Beloved Ogallala teacher prepares for one final hoorah

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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. -- She doesn't think about it when she walks down the hallways of Ogallala High School. But she knows it's coming, nothing lasts forever.

"(I) really don't have time to think about (retirement)," Kate Diaz said. "It's one of those things that you just go with it. I am sure next August, when I don't have to go back to school, ... it will hit me, but right now it's just another day."

Kate Diaz has been the Speech and Theater Director at Ogallala High School for the past 37 years. In total, her teaching career spans an impressive 42 years.

Her career started in Brule, before the schools there and in Big Springs were consolidated. Diaz said her passion and desire for teaching burns as bright as it ever has. She loves encouraging her students to reach their full-potential.

"High school is a one shot (deal,)" Diaz said. "It (goes by) quick. It flies (by so) fast (that) I want the kids to do as much as they can in one four year period."

Daiz said the smiles and students' success never gets old, but after more than four decades, it's the right time to step away.

"My own kids will tell you that I spend more time with my students than I do with them," Diaz said with a chuckle. "I mean it has always been a joke. (My kids know) if they want to find mom, they are going to find her at school."

During the school year, Diaz spends her time running and organizing speech meets. During a meet, the students perform a rehearsed speech in front of a set of judges.

"I always (attribute) my students' success (to their desire) to work for it," Diaz said. "Anything we get is because the students worked hard for it. You know, I'm just the person that pushes them along."

A lot of Daiz's former students come back to see her and say, "hello". They credit her with teaching them "how to be fearless" and building up their confidence.

"Kate has always been an inspiration," former student Sarah Hall Mann explained. "She was a wonderful teacher, both inside the classroom and outside the classroom. I was one of her drama and speech participants. She was inspiring (and) encouraging. She really acted like she cared and was your friend. She was very genuine."

Hall Mann added that she carries with her the life lessons she learned in Diaz's class.

"The things I learned from her," Hall Mann said. "Both in the classroom and outside the classroom, are skills I still used today.

Another former student, Susan Krab, has similar memories. Krab couldn't help but smile when rattling off a list of adjectives to describe Diaz.

"(She is) intense, focused, caring, demanding," Krab explained. "She's just a force of nature. She is definitely an icon of speech."

Krab and Hall Mann cherish the relationship they have with Diaz, They use a similar phrase, repeated almost verbatim, to describe it.

"Kate is one of those people that cares about you forever," Hall Mann said as she could not hold back her exuberant smile. "Once you're one of her babies, you're one of her babies for life."

Daiz said walking away after many, many years is very hard. However, she is proud of the job she has done. She has no regrets.

"I have no regrets," Diaz said fighting back tears. "It's been very difficult to give up, but (I'm) turning 65 (and that) was my pivotal point of saying goodbye."