Faces In the Crowd: Julie Gerhard

January 3, 2019

By Aaron Michell

2019 is going to be a big year for Julie Gerhard.
On June 8th, the first weekend of her summer break from teaching, she’ll marry the love of her life, Brett Hastings.
And Ms. Gerhard will become Mrs. Hastings.
But she’ll always be Ms. Julie to her Marion preschool students.
Julie, an ’08 Marion grad, has spent the last two years teaching local children from her preschool classroom at Marion Elementary School. A teacher for Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency, Julie loves her job, and loves her kids.
And she loves her hometown of Marion.
But things haven’t always been easy for Julie. The daughter of Denise Brickheimer and Robert Gerhard, Julie lost her mom – and her best friend – when Denise passed away in 2014.
But she’s become stronger in the years since. And she’s become more selfless – a trait passed down from her mom. And according to Julie, with God’s help, she’s learned to ‘pray and let go.’
Because these days, Julie has a whole lot to look forward to. These days, you can probably find her with her fiancée Brett Hastings, or hanging out with her sister Billie, or brother Damon. When she’s not teaching, she’s more than likely spending time with friends and family, reading a good book, or preparing for a wedding.
We were fortunate to catch up with Julie recently where we talked about her upcoming wedding, her classroom, her family, and her community. We learned that not only is Julie a great teacher, but she’s certainly more than just another face in the crowd.

Julie Gerhard, her mother and best friend, Denise Brickheimer, who passed away in 2014; and Billie Brickheimer Julie’s sister.

Julie Gerhard, her mother and best friend, Denise Brickheimer, who passed away in 2014; and Billie Brickheimer Julie’s sister.

Marion Press: Were you born and raised in Marion? Where’d you grow up?
Julie: I was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and I lived there with my mom and my dad until I was five. [My mom’s] parents moved out to Cadillac – built their own home in ’85 – and they ended up finding my parents jobs. My mom wanted to be closer to her parents, so we moved out and we moved in with them for a little while until my parents got on their feet and had enough money to buy their own home. We lived in Cadillac from ’95 to 2000 – when I was in the fifth grade we moved to Marion.

MP: What was that like – moving to Marion in fifth grade?
Julie: So my first day of school was on Halloween. I showed up to class with no Halloween costume because we had no idea – we didn’t know that there was going to be a class party. I cried! I went home early. My first friend ever in Marion was Tayler [Michell]. We had Mrs. Bogner for a fifth-grade teacher.

MP: What did you enjoy doing as a kid?
Julie: Living in Marion, I used to go for walks; I’d walk through town. We lived right across from the funeral home in that blue house there. We lived right next to the Foster’s.

MP: What did you enjoy doing at school?
Julie: Sports. That’s what got us through. Volleyball was my favorite sport; softball was a close second.

MP: Who were some of the kids you’d hang out with in school?
Julie: I hung out with Kristina Jackson, Heather Stewart, Jeanette Gould, Jessica Heckathorn… Some of the guys: Jerrid Wagenschutz, Jeff Wood, Elliott Wilson, Kameron Cooper. We were a tight-knit group. We made some good memories. I graduated in ’08.

Julie and her fiancee, Brett Hastings.

Julie and her fiancee, Brett Hastings.

MP: And it’s been a whole decade since high school, what have you been up to since?
Julie: I went to college. I went to Baker for teaching; I did my associates and bachelor’s. I double majored – I have a degree for K through 8, and I have a special education endorsement as well.

MP: How long have you been working at Marion?
Julie: This is my second year. Last year was my first year in Marion, and I worked in an agency kind of like ours in Cadillac for two years prior to that. So, I’ve been a preschool teacher for four years all together.

MP: What was it that made you want to teach preschoolers?
Julie: Looking at small children, they’re so moldable, and so easily teachable. Now is their prime years to learn what they need to know to succeed in life, and I want to be that person. I want to be that person where they look back to years prior and say, ‘I really enjoyed preschool.’ That’s if they remember their preschool years – which I don’t remember preschool years! But I do know that some kids do and can remember who they had, and I just hope that I make the best impact as possible for them, moving forward.

MP: Was teaching something that you knew you wanted to get into, growing up?
Julie: Always. Always. My mom bought me a chalkboard one year for Christmas, and she got me a gradebook; she would get me those practice activity books and they would be my students, and I would be the teacher. Ever since I was little – we lived in Cadillac, next to a park – and a lot of the houses in our neighborhood would have children my age and they would come over, and I’d make them be my students. And they’d do it, they were great.
After high school, I didn’t start in the teaching program. My senior year, I took an accounting class and I really loved it. I was really good at it, and so I was like, ‘Yep – that’s what I want to do with my life.’
So I did my first year at Baker, and the only class that was out of my way [for teaching] was the accounting class – so I wasn’t too far off base when I switched over to teaching. I think it was one of my last exams that I was taking, and I was sitting there, and the room was quiet, and I’m thinking: I can’t do this. I’m too sociable. I can’t sit in a room and play with numbers for the rest of my life. I can’t do it. And I used to be a tutor for the other kids in the class, and I really enjoyed it, but I had to tell my professor that I was switching majors. And he cried. He was very sad that I wasn’t pursuing accounting, but I think I made the right choice.

MP: What is your favorite part of teaching? What’s your favorite part of the job?
Julie: Well, if you look at the schedule, my favorite part is free choice. Their creativity, they way they think; the way the world should be to them. It’s just so simple. It’s just there, and that’s how it should be. And sometimes I wish that’s how life really was – just that simple. The simplicity of a four to five year-old – I think the world would get along so much better!

Julie enjoys living in the small community of Marion.

Julie enjoys living in the small community of Marion.

MP: And you have big plans for 2019, you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Julie: My big plan is my wedding. That’s my big plan. I haven’t stressed a lot.

MP: So you’re not a Bridezilla then?
Julie: Nope. And I think Brett would tell you that I’m not a Bridezilla either. We have due dates; we have time limits. I think right now the last thing we have to do is find someone to do our flowers.

MP: How did you and Brett meet?
Julie: We actually met playing slow-pitch softball. We were in a charity tournament – a mutual friend of ours got it together, and we played outfield together. And it was a few weeks after that when he got a ahold of me on Twitter.

MP: On Twitter?! Welcome to the 2000s!
Julie: Yes! He slid into my DMs (Direct Messages) and we started talking, and he asked for my number, and the rest is history!

MP: What do you and Brett like to do for fun?
Julie: We like to travel. Traveling is one of our biggest things, when we have the time and the money to do so. It’s kind of hard to do so during the school year, so we try to travel a lot in the summer time. We like to go to Detroit Tigers games. We’ve had many memories going to Faster Horses in the summer – the three-day country music fest. We really enjoy hanging out with our friends.

MP: What is it about the Marion community that you enjoy the most?
Julie: I love that you know everybody. I really do. I know a lot of people don’t [like that], and I know that a lot of people don’t like other people knowing their business, but when I lived here – just walking down the street – people would know me by my first name, and you just felt so secure. I never once felt like I was in danger here; I never once felt out of place. I had no family here, we moved from Pennsylvania, and I never felt shunned because I didn’t have a last name that fit in, or anything like that. Towns can be cruel sometimes, but I never felt that here.
And I’m so excited that I get to teach here. I love it. I know most of the families. The families that I don’t know are just equally as great as the families I do know. It’s just really cool. Last year I had quite a few people who I went to high school with, I had their children in class.

MP: What is the best advice that you’ve been given? Or words of wisdom that help get you through the day?
Julie: My go-to is to pray and let go. It’s taken me many, many years to form a relationship with God, higher above. After my mom died, I lost a lot of faith. And with teaching, you have to let go – at the end of the day you can’t take it home with you; it will eat you alive. Even life lessons: dealing with friends, dealing with family, dealing with financial issues, dealing with whatever comes your way. Sometimes you’ve just got to pray and let go.

MP: And you were close to your mom? Was she one of your role models?
Julie: Yes, we were very close. She was my best friend.

MP: And she passed in 2014. Was there anything in particular that she showed you, or perhaps inspired you to become who you are today?
Julie: She taught me how to be a genuine person. I’ve been told a lot in my life that I’m a selfless person – I might not necessarily feel that way all the time, but I do hear it a lot. And I think that comes from her.

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