Linda VanDerLeest retires after 41 years in Education

Claudia Loucks
Linda VanDerLeest

After 41 years in the education field, Linda VanDerLeest is retiring, but will not be idle.

In “retirement,” VanDerLeest plans to travel, play golf, drive the van for Allure, volunteer at Hammond-Henry Hospital and “reflect on God’s intention for my life in ministry.”

Most recently, VanDerLeest was a guidance counselor at Geneseo High School, a position she held for the last 30 years of her career.

She was born in Morrison, the daughter of Donald and the late Harriet VanDerLeest. Her family includes her sister-in-law, Sandi, who was married to VanDerLeest’s brother, the late Larry VanDerLeest; a nephew, Kyle, and a niece, Shayna.

After graduating from Morrison High School, she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree – PE and a Minor in Health at University of Wisconsin - Platteville; and received her Master of Counseling Degree from Western Illinois University, Macomb.

What many co-workers and friends may not know about VanDerLeest is that she has been inducted into the Hall of Fame at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville for being a 3-sport athlete and having earned 10 varsity letters and competing in two basketball national tournaments; one national volleyball tournament and one track and field national tournament where she placed third in the nation in the shot put. She also was inducted into the Morrison High School Hall of Fame for volleyball, basketball and track and field. While at Morrison High School, VanDerLeest was part of the first Conference Championship teams in volleyball and basketball. She also competed at the State track and field meet in shot put.

Her career in education began at Newman Central Catholic High School, Sterling, 1980-1991, where she taught physical education, health and psychology and coached volleyball, basketball, and track and field.

She became a guidance counselor at Geneseo High School in 1991 where she worked until her recent retirement.

While serving as a counselor, VanDerLeest also is credited for helping Margaret Hitzhusen implement the “Community Service” class at GHS. She also previously coached basketball, softball, boys’ golf, and girls’ golf.

“I have announced games - volleyball, basketball, wrestling and baseball games; I did play-by-play for volleyball on the WB6 Network Channel 50 and worked at the gate for football games,” she said.

She also officiated at volleyball games for 30 years and during that time was recognized as the Top Official in Illinois. VanDerLeest also officiated at the Volleyball State Finals for several years and also served as the IHSA Volleyball Rule Interpreter.

In addition, VanDerLeest served as Black Hawk College liaison, Department Chairperson, High School Curriculum planning, NCAA/NAIA liaison and helped establish a mentoring program for teachers.

She has served on the A3 and BLT Leadership Teams and in 2018, VanDerLeest helped design, develop and release “Career Connections” with GHS Principal Travis Mackey. She also assisted Mackey in establishing the Distinguished Alumni criteria and recognition program.

She served as the Geneseo Rotary Club Strive liaison and helped countless community leaders establish new local scholarships.

“I have also been the Jr. Firefighter Liaison, helped recruit high school students to volunteer at Hammond-Henry Hospital and students for internships in our community as well as having served as the GEA President,” she said.

It was her former principal, Dick Siebs at Newman High School, who encouraged VanDerLeest to become a counselor.

Even though VanDerLeest is well-known in Geneseo and the surrounding communities, something others may not know about her is that she played the clarinet and piano…She said, “My father would play the piano and my mother would play the organ, and those are fond childhood memories.”

When asked to share a couple of her favorite memories from her career, VanDerLeest said, “When Jan ZumMallen and I defeated the pickle ball champions…Also, I thoroughly enjoyed announcing the ball games and broadcasting for WB6 network. I have lots of memories of while announcing games – 1,000-point accomplishments, conference championships and fundraisers for many benefits.”

She also recalled remembering 9/11 and “paying tribute to so many people and events. I am grateful that GHS gave me so many opportunities - to be the master of ceremonies at the local scholarship assembly, Distinguished Alumni Recognition and other functions. The best memory will be the friendships I made with staff, families and the community.”

“I have a long list of great memories of while I was at Newman,” she said. “The community is still a part of my ‘extended family’.”

She shared what she will miss most about her counseling position and being at GHS and said, “Everything that was ‘Good’ about a normal during my 41 years in education…colleagues that I will always treasure and now call my friends, parents, kids, cafeteria and janitorial staff.”