Jim Oloff has been a teacher at Hope Lutheran School for longer than the building has existed.
When he first moved to Idaho Falls in 1979, the church was located on 17th Street. The church relocated to its current building on 12th Street a year later and Oloff was there for the dedication.
Oloff retired from teaching at Hope Lutheran School at the end of last week after a 46-year teaching career, 41 years of which were spent in Idaho Falls. As the teacher for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Hope Lutheran, Oloff was one of three full-time teachers at the school and one of six in total.
“Students’ needs have not changed. How we meet those needs has changed, but they still need to be listened to and loved and (to) experience forgiveness,” Oloff said.
Oloff had bounced around the Midwest for years before arriving at Hope Lutheran Church. He grew up in Iowa, went to a Lutheran college in Missouri and started his teaching career with a church in Wisconsin. When the opening for a teacher in Idaho Falls came up, Oloff was sent out to fill the role and soon committed to living in the city.
David Roth was born soon after Oloff started teaching at Hope Lutheran Church and grew up attending the church. He and his sisters had all been Oloff’s students during elementary school, but now Roth works with him as the school’s office manager.
“I’ve known him my entire life and I still call him Mr. Oloff,” Roth said.
Not all of the students in Hope Lutheran School’s kindergarten through sixth grade program attended the church. Some families belonged to other denominations but still wanted to find a religious school in the city, while others just wanted a school with smaller classes. The school’s lessons are kept at or above the expected curriculum for public schools in Idaho.
The basement of the church is under construction, so Oloff’s class of eight students was moved to the balcony overlooking the sanctuary for the last three years. Stained glass windows shine light onto the rows of empty desks and the scattered school supplies.
Oloff taught every subject except for music, so the makeshift classroom is filled with maps and notebooks, flashcards for math lessons and basic laptops. He had started using the laptops and smartboards more often in the class but has been careful not to change the lessons too much from the way they used to be.
“They’re a good tool, but you have to be careful because you can be overly dependent on that,” Oloff said.
Oloff said he didn’t have a favorite subject to teach. He was more focused on the students’ overall learning experience in the classroom.
“Probably the best thing in education is to impress in students the desire to learn so that they’ll become lifelong thinkers and readers,” Oloff said.
He also oversaw the gym classes, with students playing soccer against another Lutheran school in Pocatello in the fall and running track in the spring, and took the students to Yellowstone National Park through the Expedition Yellowstone program.
Hope Lutheran School has already lined up Oloff’s replacement, who signed his contract with the school in the last few days. Roth said it would be tough for the new teacher to fill the role that Oloff had come to embody in the church.
“He was a stern and stable influence on all of the lives of the students who went to school here,” Roth said.
Oloff said he planned to retire in Idaho Falls and continue attending the church as a regular member.