- Associated Press - Sunday, April 9, 2017

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) - Identical twins Sharon Needham and Karen Vick are close. In fact, the whole family is.

The twins, their older brother and younger sister have grown up and started families of their own, but they continue to share meals, vacations - and their career field. All four children became educators.

Karen said their parents might have had an influence on them.

“We would be the first generation to go to college in our family, so their value of education, I think, made us understand how valuable education is,” she said. “In our roles now, we can pass that on, or have passed it on, to lots of kids.”

Sharon thinks the family’s religious values also contributed to their decisions to become teachers.

“I think part of it has to do with being brought up in a family with strong ties to the Catholic faith, and this is really a way that you serve the church - in educating the next generation of Catholics,” Sharon said.

The eldest child worked at Forest Park Community College, and the youngest is a teacher at Gibault Catholic High School today.

Sharon and Karen, both 65 years old, actually work at the same school: Our Lady Queen of Peace in Belleville. Sharon is the principal, and Karen is a social studies teacher.

They’ll retire together at the end of the school year. But that’s far from the first thing they’ve done together: the pair got their first classroom experiences as student teachers at the same school and attended the same college before that, though their majors were different.

Karen’s bachelor’s degree from Saint Louis University is in history. She’s known since she was young that she wanted to become a social studies teacher. She was inspired, in part, by a teacher from her childhood.

“And you have to remember, back when we went to college, there weren’t the unlimited possibilities for jobs that girls have now,” Karen said. But she has no regrets about going into education.

“Oh, no, not at all,” Karen said.

Sharon has a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She dreamed of becoming a school counselor - but that was before she stepped in front of her first class of students.

“I got hooked,” she said. “After I got in the classroom, I decided that’s really where I wanted to be and so I stayed there.”

For Karen, it was a fourth-grade teacher who sparked her interest in education. For Sharon, it was being a fourth-grade teacher.

Though the twins’ lives have been intersecting for decades, it wasn’t always intentional.

They decided to go to the same college simply because it made sense for each of them: Karen and Sharon received financial aid from what they considered a good, Catholic school that was close enough to the small grocery store their parents owned that they could work there part-time.

“The pieces kind of fell together and made it a good choice for both of us,” Karen said.

They haven’t always worked at the same school either. In 1973, Sharon got her first job at St. Henry’s Catholic School, which later closed due to a decline in enrollment. After that, she started putting her resume out to schools in the area, including Queen of Peace, where Karen got her first job.

But Sharon said she wasn’t drawn there by her sister.

“I was really just generally looking for a job,” she said.

Many of the children from St. Henry’s were choosing to attend Queen of Peace, Sharon said, so in 2005, school officials offered her a job as assistant principal to help those familiar with her from St. Henry’s transition easier.

For the past 12 years, Sharon said she’s seen Karen at school about as much as she has any other teacher. But they like to spend time together outside of school going to dinners or baseball and hockey games.

The twins are planning at least two trips to take together after they retire: to Texas and Minnesota.

In San Antonio, they’ll visit sights like The Alamo for Karen, ever the fan of history. And because of their shared love of baseball, they’ll head to Minneapolis’ Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.

“It’s an exciting time because it’s a new adventure, a new stage in life,” Karen said of retirement. “But there’s also the sadness of leaving all the families and the teachers behind, so it’s mixed feelings, I’d say.”

Sharon agreed it will be bittersweet to leave the school.

“… You become connected to the people here like you are connected to your family and so that is kind of hard,” she said.

Karen and Sharon both said the memories they cherish from Our Lady Queen of Peace are of seeing their students grow into adults, sometimes returning to the school as parents.

“You rarely get to see the results of the seeds you plant as a teacher, so that is always a wonderful moment for me,” Sharon said.

Children and families will still see the twins around even after they retire; they plan to stay involved in the church. Sharon will continue to work on committees, and Karen will start a part-time job helping adults with religious education at Queen of Peace and its partner, Blessed Sacrament.


Source: Belleville News-Democrat, https://bit.ly/2mAjEXu


Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, https://www.bnd.com

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