SPARTA, NJ – In 58 years, teacher/maintenance man/carpenter Christopher Pedersen has seen and created history in Sparta and the Sparta schools.  On Thursday, July 30 with his family looking on, Pedersen was honored for his service to the students, staff and residents of Sparta.

“I was always proud of being a Sparta teacher,” Pedersen said. “The emphasis on education in this community was great right from the beginning.” 

He said when he started, out of approximately 50 teachers, there were “four faculty members who were Ivy League graduates” and many of the teachers came from Bergen County.

Sign Up for Sparta Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney presented a Certificate of Achievement as recognition of the retirement after first presenting his wife May Pedersen with a bouquet of flowers for having helped “lead the charge for 58 years.”

Pedersen began his career as a teacher at the Sparta Junior High, when it was held in the Mohawk Avenue School before becoming Sparta Middle School in the current building.  After 38 years he retired as a teacher and “he loved the district so much, the next day he started in maintenance and he’s been there ever since,” according to McQueeney.   

When he first started as a teacher in 1962 Pedersen said he “took home about $75 a week, about $4,400 a year.” However, because he had been in the ROTC the superintendent at the time Dr. Hall gave him an additional stipend of $200 brining the total annual salary to $4,600, Peterson said.

“I’m so thankful to the town of Sparta for providing for my family,” Peterson said.

Over the years he was frequently commended for his outstanding attendance and awarded the Governor’s Teacher Award in 1988 according to McQueeney. 

McQueeney mentioned the infamous “wildflower project” that had students "and their mothers running around all summer long to get these wildflowers to put them in your book.”  That was a project that “touched a lot of people” McQueeney said.

Outside of the classroom, Pedersen worked with students serving as the Outdoor Education advisor and advisor of intramural football and basketball programs and interscholastic advisor for track according to McQueeney.

Pedersen shared a few glimpses of reality from nearly six decades ago.  He said people might be “surprised to know if you had a last name ended with a vowel and you were from a Mediterranean country you could not own property in Lake Mohawk until around 1965. That was what the situation was.”

He said that practice has disappeared along with several of the daily morning exercised that began each school day.  Pedersen explained each day would begin with reading from the bible “usually a Psalm” followed by the Lord’s Prayer, with the Protestants and Catholics each reciting their own ending.  Then there was the salute of the flag.   

In those early years Byram and Hopatcong students attends the Sparta schools, Pedersen said. 

Teachers were required to wear a suit and tie every day.  “You had to do it,” he said.

When he hung up his suit and tie and donned the uniform of a carpenter in 2000, Pedersen’s first project was to construct the board of education offices in Mohawk Avenue School.  Photographs of Pedersen working on that project hangs in the Director of Building and Grounds Chris Tappan’s office as a reminder of his contribution, McQueeney said.

“I was always proud of being a Sparta teacher,” Pedersen said. “The emphasis on education in this community was great right from the beginning.” 

He said when he started, out of approximately 50 teachers, there were “four faculty members who were Ivy League graduates” and many of the teachers came from Bergen County.

In closing Pedersen spoke of his family, some of whom were in the audience.

“My wife was always proud of me for being a teacher and always supported me,” Pedersen said. He said his daughter is a “summa cum laude graduate from Virginia Tech” and is now an architect.

Teaching appears to be the family business.  Pedersen’s son has been a teacher in Vernon for 27 years.  His granddaughter is at The College of New Jersey studying to be a teacher and his grandson is at Liberty University also pursuing a degree in teaching. 

Another grandson currently working at Selective Insurance, “is in the running to become a New Jersey State Trooper.”

“So that’s the history of me and my family and my experience here in Sparta for which I am very thankful to the community and proud to have contributed,” Pedersen said to a warm ovation.