TJ says goodbye to one of its finest of all time.
by Ben Gilliland
photo by Manuel Perez
For 18 years English teacher Alice Weeda has been mentoring and inspiring students at Thomas Jefferson High School, and she will be greatly missed by both students and faculty as she leaves for retirement at the end of the school year, putting an end to her 28 year teaching career.
Weeda was born on November 2, 1946 in Denver, Colorado to parents Renie and Bertha Zoetewey. Weeda has 12 siblings, eight sisters and three brothers with whom she spent her childhood here in Denver, and she went to Denver Christian High School where she graduated in 1964.
After graduating from high school Weeda attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she received a BA in education in 1968 with a major in English and a minor in German. During her senior year, she married John Weeda. After a summer in southern California during which she took another class in German at Long Beach State, she and her husband moved to Athens, Ohio where she taught German for two years. “It’s funny really. I never would have gotten my first teaching job if I didn’t have my minor in German,” said Weeda. In 1970 she moved to Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago, where she lived for over eight years and taught high school English and German for three years before starting her family. She has three children, Chris, Rachel, and Ben (all of whom are TJ graduates). Now she also has two grandchildren, Naomi and Joaquin.
Weeda returned to her hometown of Denver in 1979 but did not resume her teaching career until 1984 after a 12-year break to raise her children. “I always wanted to return to teaching. I just wanted to wait until my youngest had started school before I returned,” said Weeda. She taught a semester at North High School and four years at Montbello High School before coming to work at TJ in 1990. “I came to work at TJ because the yearbook advisor position was open. If that wasn’t the case I probably never would have worked here,” said Weeda, who was the yearbook advisor at TJ for ten years, from 1990-2000. “I loved being the yearbook advisor, but after becoming the department chair for the English department I just couldn’t handle the extra workload. So, I handed off the reins to Mr. Coleman,” said Weeda, who has been the chair of the English department intermittently for at least ten years of her TJ tenure.
Weeda has had a passion for literature since high school, and wanted to be a teacher ever since. “I had a terrific high school English teacher, Stanley Cole, with whom I am still good friends. I recall reading The Scarlet Letter in his class and realizing that good literature is universal. The better and more difficult the piece of work is, the more meaningful it becomes. It’s important for students to learn that great books are more than just plot,” said Weeda.
During her 18 years at TJ Weeda has been able to teach every class except for sophomore English. “What I liked most about teaching here is that I always had a good mixture of students. I was able to teach freshmen who need help with basic skills and behavior issues. But, I was also able to teach upperclassmen in Brit Lit X where we read more classic and profound works of literature, and the students were more enthusiastic, complimentary, and diligent. Both student levels kept me clear and grounded, and reminded me of how great teaching really is,” said Weeda.
Her daughter Rachel Almond is also a teacher at TJ, and has been for the past six years. Two years ago, in 2006, Rachel married English teacher Jeff Almond, and last year they had a little baby girl, Naomi. Mrs. Almond has been out on maternity leave this past year. “The school will suffer greatly now that Mrs. Weeda is gone. I will greatly miss her professional and mentoring presence, but I am still glad that I am able to have her in my life,” said Mr. Almond.
Weeda has many people who care for her here at TJ, and she is leaving behind many friends. “Having Alice retire this year fills me with mixed emotions. On one hand, as a good friend, I am very happy to see her rewarded after so many years of hard work. I know she’s going to have a blast traveling and spoiling her grandkids…that’s all awesome. As a colleague, I’m saddened to see her go because she is the quintessential English teacher, and to lose her from the staff is tough,” said Computer Magnet Teacher Matt Spampinato, who began working at TJ in 1990, the same year as Weeda, and over the years has become good friends with her. "But Alice Weeda has been instrumental in making TJ the great school that it is today, and we’ll all keep up the tradition of excellence that she has worked so hard to create."
Weeda could not be happier with her time here at TJ. “I could not have asked for a better place to work. There is a great mixture of students, teachers and administrators here in the building. I had great colleagues and the best administrative support a teacher could ask for,” said Weeda.
When retired, Weeda plans to stay home and help take care of her granddaughter Naomi (daughter of TJ teachers Jeff and Rachel Almond) and grandson Joaquin. This summer she is taking a two-week trip to Switzerland with her husband, not only to celebrate her retirement but her 40-year wedding anniversary as well. She will also be traveling to Paris for two weeks with Gina Sheridan, who retired from TJ six years ago. “I plan on filling my days with reading, seeing many movies and plays, and of course traveling. I am just going to wait and see what happens. If I get bored I’m sure I can find something to occupy my time,” said Weeda.