and teachers have continued to evolve in recent years, and mostly for the better. As the years progress and carry on, we understand we must also.

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Legendary “Mean” Meininger calls it a career


TORRINGTON – Schools and teachers have continued to evolve in recent years, and mostly for the better. As the years progress and carry on, we understand we must also. The students are constantly surfacing with new fads and trends, therefore our educators must continually adapt, while adjusting their own styles.

Anyone who has taught in education, worked with youth programs, or has raised children understands as rewarding as it can be, challenges and obstacles arise regularly. Of course it’s not always going to be a walk in the park.

That being said, at times we have to turn to the ones who have been there before, and in some cases the longest. The newer crop of educators may have fantastic innovative ideas and energy sure, but it is the “old-timers” that we seem to seek out when we may not have a solution to a problem. We may be sure of ourselves with our fresh new way of doing things, but deep down we know we would not be where we are had it not been for the “bygone relics,” who taught us the most valuable life lessons. 

To put it simply, we loved the warm, caring teachers, but we remember the ones who were tough. We remember the ones that refused to let us coast through their classrooms, and knew with that we would not be able to coast through life.

One very well-known, perhaps even legendary Goshen teacher of that era has chosen to put down the chalk, and graciously enjoy her golden years moving forward. Again, we are talking about the chalk; not the whiteboard, and certainly not today’s smartboard and electric overhead that are the ever so present norm in this day and age.

Jo Meininger, the fifth grade educator at Trail Elementary in Torrington has been teaching since 1988 all throughout Goshen County, as well as parts of Nebraska. She sat down with The Telegram recently in what turned out to be a unique, and colorful discussion about teaching, retirement, and the future.

She started her teaching career in Lyman years ago, and she’s earned a telling nickname during the course of her years in education. To her students both past and present, she’s come to be known as Miss Meaninger. A name she giggles when hearing and takes with a humorous degree of pride.

“People have said I’m going miss you and I say, ‘You bet you’re going to miss me,’” Meininger said. “Because I’ve been tormenting you, and keeping you focused on how I want you to be.”

Meininger also had a warning for all her students, as she is not married nor has children to focus on once she enters retirement. She has a much different plan to continue making an impact on her pupils lives.

“I tell the kids since I don’t have any kids of my own I’ll be moving in with them,” Meininger said. “One month for each kid. If I have students that wound up getting married, it’ll be two months for them during that time.”

Meininger noted that although she will be stepping out of her educational position and moving on to the next phase of her life, she freely admits the feeling hasn’t set in too hard just yet. In fact, some of the focus is still on communication and teamwork with colleagues, and support staff for the next two days.

“Throughout my teaching career I’ve really liked the people I’ve worked with,” Meininger said. “Just like the custodian for example. I told her she’d better leave my door open the next two days, because that’s all I have left. She has yet to open it. Three days this week and she hasn’t. She does keep the coffee on though I’ll give her that.”

Meiniger continued with her thoughts and feelings on her last week as an educator. With the Trail Elementary School Awards ceremony commencing, Meininger is hopeful she will be considered for one particular category. With over thirty years of dedication to the school district, Meaninger is hoping for just one piece of acknowledgement from her peers and students.

“I don’t take many days off, and I’m the kid that always wanted perfect attendance,” she declared. “I haven’t taken any days off this year, I was only gone one day. I’m hoping tomorrow for the awards ceremony, they give me the award for perfect attendance. The DARE officer actually had asked me to be the keynote speaker.” 

Meininger had different thoughts on the offer.

“I haven’t gotten him trained anywhere near enough. I think we may have to let him go. Gotta get rid of the riff-raff around here.”

When it came to discussing matters of the future, where the teacher will go from here on out, and what specific plans she has for retirement, Meininger’s plans proved interestingly to be a bit outside the norm. Outside the norm, and quite unique for that matter.

“My body is telling me it’s time. I just want you to know at the Senior Center it costs three bucks for a meal and I don’t cook,” Meininger said. “I’ve tried to get the Senior Center to deliver my meals, but they tell me I have to be a shut in. It does help that all these already retired teachers are telling me, ‘Get out. You’ll love it. No stress. The best part is when you go to the Senior Center where all us retired teachers are. We can eat like it’s the cafeteria and we don’t have to watch kids’. So I’m saying ‘okay.’ I’m also I’m finally eligible for Medicare.”

Meininger further noted that as far as activities or vacations planned, her travels will perhaps be nothing too exotic, preferring to keep her travels close and a bit more simplistic.

“I’m an oak tree. People ask if I’ll go see my sister and I go, ‘Well it’s all the way over there. Worland’s on the other side of Wyoming. I’ll just go to Target, that’s a good enough vacation.’ I’ve been to Europe before with the school. I don’t even know how to buy a plane ticket. I’ve always gone with the crowd when it came to going on school trips. People have suggested maybe go out to lunch, and then maybe go on a trip, and I’m always saying, ‘Maybe not.’ I was always saying, ‘You mean I have to get on a plane? What?”

Reflecting on the past, Meininger was honest and direct of the things she will miss most throughout her storied 36 year career.

“Well I’ll miss my paycheck. I really liked that paycheck,” Meininger said. “In fact that reminds me, tomorrow is the twenty-fifth, my favorite day of the month. [I’ll miss] insurance sending me on trips I don’t have to pay for. I just had to ride along at the airport. Sometimes they even give you a vehicle to drive to go places. I mean there are some things. Haven’t thought much of it. What am I going to miss the most? I’m still going to miss my people. It’s taken me a long time.”

Meininger took a more serious turn when it came to looking ahead for the faculty, staff and students that will be carrying on without her, once she steps off for good. The words, yet still blunt and humorous, would echo in the ears for any teacher just beginning their career. The final words of encouragement, from legendary Jo Meaninger.

“I’d have to think on that one,” began Meininger. “What would I say to a younger teacher about teaching? Just remember, they’re your kids for nine months. Be there for them, try to help them be better and to do well. Definitely have a sense of humor, because teachers know there’s lot of things you can’t change. You can worry about it and stuff like that, but somehow you have to use humor to get through it. You just have to look at it like, how can I make it better and more fun? You might be stuck in something, but it doesn’t mean you have to make it miserable for you and everyone else around you. How can you see the good humor, and the funny side of fit?”