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Delafield Neighbors

Leah Oates Continues Family Teaching Legacy

May 24, 2014 02:11PM ● By Laura Ustanovska

Photo by Heart & Soul Photography

“I have always known that I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher,” says Leah Oates, who, with the exception of her first year as a teacher, has spent her entire career at Cushing Elementary School - Delafield, WI. “When I was in elementary school, my brother and I would ride the Badger Bus into Milwaukee (by ourselves!) to visit our grandparents. My grandma was a kindergarten teacher in Oak Creek. While visiting, I would sometimes go with her on the weekends to 'help' her get things ready for the week at her school. While she was busy getting things ready, I would play school.”

“My mom started college when I was in sixth grade,” continues Leah. “She majored in elementary education at UW-Whitewater and got a job teaching first grade. I loved helping her correct papers and often went to school with her on the weekends to get things ready for the week. She has taught kindergarten, first, second and third grades throughout her career – all at Purdy Elementary School in Fort Atkinson. Both my mom and grandma were great role models for me. My mom graduated from grad school the same year I graduated with my undergrad degree – both from UW-Whitewater. We were on the cover of The Royal Purple, the campus newspaper, together.”

UW-Whitewater is also where Leah met her husband, Harvey, on a blind date! Harvey studied marketing and began working at LEESON Electric Corporation in Grafton after graduation. “He was in international sales,” reports Leah. “We like to say we have friends all over the world; many of those 'friends' also came to visit us. When Emily (23) and Erin (21) were younger, we went to the pumpkin farm every year. One year, Harv had a customer from England visiting; rather than have him spend his Saturday in the hotel room, we invited him along with us to the pumpkin farm. He had so much fun that day that he scheduled his yearly visits to the States to coincide with the annual trip to the pumpkin farm. We have hosted the children of several of Harv's customers for weeks or months at a time.” Harvey now works in industrial sales at Rundle-Spence. He splits his time between their three offices in New Berlin, Madison and Fond du Lac.

The Oates family has had the opportunity to see a bit of the world as well. “My favorite trip is when I graduated with my master's degree in 2000,” recalls Leah. “Harv took me on a trip around the 15 days! We flew into Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and from there went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We visited both Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, and were in Sydney during the summer Olympic time trials. In Auckland, New Zealand, I got to spend a day in a school with the wife of one of Harv's customers. We then went to Singapore and Bangkok, Thailand (where the queen arrived in her yellow Bentley to celebrate her birthday at the hotel we were staying at!). It was so incredible to see so many different cultures.”

More recently, the couple flew out to Colorado for a long weekend to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of one of their friends from the neighborhood. “Last fall, we met up with our old neighbors, who had moved to Fort Collins,” relates Leah. “Of the three couples we were with, we are the only ones that still live on our cul-du-sac. We just picked up where we left off. We spent the long weekend between Vail and Breckenridge talking and catching up with each other. It was wonderful!”

The family moved onto that cul-du-sac back in 1999. At that time, Emily was attending Cushing, while Erin was in kindergarten in Wales, where the family lived. Harvey was often traveling, and Leah found it difficult to be involved in two schools at once. “Every time I came into Delafield, I felt this sense of community,” remembers Leah. “Having grown up in Lake Mills, I wanted that same small town feeling for our children. I wanted them to be able to ride their bikes downtown with their friends and get ice cream, and have a neighborhood that was full of lots of kids. I also wanted to live in the same community that I worked in. I had met so many wonderful families here through school; I liked seeing them when I ran to the grocery store and the library. I like having them drop in when they are out riding bikes or walking. So we started looking. It was actually one of my kindergarten moms that found our house for us. She was out riding bike with her kids when she saw the 'for sale by owner' sign up in the yard. I think we had an offer in by the end of the week.”

The activities Harvey and Leah helped out with in the community changed as their daughters aged. “When the girls were little, I was a Girl Scout leader, Harv coached their soccer teams and we were timers during swim meets at the YMCA,” says Leah. “When they got to high school, we were involved in all of their activities. We volunteered with the music department, running the annual Wisconsin School Music Association Solo and Ensemble Festival; we were in charge of the green room during the summer musicals and supported the Kettle Moraine Laser Dance Team.”

“When Emily was a sophomore in high school, she was in the symphonic band,” continues Leah. “They plan and run Breakfast with Santa. She asked Harv if he could put on the red suit. That was nine years ago, and Harv is still putting on the red suit the first Saturday in December. He has so much fun, and I get such joy watching him. It always gets me choked up!”

Emily is now a kindergarten teacher in Lake Mills – at the same elementary school Leah attended. “She is the fourth generation of kindergarten teachers in our family,” states Leah. “It must be in the genes! My parents still live in Lake Mills, and my mom volunteers in Emily's classroom. As a parent, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your grown children do something they enjoy.”

Erin is a junior at UW-Whitewater. She, too, loves working with children but decided on a slightly different path. Erin is majoring in communicative disorders and will go on to receive a graduate degree in speech pathology. During her volunteer hours, you will often find her in either Leah or Emily's classroom.

There are so many things the Oates family loves about living in Delafield. “I drive through the downtown everyday on my way home from school, and it never loses its charm,” says Leah. “My college roommates love to come to Delafield to spend the day – shopping and eating. People think I'm crazy when I tell them you can get a great fish fry from the gas station! Do you know of any other gas stations that cook out on Friday afternoons and have a following of townspeople that get their lunches there? We have a great variety of shops where you can go to get a quick gift or meet over coffee, lunch or dinner. Not too many small towns can boast that kind of variety.”

The things the Leah and Harvey love about their community – its small-town feeling, neighbors getting to know each other and helping one another out, bumping into people you know anywhere you go – are what connects and grounds all of us lucky enough to call this place home.

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