Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms.
Ann Hollenback has certainly made a difference in the lives of the countless students she has taught the subject to.
“As a biologist, I feel teaching is like planting seeds,” she said. “You give students as much as you can and hope that within their life it develops into something that helps make them better people.”
That has been Mrs. Hollenback’s mission during her decorated career as an educator. This past school year marked her 60th and final year of teaching students the lessons of life through biology.
There was so much more than science that emanated from Room 208 for the past 30 years at Notre Dame Academy. The stories she shared and made were ultimately what resonated most with her legion of pupils, many of whom went on to become doctors, nurses, veterinarians and other professionals in various fields. Most importantly, they all walked out of Mrs. Hollenback’s classroom prepared to face the challenges life presents.
“The older I got, the more stories I got,” she said. “I found I had to delete some stories along the way in order to get in all the information I needed to. That’s how I teach. I picked it up from Father (Anselm) Kief, who was my mentor at St. Norbert. He wove in a lot of stories in teaching biology.”
Mrs. Hollenback’s own story is one of a pioneer. She grew up in Bear Creek as the oldest of six children. Her father was the village doctor and her mother was a nurse. She said, “My dad’s office was attached to our house and one room of that complex was a drug room. Can you imagine in this day and age having all sorts of drugs in your house?”
After seeing the challenges the medical profession presents firsthand, Mrs. Hollenback set out to carve her own path in becoming one of the first females to enroll at St. Norbert College in 1952. She went on to obtain her Master’s degree at UW-Madison before returning to the area to teach at St. Norbert and UW-Green Bay.
Following eight years of teaching seventh and eighth grade at St. Boniface in De Pere, Mrs. Hollenback landed at St. Joseph Academy in 1980 to begin a 40-year tenure as a high school biology teacher. She loved every minute of it.
At SJA, she took photos of the school’s sports teams and kept the scorebook for the basketball team. She would continue to keep the scorebook for the NDA girls basketball team up until a few years ago. Besides teaching, cooking was another passion for her. Mrs. Hollenback enjoyed making a meal for new teachers before the school year and was known for her famous scotcharoos, which she made for a class that received all A’s and B’s on a test.
Doing so was not easy since her classes were considered to be among the toughest at NDA. Just like the makeup of her DNA model assignment, the difficulty of her classes was by design. It became commonplace for Mrs. Hollenback to regularly hear from recent graduates that their college courses were a breeze thanks to her.
“Those are the things I like to hear,” she said. “That was a definite plan on my part to try to do that for them. It makes me feel good when I get confirmation of it from various places.”
No matter where she was at in the building, Mrs. Hollenback’s smile and laugh was infectious to students and colleagues alike. She valued everyone’s role at school and treated others with respect. Words can’t begin to describe how much her presence will be missed at NDA.
However, a great teacher never stops teaching. At some point their career may come to an end, but the lessons they taught will continued to get passed down by their students for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
Given how deep the roots are, and how many branches her teaching tree has produced, Mrs. Hollenback’s stories will continue to inspire and help plant the seeds somewhere in the world for the next group of young professionals.
That love for life and teaching never ends. It only continues to grow.