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Redefining Retirement: An Oasis in a Hurried World

Meet Historical Interpreter Betty Portenlanger
Redefining Retirement

A teacher’s calling often endures well into retirement. Great teachers tend to embrace new innovations and practices that improve student outcomes, have a love of learning, and naturally inspire others. This is how Betty Portenlanger spends her retirement.

Betty retired from full-time teaching in 2005 and immediately headed back to the classroom, thanks to an invitation to work part-time. She worked as a part-time teacher in several different capacities, bringing her total years of service in the Chicago Public Schools to nearly 50.  During this time, she attended an artist in residence weekend for writers and, shortly thereafter, published her first book, Traveling with George, a memoir about her experience with her husband’s death, to help others learn from her experience. She also wrote an interactive children’s book for her granddaughter called My Name to help her grandchild and other children learn their own name. Most recently, Betty took advantage of an opportunity to work part time as a teacher at The Glenview Park District’s The Grove National Historic Landmark (“the Grove”) ( Several days a week, you can find Betty teaching students in a one-room schoolhouse, a log cabin, or a Native American home.

In this new teaching role, Betty is known as Miss. Porter, Aunt Betty, or Swimming Turtle. She dresses in period costume to teach about the life of a pioneer to students of all ages – even seniors. The programs provide students with the chance to get a glimpse into the life of a pioneer, get hands-on with native plants and animals, and experience our fragile ecosystem up close. Each year, nearly 1,000 groups come to visit, from school groups and scout troops to garden clubs and birthday tea parties, and more.

Betty has enjoyed connecting with new students, former students, a lost relative, and with other former teachers who work with her at the Grove. She appreciates the training she received, the flexibility of her job, and the opportunity to take visitors back to the 1800s and into a magical setting that she describes as “truly an oasis in the hurried world in which we live.” She hopes others will consider volunteering at The Grove as they are always looking for assistance.

Teachers grow as educators and personally, especially when they take advantage of opportunities that come their way. Betty suggests that current and retired teachers should “be open to the  opportunities that may come as the possibilities are endless.”

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