Lasting impact

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After 40 years in education, John Land has decided to retire

Since Hazel Dell Elementary School, 3025 Westfield Rd., opened in 1989, John Land has greeted students outside each morning, inspired his staff and overseen the growth and success of the school. After 25 years, Land has decided it is time to retire at the end of this school year.

“My 25 years here have been wonderful. I’m not sad; I’m glad,” he said. Land has been an educator ever since he was 21.

“I started teaching out of college. For 40 years kids have always been a part of my life,” he said.

A proud Miller

Land has lived in Noblesville all his life with the exception of five years when he attended Ball State University and taught for Muncie Schools.  He credits his siblings and third-grade teacher at Forest Hill for becoming an educator.

“They instilled in me that desire to be a teacher,” he said. “I have two older brothers and a sister that all got into education.”

An offer to fill an open teaching position from Stony Creek Elementary Principal Everett Lathan brought Land home.

“I started in Muncie, got the phone call and it was an easy decision,” he said. “I loved Noblesville ever since I was in high school. It’s a great place for me.”

With his son, Erik, Land can be seen at a variety of school, district and community events.

“As a principal, I think it is important to be available to the public and let the kids see you out there doing the same things they are doing,” he said. “I think they are excited I have a life outside of school.”

Creating a tradition

In 1986, Land was given the opportunity to become principal of Conner Elementary, following Vernon Thornburg. He closed Conner in 1989 and opened Hazel Dell the same year.

“It was out in the middle of nowhere. Some public members felt it was a bad choice but it didn’t take long for Pebble Brook and other subdivisions to come in,” he said.

Opening a new building provided Land an opportunity to blend staffs and children together and create new traditions, which are still treasured by students and staff.

“We’ve created some nice traditions here – Christmas program, May Pole, Hawkamania, Veterans Day program, Camp Tecumseh,” he said. “The outgoing fifth grade class photo hangs on the wall. These kids will come back and one of the first things they go to is that wall.”

Susan King, first-grade teacher, knew Land when he was a teacher at Stony Creek and now serves on his staff.

“The traditions he’s instilled in the school make it a family environment. Everyone feels like it is home,” she said. “He really brought a school together with people from a variety of other schools.”

A strong leader

“I think Hazel Dell is Mr. Land. He’s been here since the start. It’s one in the same. When you think of Hazel Dell you think of Mr. Land with the culture in the school, the strong staff and success he’s had here,” said Donna Clark, school board member and Hazel Dell parent. “He’s beloved by everybody – students, staff, parents and PTO. They just love him.”

Clark described Land as “a very welcoming principal.”

“As a parent, I always felt welcomed. He welcomes parent participation and parent support,” she said. “It’s about the children and that comes from his leadership. Hazel Dell is a very strong school and he sets the tone.”

Hazel Dell Kindergarten teacher Susan Julian started her teaching career under Land at Conner Elementary. She taught there for two years before coming to Hazel Dell. Like Land, she is retiring at the end of the year.

“He’s just a wonderful person to work for. He’s very child oriented and always has teachers’ interest at heart. He’s a privilege to work for. I can’t imagine working for anyone else,” she said.

“He knows every child by their first name and where every child lives,” Lisa Eaton, special education teacher, said. “He just amazes me. He’s like a father; he trusts our judgments and he’d be someone I never want to disappoint.”

Parents said Land has provided a solid foundation for their children.

“He’s been wonderful,” said Melinda Miller, parent of a third-grade student. “It was bound to happen at some point. I’m sad it happened halfway through her time here.”

“There have been some good times and some bad times and I think he was needed in all of the above,” said Ginger Valentine, Hazel Dell parent. “We are very glad to have him as a special person in their school.”

What’s next?

Land and his wife, Carol, who also is retiring from Noblesville Schools after 40 years as a speech pathologist, plan to enjoy life with family and friends.

“I’ll definitely miss being around the kids and teachers. They’ve been a big part all my life,” he said. “I really don’t have any regrets about retirement. I think it’s time. I had 40 great years and my wife and I are ready to start a new venture.”

Land said his daughter and grandson live in Colorado and his family is looking to relocate to the area to be closer to them.

“We want to share the fun things in life with our grandson. It’s easier for us to move there than expect them to move here. It’ll be in a year or two. We’re not going to do anything right away,” he said.

By the numbers

1971 – Land graduated from Noblesville High School

1974 – Graduated from Ball State University

2 – Years he worked for Muncie Schools

1976 – Returned to Noblesville to teach at Stony Creek Elementary

10 – Years he worked at Stony Creek teaching all grades with the exception of kindergarten and fifth grade from 1976 to 1986.

3 – Years principal at Conner Elementary before it closed in 1989.

1 – First and only principal Hazel Dell since it opened 25 years ago in 1989.

Media Center Dedication

Meet John Land

Age: 60

Hometown/residence: Noblesville

Family: Wife, Carol; son, Erik; daughter, Keri; and grandson, Easton.

Hobbies: Gardening and working outside, cheering on the Millers, assisting the 4-H program and collecting ABC books. “I thought there were 50 to 100 because how many times can you write about ABC’s? I have more than 300 at home,” he said. “I’d like to write an ABC book if time permits.”

Favorite book to read to students: “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” is a tradition. “On the last day before winter break, we gather in the cafeteria, sing carols and I always read ‘‘Twas the Night before Christmas.’”

Greatest achievement in education: “It’s nice to receive those awards because it validates you’re doing a good job and I feel that’s important but I also think it comes down to the little things – the day-to-day things we do for kids. Some things you cannot measure.”

Personal quote: “Don’t be sad it’s over. Be happy it happened.” Land said he told his daughter that when her college soccer career ended. “I know it’s sad, but I think it’s important to look on the other side because we had the opportunity to do these things,” he said.

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