OMAHA (Duchesne Academy) – She was nearly 20 years into her teaching career but Martha Heck felt something was now missing. She loved her students at Elkhorn High School, but the job just wasn’t the same since leaving Cathedral High two years earlier following its closure. When she saw an opening for an English teacher at Duchesne Academy in the summer of 1996, she felt called to apply.
“The minute I walked through the doors at portry, my life changed,” she said.
After 25 years of teaching and serving as Dean of Students at Duchesne, Heck will retire at the end of this school year.
Heck says she feels this is a natural time to step away and allow a new person to serve as Dean. She plans to take time for herself and spend time with family and friends.
“I will miss the hundreds of students, colleagues, and parents who have immeasurably impacted my life,” she said.
Heck says she felt a connection almost instantly with her students and the school’s mission and Sacred Heart foundation.
“I had never taught in an all-girls school, she said. “I loved the openness and confidence that the young women exhibited in this environment. I was pleasantly surprised at how willing and eager they were to learn.”
Colleagues quickly recognized Heck’s passion for her students and her work.
“Duchesne has been fortunate to have had Martha working and teaching here for 25 years. She models our values every day and I know that I and all our colleagues have become better educators by following her example,” said Head of School Meg Brudney.
Dr. Laura Hickman, Duchesne’s Principal, remembers Heck’s first years at Duchesne, working as fellow teachers.
“Her gentle presence and love of literature made her an instant favorite among students,” said Principal Dr. Laura Hickman.
Soon, Heck earned a reputation as a firm but loving role model.
“One time, I heard of her calling a student to apologize for them not feeling loved and respected by our community at Duchesne. She does truly care and that she wants to do her job to the best of her ability to ensure that all students feel loved and supported by not only their peers, but their whole community at Duchesne,” said Caroline Ortman, A20.
After leaving the classroom for the Dean’s office, Heck found new ways to connect with students. She serves as the Student Council moderator and often chaperones student trips.
“I have been able to go to places such as Uganda, France, Italy, New Orleans and other cities within the Network,” she said.
Of course, when Heck leaves so will Frannie, her goldendoodle who accompanies her to work. She began bringing her dog into school as a way to help students relax. Now, Frannie is as much a fixture at Duchesne as Heck. They both hope to visit often.
“I love Frannie. She’s the perfect thing when you’re having a bad day, just stop by and she’s happy to see you,” said Marissa Brown, A22.
Heck was raised in Council Bluffs and attended St. Albert High School before earning her bachelor’s degree from the College of Saint Mary. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She says she is a product of Catholic education believes in what it provides to children beyond regular subject matter.
“Catholic education is important to me because the teachings of Jesus, St. Madeleine Sophie and Rose Philippine inform everything that we do. We can, without any reservations, teach our young women to model Jesus and these amazing women. We can teach that ‘Love is our mission,’” Heck said.
Hickman believes Heck’s commitment to being an example of living the Sacred Heart goals and teaching with a loving heart will be her legacy at Duchesne.
Heck keeps a quote of Madeleine Sophie on her desk that reminds her “to never correct the children when out of humor or impatient; soften your reprimands with kind words; win them by an appeal to their piety.”
“This, in short, has been Martha’s impact. She has taught as Sophie taught and loved as Sofie loved,” said Hickman.
Enforcing rules can sometimes make someone feel isolated and Heck acknowledged those feelings in a farewell message to teachers and staff, but she says she found strength in Duchesne’s mission.
“Some of those days also brought anxiety, frustration, sorrow, and worry, but they were all part of teaching young women about the world and their bright futures. I cannot think of anywhere else that I would want to spend my days, and I thank all of you for that.”