Longtime Islander Middle School teachers, Janet and Mace Brady, have retired from the Mercer Island School District. Their 30-some years each in the district has spanned a time of great change for the Island. They have taught literally thousands of students across a couple of generations — and seem to remember something about each one.
The couple’s lives have been intertwined in teaching since they first met at Eastern Washington University in 1970. He was from Bothell, a couple of years older. She was from the small town of Rosalia, just south of Spokane. They married after Mace graduated. In ROTC during college, he had joined the Army, and was later stationed at Fort Lewis. After the Army, he began looking for a teaching job. It was hard in the 1970s, he remembered. Teachers were being laid off. So Mace went back to school and got a degree as an RN.
Then Mace got a job teaching on the Island. The couple moved to a house on 88th Avenue S.E., near the old North Mercer Gym, which is now home to Youth Theatre Northwest. Janet later finished a teaching and master’s degrees at UW. She had begun her career at Mercer Island working in special education and as a parapro. The couple later moved to a home near Ellis Pond, where they lived for more than 20 years, selling it not long ago in order to move to the new home they built near Woodinville.
The pair have watched as the Island and its people have changed around them.
The Island was still rural when they moved here. As Mace, 61, remembered, there were two lumberyards in town and a bowling alley. What is now the Lakes neighborhood was still a forest, largely untouched. Classes would go on mini-field trips to look at the flora and fauna there. Everything, including the children, seemed more innocent then, she said.
There were tough times.
The drug problem reared its ugly head on the Island in the late ’70s. Kids picked mushrooms from front yards. There was a sad cluster of student deaths. Enrollment was declining in the district, bringing school closures and budget cuts.
Yet the teachers were a tight-knit group. There were volleyball games on Friday nights or bowling. There were get-togethers and a lot of camaraderie. “We’ve missed that,” they said.
Everyone is too busy now, Janet, 58, explained. There are so many obligations. Someone is always going back to school to get an advanced degree or a certification or working on a committee.
The Bradys, however, see the Island and its schools as a positive and special place.
“There is always is and has always been a good, very good, percentage going to college,” Janet added.
“Here, they expect that everyone does well,” Mace said. “People deliberately came here with a mindset — that their children will succeed in school.
But there is pressure for students to grow upquickly, Janet noted. The pressure to do well in academics and beyond is “pushed down” to the kids, Mace agreed. Expectations are just so much higher.
Yet they agreed that that, too, is positive.
“There is a tremendous amount of parent and community support here. They come to conferences, meetings and activities. If we need anything, we can get parents here in a second,” Janet said.
“And we don’t see kids smoking behind the school any more,” said Mace.
Islander Middle School Principal Mary Jo Budzius said that the pair has been the ‘go to’ people at the school. They offer the knowledge and background that everyone turns to, she explained.
“Janet has been an important voice for peers in the Washington Education Association (the teachers union). She has been an advocate for colleagues when they feel that they don’t have a voice,” Budzius said. “She has been bold and honest.”
Mace, she continued, is so good-hearted. He is always there to help. They both help out whenever they can.
Budzius, who is in her mid-30s, is fairly young to be a principal. Of the Bradys, she said: they have both been such great supporters of mine.
There are, of course, dozens and dozens of good stories and lasting memories. Once, Islander Middle School made the national news, Janet recalled, when two very large pet iguanas climbed out of their enclosure. One clambered up on the plywood side of their box and set off a nearby fire alarm. It somehow happened twice that same day.
But the best memories are of the students, they agreed.
“I will miss the times when the kids come back to say hello and tell us what they are doing,” Janet said. Mace said that from time to time, he might run into a student who he had years ago. While he might not recall the name right away, as the former student begins to talk or gesture — it doesn’t take long for the teacher to place him or her. “Once I finally hear the name, it all fits into place,” he said. “I can remember where they sat, what they were like and how they were in the classroom.”
Sharing the field of teaching and working in the same place has been good for their marriage, the couple said. “We share a lot and talk about the kids. We can’t not talk about it,” Janet laughed.
The two have an easy way about them. It is clear to see that the bond between them goes beyond their shared love of teaching. They look forward to the next phase of their life together.
Janet will work toward being a master gardener. Mace has an office upstairs in their new home where he will focus on his writing. Travel plans have been set. Both say they look forward to substituting occasionally — but no 5 a.m. calls, Mace said more than once.
With tears in her eyes, Janet said the couple wants to thank the Island community for their support. “This has been a great place to live and work. It feels so good to work with the children of our friends and neighbors, our fellow staff and parents.”
“We have never been bored. Every kid, every day is different,” Mace said. “I have never minded those conferences in QFC.”
“It has been fun to have the siblings of former students,” Janet said. “They will inevitably say, ‘My sister is in the fourth grade; I hope she has you when she comes to IMS.’”