Career change was a leap of faith

By Amanda Lauer | For The Compass | January 14, 2015

‘This is where God needs me to be,’ says salesman-turned-teacher

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]LITTLE CHUTE — Lee Vanevenhoven took a leap of faith this year and changed careers. After more than 20 years in the world of business, he began a second career last fall as a Catholic school teacher.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Lee Vanevenhovenj (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)
Your Catholic Neighbor: Lee Vanevenhovenj (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

“I heard the call, I followed through on the call and I trusted that God would find a place for me.”

Growing up in Appleton, Vanevenhoven went to grade school at St. Pius X and then a public middle school and high school. He got a degree in history and education from Lawrence University.

“I couldn’t find anything in teaching at the time so I pursued a business career,” he said. His career took him to Philadelphia, where he was a salesman, before returning home to Wisconsin. He and his wife, Tonya, have four children, now ages 18 to 25.

After the family moved back to the Fox Valley, Vanevenhoven went into the family business, Northside True Value Hardware in Appleton, which had been started by his great uncle. His first day of work at the hardware store was April 15, 1994, and 20 years later to the day he left the business to go into teaching.

That shift had been years in the making.

“Because I had been out of the teaching field for quite a while, I started to get this urge to try to find some kind of an outlet to teach,” he said. “I was asked by someone in the parish if I’d be interested in teaching religious education, so I did. I taught ninth grade for a few years and then went up to 10th grade.”

He’s now in his 13th year of volunteering in that program.

“As I progressed through my business career, although successful, the hours were very, very long and the work was strenuous physically and otherwise,” recalled Vanevenhoven. “My wife and I sat down two years ago to make a list of what was joyful in our lives. As we worked through that list, one of the things that kept resonating on my side was the religious education component. Being able to teach and being engaged with young Catholics on their journey was wonderful. My wife said to me many times that I was a different person when I came home from teaching. I was peaceful, I was centered, I was joyful. That was my big prompt.”

In the spring of 2014, Vanevenhoven went back to Lawrence University to get his teaching license reestablished. His wife was teaching kindergarten at St. John’s. “I never had any inclination of teaching with my spouse or in my home parish but there was an opening. I thought, ‘What great practice it would be to get all my information together, send it out and see what happens,’” he said. “Two days before my interview, we hired a new principal, Sarah Muraski. So I walked into the interview and we just hit it off. I let her know that I was being called by God to do this. I couldn’t imagine teaching in any other environment than a Catholic school.”

He was offered the full-time position as a learning specialist. “I work with children, kindergarten through fifth grade, who are having difficulty reading and I work with the older kids who are more advanced in subjects like math and science and social studies that need more challenges.”

According to Vanevenhoven, St. John’s is an amazing place to work.

“The staff is outstanding,” he said. “The positivity in this building is absolutely infectious. I get to share my love of Christ on a daily basis. I think one of the roles of teaching in this environment is to show kids that they’re made in the image of God and they’ve been endowed with gifts — all different, all special, all wonderful.”

He said a teacher’s role is to point students in the right direction necessary for them to grow and to help them realize and hone their skills to become effective disciples.

“I think you have a responsibility to use the skills that you’ve been given as a free gift,” explained Vanevenhoven. “You have a responsibility to train yourself to use them better. If we can impart that to children in our faith I think that is a major part of our responsibility as Catholic educators.”

Vanevenhoven said he receives untold blessings each day through teaching.

“I truly believe that this is where God needs me to be today. The blessings are continuous,” he said. “It’s so gratifying to be in this environment and to be able to do good work and do it for the right reasons.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info” style=”rounded”]Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Lee Vanevenhoven

Parish: St. John Nepomucene, Little Chute

Age: 46

Favorite saint: Michael the Archangel

Words to live by: “Education is the movement from darkness to light.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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