Monticello woman worked with children in Ecuador for close to 40 years
Lois Hultberg, who hopes to substitute at each one of the branches of the Great River Regional Library system, is pictured at the Royalton Library. Her life is busy with a rich variety of activities, and Lois takes her smile everywhere as an unofficial “smile-a-lyzer.” Contributed photo
Like many Minnesotans her age, Lois Hultberg started life on a dairy farm. But once she completed her education, her life journey took her in directions where not many people venture to turn.
Lois and her younger brother grew up west of Monticello. Following high school, she went to Bethel College in St. Paul for two years. Since Bethel did not have an elementary education program then, she transferred to St. Cloud State University and graduated in 1960.
She completed her student teaching at Annandale and went back there for her first job, staying for three years. But God was calling her to something beyond that.
“My personal relationship with Jesus Christ started when I was 13,” she said. “When I was 15, I dedicated my life to mission service – wherever God wanted me to go.”
She went to St. Paul Bible College (now Crown College in St. Bonifacius) for one year and then to a language school in Costa Rica for a year to learn Spanish. Then she became a missionary teacher for the Christian and Mission Alliance.
Lois’ next step took her to Quito, Ecuador, where she lived and taught from January 1965 until June 2004 at the Alliance Academy. She taught fifth-grade for two years, sixth-grade for 19 years and spent the remaining years there in the elementary library. She greatly enjoyed putting together themes for the library, including colors, time and a “cow-opolis” theme.
Lois’ education didn’t end before she went to Quito, however. She returned to St. Cloud State for 14 months, earning a master’s degree in elementary education in 1970. She returned to earn a second masters in informational media in 1990.
“During my last five years in Quito, I was asked to start a program for gifted elementary students,” Lois said. “We used the theme ‘STRETCH’ – for Students That Research Explore Test ideas Create Help others.”
Lois enjoyed seeing the ingenuity of the students in the gifted groups. They enjoyed presenting plays, which they did at weekly chapel gatherings.
“One year, the group did a play spread out over five weeks,” said Lois. “They wrote their own play and designed their stage.”
Lois was honored by Crown College at a special event in 2001, where she received an award for Teacher of the Year.
“It’s good how God worked all those things out,” she said. “I had enough frequent flyer miles to come back, and the school gave me 10 days off. It’s always amazing, God’s faithfulness to me.”
There are many seasons in life, and when she retired and returned to Minnesota in 2004, it was only the beginning of a new season – one that has not made allowances for slowing down.
Shortly after getting settled back in Monticello, Lois began substituting for librarians in the Great River Regional Library system. There are 32 branches within the system, and so far, Lois has substituted in 22 of them and visited another. She would like to see every one.
Lois returned to Quito to volunteer at her former school during the winters of 2005-2006 and 2006-2007.
She continues doing a drama presentation that she began in chapel during her years in Quito. She put together a monologue as Fanny Crosby, a woman who wrote more than 8,000 hymns while being blind from shortly after birth.
“I’ve done it 74 times now,” Lois said. “I do it for senior groups, Bible classes and others. In July, I’ll do it for a group of seniors in Litchfield.”
She also participates in drama presentations at Riverside Church in Monticello, performed at Christmas and Easter. She is part of the River City Ramblers, a small choral group, but has not been with them so much recently “because I’ve been so busy with other projects.”
She is a member of the River City Readers, who give half-hour presentations at elementary schools in Big Lake, Monticello, Buffalo and Maple Lake.
“It’s like a reader’s theater,” she said. “Last year we did Queen Midas, who liked chocolate. This year we’re doing Stew Baker and the Elves, except that Stew was very lazy.”
Lois also spends time with her brother’s family, which includes four nephews, 10 great-nephews and two great-great-nephews. She and one of her nephews regularly fish together.
“I just like to get out on the lake,” she said.
One of the most satisfying things of later years has been seeing how her students’ lives have progressed.
“One of the girls in my first fifth-grade class in Quito went with her husband as missionaries to Columbia, Argentina and now Spain,” Lois said. “Last October I went to Spain to visit her. I also visited a former sixth-grade student who is also a missionary in Spain.”
Lois travelled to Israel in 1995 for three weeks for a course called “Geography and History of the Bible.” She returned to Israel in 2010 for a 10-day trip.
“When I hear the hymn, I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked – that’s how I feel, just knowing I was there in the land where he had been,” she said.
She visited a kibbutz on the shore of Lake Galilee, where she sat on a rock and read from the Gospels.
“In the Elah Valley, the professor told us to pick up a rock that David might have used in his sling,” she said. “When reading Scripture now, I can visualize where that is.”
Lois was gratified to learn that a cousin was commissioned for service as a missionary, and received an email from a former Annandale student who had been at the ceremony.
“Now I’m on Facebook and sometimes touch base with former students,” she said. “It’s exciting to see them in all sorts of different places.”
Lois doesn’t give much consideration to advancing years. When asked her age, she replies, “veinte y pico,” which means “20 and a little bit more.” Although she hasn’t let the years slow her down much, Lois has had to cut back on her biking.
For a number of years, she biked about 1,000 miles a year. While biking to work in Monticello a while back, and balancing a bag of books, she was in an accident. She had surgery on a knee and had a piece of metal put in.
“I had never been in the hospital before in my life,” she said.
She weathered an 18-day infection and came out of it smiling and full of life.
“I had fun even there,” she said. “There was a picture on the wall of people biking. I decided I was going to be the unofficial ‘smile-a-lyzer’ and sang a song about smiling. I like to have fun, whatever I do.”
Her smile and positive attitude was so infectious that Lois’ doctor brought in his 4-year-old daughter so Lois could teach her the song.
Lois is a member of the Monticello Bike Club. In 2014, she worked her way back up to 470 miles for the year.
Her cow collection has provided much more fun in her life, both for her and for those who know her. The collection began back in Costa Rica during a Spanish conversation class, and grew from there.
“The teacher asked about the color of cows’ eyes and cows got to be a funny thing,” she said. “I got the first cow from the secretary of the language school.”
There were more than 400 cows in her collection in Ecuador, but she just couldn’t bring every one of them back.
Lois Hultberg enjoys reading to students in local schools. She is pictured here reading to first-graders at Pinewood Elementary in Monticello.
“I set them out and asked people to take a cow and pray for me,” she said. “Now, there are cows sitting all over my house. Sometimes I’m told, ‘When I see a cow, I think of you.’”
Part of Lois’ enthusiastic outlook on life goes back to a conference she attended during her very first year of teaching.
“The speaker said, ‘One who dares to teach must never cease to learn,’” she said. “Teaching is a partnership between God and me. He gives me the ideas and the strength to carry them out. My definition of a teacher is ‘hungry to learn and thirsty to share.’”
Not only does Lois still keep her teaching license current, she has never stopped learning whatever God brings her way.