Heelan teacher reflects on more than half-a-century in the classroom | Local Lifestyles
SIOUX CITY — They call him “Coach” Burchard or sometimes simply “Burch,” but faculty members as well as past and present students have been stopping by Brendan Burchard’s theology classroom with increasing frequency as of late.
They want to share stories or just say thank you before the veteran teacher retires from Bishop Heelan Catholic High School on May 27, after a record-breaking 53 years.
Yes, you read that right.
Burchard began his Heelan career in 1969, the same year that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and “The Brady Bunch” premiered on TV.
“My time at Heelan actually started earlier than that,” he explained. “I’m a 1960 Heelan High School grad who then graduated from Morningside College (now University). I taught at Briar Cliff for a few years before coming back to Heelan.”
During his time at the school, Burchard has taught physical education, world history, religion and, even for a while, typing.
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In addition, he coached the Crusaders football, track and wrestling teams for 42 years.
Along the way, Burchard has established friendships that will last a lifetime.
“Recently, I had a student who told me I was a classmate of her great-grandma,” he said with a chuckle followed by a slight groan. “If that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will.”
At age 80, Burchard remains extremely disciplined when it comes to his health. He lift weights and swims a mile every day.
“I’m one of those guys you see at the Y at 5:30 in the morning,” he explained. “I get the swim in early and before attending daily Mass. Then, I head to the classroom.”
Burchard needed to stay in shape to keep up with his wife Martha.
“Martha worked at Mercy Health Center for 42 years before she retired,” he said. “Since then, Martha has volunteered on pretty much every board and is busier now than ever.”
If the Burchards aren’t working, they’re spending time with their family that includes six children and 17 grandchildren.
Plus, Burchard actually has that “second” family to occupy his time.
“I’ve always considered Heelan to be my home away and the people who’ve come and gone have also been family to me,” he said, smiling.
This includes the former high school football players whom Burchard continue to see decades after graduation.
“It means a lot to me when my students become my friends,” he said. “It’s special when you can share a Guinness with them, years later, and still have that connection.”
Past and present students knew where they could find Burchard — at many Crusaders sporting events.
“When we were at ‘The Pit’ (Heelan’s former gymnasium), I had a favorite spot to stand,” Burchard explained. “Before they tore the old gym down, they saved a piece of the hardwood floor and gave it to me as a gift.”
With games played in the new O’Gorman Fieldhouse, Burchard now sits in a chair he carries from his classroom.
“To be honest, I think I prefer standing because I could make a faster getaway,” he said. “When I sit, people stop by and talk to me and never leave. I end up missing most of the game.”
Even after retirement, Burchard promises to be a regular spectator.
After all, once a Crusader, always a Crusader.
Entering his final week as an educator, Burchard said he doesn’t worry about getting a sudden case of “senior-itis.”
“I don’t think teachers get ‘senior-itis,’ because the end of the school year is so busy for us,” he noted.
Having said that, Burchard is becoming accustomed to unexpected visitors seeking some last-minute counsel from their former coach.
“People ask me what I’ll miss about Heelan,” he said. “Well, I won’t miss all of the department meetings and I won’t miss having to learn about new technology and stuff.”
However, Burchard said he will miss his colleagues the most.
“I have been fortunate to work with so many people that I both like and respect,” he said.
“I’m sure everyone will think this is crazy but I’ll even miss being around 17-year-old kids on a daily basis,” he said toward the end of the school day. “They may cause a lot of drama. Still, the kids have been a big part of my life for the past 53 years.”