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A tradition of teaching

Leatrice Jorgensen’s kitchen table is not just a place to share dinner with her family. It’s also a gathering place where traditions are kept alive, stories are told, and a passion for learning and teaching thrive.

Fall 2010 your$ magazineOn this day Leatrice sits at the table, flanked by her daughter Patti and two granddaughters Lea and Amanda. In front of her are neat stacks of papers and photos. She holds an old photo of three young women. “This is my mother with her two sisters. They were all teachers. I guess it was just expected that I would be a teacher, too.”

Leatrice’s life has been shaped by a strong family connection to learning and teaching. The history is rich with stories that illustrate the evolution of public  education over the course of her life. But, there’s also a comforting level of something unchanged—a passion for learning and teaching that’s carried from generation to generation.

The other women at the table listen with adoring respect to the stories Leatrice tells. They each have a role in this story. They are all educators.

In the beginning

She has many fond memories of the rural one-room schoolhouse where her mother taught in northern Wisconsin. “We used to ski to school in the winter. We’d start up the stove and then all the children would run laps around the room to warm up,” she laughs. They lived with a host farm family. “It was hard in some ways, but I had the best time.”

Leatrice pulls a yellowing sheet of paper from her stack. “This was my mother’s contract in 1937. Her salary was $80 per month. Includes janitor work, it says. Except scrubbing.” Everyone at the table finds this amusing.

Her mother and two aunts frequently changed schools from year to year. “There was uncertainty every year. My mother never knew if she would have a job the following year. Some schools didn’t even allow married teachers.”

As the only child living among three teachers, learning and studying was a constant, but Leatrice didn’t mind. She loved it. “When my mother was studying, I would study. In the summer time, I would go with my mother and aunts to Superior College. I would take piano or sewing classes while they earned their bachelor degrees. Experiences like this are why teaching is important in my family.”

The tradition continues

Not surprisingly, Leatrice set out to become a teacher after graduating from Phillips High School.

Her college career was interrupted by marriage, but Leatrice went back for her degree in 1960. Her daughter Patti remembers her mother studying—her books and paper spread out on the kitchen table. “I thought, well she’s studying, so I’ll study, too.” Sound familiar? And, like her mother, Patti got her teaching degree and taught grades 4–6 in Merrill for 8 years.

And now, Lea and Amanda are teaching in Marshfield and Green Bay respectively. And so it continues.

A good financial move

From her stack of papers, she pulls out a printed sheet from 1989. It’s from WEA TSA Trust and has the guaranteed interest rates listed from 1978 to 1989. When Leatrice opened a tax-sheltered annuity (TSA) in 1981, the interest rate was 12%. She recognized it was a good rate and knew she needed to get started immediately. Leatrice remembers discussing it with her husband. “I said ‘the interest rate is huge right now. I think I’m going to get into that.’ He wasn’t so sure we could afford it, and I think he maybe wanted to take a trip instead,” she says.

“Gee, we did quite well, and the next year when I got a raise, we put that in too. And you know, we still took vacations.”

The program hit an all-time high annual yield of 14.5% in 1982. The WEA TSA Trust started out as a guaranteed or “fixed” investment only. Today there’s the option for mutual fund investment as well.

Having options

Leatrice has been comfortably retired for 20 years. When she retired, she set up her state pension (WRS) to receive a smaller monthly amount in order to preserve the beneficiary payment option. “That way if something happened to me, my daughters could split whatever is left.”

Because her husband had already passed, she was also receiving his Social Security. “I haven’t really needed the TSA money yet,” she says. Although being over age 70½ she is required to take required minimum distributions. “But you never know.”

Patti shares that her mother is a breast cancer survivor. She had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed in 1982. “I thought I was going to bite the dust,” she laughs.

The times they are a changin’

Leatrice Jorgensen and familyHaving the 403(b) savings has given Leatrice a sense of security that she wants her granddaughters to have as well. Although the rate of return in the guaranteed account isn’t as alluring as in the ’80’s, Leatrice knows that what her granddaughters have on their side is time.

According to WEA Member Benefits Retirement Consultant Scott Thomas, Amanda and Lea should not expect to have the same retirement scenario that their grandmother has had. “Their 403(b) savings will be even more important for their retirement than it was for their grandmother’s. Things are changing. More planning is required.” The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College indicates that there is a shift from a defined benefit plan where workers receive pension benefits based on years of service and final salary to a self-funded model.

“Other factors that make their situation different include health insurance costs, increase in the Social Security full benefit age, and a modified benefit calculation for Wisconsin Retirement System which went into effect in 1999,” says Thomas.

It’s time to get started

Her eldest granddaughter, Lea, is beginning her fifth year of teaching. Leatrice came to her with 403(b) enrollment forms after her first year of teaching and encouraged her to start saving. Lea heeded her grandmother’s advice and handed the forms in right away. She’s had her account for three years now. “When I get my statements, I’m like ‘wow.’ It’s impressive, even though I haven’t been able to contribute a lot.” Now that she’s done with her Master’s, she’s ready to start contributing more.

Amanda Hilger, the youngest granddaughter, is ready to start saving, too, as she enters her second year of teaching. “It’s time for her to get started,” Leatrice says firmly. Amanda confirms that she’s filled out the forms.

Her mother Patti nods approvingly. She regrets her decision not to follow her mother’s advice to open a 403(b). Patti and her husband didn’t think they could afford it. “Mom kept saying to me, Patti, you should really contribute. And we really should have,” says Patti, who taught for eight years during the peak of the Guaranteed Investment interest rates.

Health is wealth

Leatrice’s kitchen table, aside from a family forum for learning, is the dining headquarters. “Patti lives right across the road, but we eat here.” And their cook? Amanda, the high school family and consumer education teacher. “This is the test kitchen,” beams Leatrice. “Whatever Amanda’s planning to make in class, we try first.”

Amanda also tends the garden in her grandmother’s backyard, and Lea and her husband get a weekly box of vegetables from their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). “We have so many vegetables that we have to eat, eat, eat,” says Leatrice.

Together, they have worked toward a healthier lifestyle. “We are all about healthy eating and cooking. There have been too many health problems in the family,” says Patti, “so it was time to make a change for the better.”

Keep in mind that mutual fund investments are not guaranteed and may gain or lose value. Past performance is no guarantee for future results. Future performance may be lower or higher than past performance. Before investing in any mutual fund, call WEA Member Benefits at 1-800-279-4030 to request a prospectus. We advise you to read it carefully and consider the fund’s investment objectives, risks, and charges and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus contains this and other information about the investment company. The 403(b) retirement program is offered by the WEA TSA Trust. TSA program registered representatives are licensed through WEA Investment Services, Inc., member FINRA.

Leatrice JorgensenLeatrice Jorgensen taught for 27 years (including summer school) in the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District. “I started teaching third and fourth grades, then for six years I taught remedial reading. After that I taught first grade, which I loved. My first grade classroom was the best classroom in the whole district.” After earning her master’s degree she made the tough decision to take a position as the K-12 reading specialist. “I had a wonderful career, and I’ve been comfortably retired for 20 years. I’m blessed in so many ways.”


Patti HilgerPatti Hilger is Leatrice’s daughter. Patti taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grades in the Merrill School District for 8 years. She loved teaching but quit to raise their girls and help care for her father who became ill with cancer. Patti adores teaching so much that she still teaches Sunday School. “Once you’re a teacher, you’re never done.”



Lea HankeLea Hanke is beginning her 5th year of teaching in the Marshfield School District. She teaches fourth grade and absolutely loves it. She completed her Master’s degree in May, which lightens her financial load and will allow her to start contributing more to her retirement savings. “I loved school so much that I wanted to go on the weekends. It helped that Mom and Grandma were always talking about how good school is and that teaching is a good profession.”



Amanda HilgerAmanda Hilger is starting her second year of teaching high school Family and Consumer Education in the Howard-Suamico School District. She knows it’s time to start planning and saving for retirement. “My grandmother gave me the forms this summer and I finally have them filled out and ready to turn in.”