Current Location: Milan, IL
Current Role: Preschool Teacher
Nominated By: Ben Bruster
Reason for Nomination: Every so often, I meet someone I feel compelled to get to know better. Often, I feel this way because of their cheerful smile, commanding kindness, peaceful aura, or some other magnetic quality. Whatever the reason(s), as I become familiar with this person and their character, I realize how much of a hidden gem they are—how much they are quietly giving to those around them, while expecting so little, if anything, in return. I believe that each of us has these people in our lives. And Debbie Case just happens to one of these people in my life! She is the epitome of a Ray of Light: a servant leader who selflessly gives to the world around her purely because it is in her character to do so.
Originally, I came to know Debbie by attending the same church, St. Paul Lutheran in Davenport, IA. Although, as a high schooler, I was more “aware” of Debbie than “knew” her, she quickly distinguished herself as someone worth getting to know. And so, we slowly began our friendship, often having meaningful conversations during in-between moments. Fast forward a few years: our friendship has, corny as it may sound, taken place largely through social media. Some morning, I may read and reply to her thoughts on a recent sermon at St. Paul. Or, some night, she may read and reply to my thoughts on mental health and resilience. Whatever the case, our friendship has unfolded in a rare corner of the internet where authenticity, vulnerability, compassion, and the positive exchange of ideas collide.
Debbie is an honest, straightforward person: what you see is what you get. She loves fearlessly and wears her heart on her sleeve. Most often, Debbie expresses her gratitude for her family and the beautiful things God is facilitating in her life. Yet, she is equally willing to be vulnerable and speak about raw and difficult topics, especially if she can help someone by doing so. In this way, Debbie exemplifies her personal mission to help others, to freely spread kindness, and to love unconditionally. For Debbie, “Loving thy neighbor as thyself” is much more than a Commandment: it is a way of life. As such, Debbie continuously searches to expand her neighborhood and spread God’s love.
I write these words with complete sincerity—not intending to sound patronizing, hyperbolic, or grandiose, because I think Debbie Case is an unheralded superstar in my life. Thus, I would like to implore others to get to know the Debbie Case or the Debbie Case’s in their lives.
A Short Bio.
Debbie Case was raised in a farm community Western Illinois. Growing up, she attended a “small country school, where one teacher taught two grades in each classroom.” There, Debbie discovered her love of learning and her enjoyment in molding young minds. However, after first leaving the classroom, some time passed before Debbie returned to this setting—and this time as a teacher, not as a student. So, at 40, after raising her children, Debbie decided to pursue her lifetime dream of becoming a teacher. She writes:
I was filled with fear, yet determined to move forward. A month after I started, my father-in-law passed away, and I felt like the walls of life were closing in around me. My mother-in-law had passed several years earlier, and my husband and I faced the daunting task of going through everything they had collected over the years and handling the heartache at the same time. Every waking hour was devoted to classes, homework, cleaning and sorting my in-law’s home, and of course the normal responsibilities of life.
Nevertheless, she persisted. Having faced many setbacks and challenges in her younger years, Debbie was determined to become a teacher. And so, she did.
Today, Debbie works as a preschool teacher in the Rock Island/Milan, IL School District. Originally, Debbie aspired to teach middle elementary grades. Yet, through her real world and classroom education, she discovered her love for teaching preschool. “With its twists and turns, [my journey] would lead me right where I believe God intended me to go: right through a preschool classroom door,” Debbie reflects.
No surprise, Debbie enjoys to work! After all, at work she is surrounded by two things she loves dearly: children and education. As such, Debbie strives to it that she be “all that God believes and knows I can be to the children and families [her] life encounters.” Although some teacher dislike professional development, Debbie views professional development as a means of helping her become a better teacher. “I am always seeking new ways to do things, say things, and/or present things…I love to learn and increase my knowledge and, hopefully, my preschool teaching skill set with each passing day,” Debbie says. Through education—both her own and her students’—Debbie finds joy and purpose in knowing that she can be a small part of helping young children begin their lives on the right foot.
In 1977, Debbie married the love of her life: Jim. Debbie and Jim have been happily married 42 years. Over this time, they have lovingly raised children and grandchildren. Together, Debbie and Jim enjoy laughing, bike riding, and taking in life’s simple beauties and blessings. Then, at the end of each day, Debbie gives thanks to God because she feels supremely blessed to have all that she does—not the least of which are her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and her vocation.
Q & A: The [Not So] Serious
BB: Imagine there is a Boeing 747 outside, waiting to take you anywhere in the world right now. We are not in a time of pandemic. Money is not a constraint. Where are you going and why?
DC: Oddly, I am not a creature that yearns for world travel. My love is the mountains. The views, smells, sounds of nature, and feeling of God’s presence there are priceless to me. So, as I board the 747 (by the way for the first time, since I have never flown!), I will be landing in Colorado or Montana watching out the window for that first glimpse of the mountains.
BB: If you could time travel, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
DC: Think ahead! What you do today can change all your tomorrows. Every decision you make defines your character, passions, and ability to see and live in the world realistically. A well-lived life will come with disappointments regardless of making all the right decisions. However, if you lean on God for wisdom you may even find joy in the disappointments because they often steer you in a direction you never dreamed you would go. At the same time, cherish the present because time will move more quickly with each passing year.
BB: Fill in the blank. I cannot live without _______________ (this guilty pleasure food).
DC: Ice Cream
BB: What do you most enjoy about being a mother?
DC: My greatest gift as a mother is seeing the lives our two children have built for themselves. I see their faith, determination, and talents in action. When I see them doing for their children and others, it brings me great joy. If I could measure success in parenting, it would be that you instill in your children to trust and love God, and have the ability to dream and keep pursuing that dream throughout their lives.
BB: What is your favorite part about being a grandmother?
DC: How would I describe being a grandmother? When your own babies grow up and have babies, it is like love extending itself to a new dimension you have never known. The beautiful moment you hold them in your arms, and know that this is a new love that God has blessed you with to fill their lives and your life with new joys, hopes, and dreams, you want to wrap them in your arms and keep them safe forever. The truth is you can’t. The world isn’t always a kind place. Instead you can wrap them in your arms and always let them know they have a safe person to be with anytime they need you. That’s what grandparents do best.
BB: When looking to laugh, who or what do you turn to?
DC: My husband Jim and I have been married over 42 years. We laugh a lot! Growing up, I prayed often that God would bring me a loving husband. I wanted a life where peace and calm could always exist in all circumstances. And then came, Jim: my peace and calm. We married not long after I graduated from high school. One would think that was an equation for disaster, but very early on we learned to lean on God in our marriage. As our faith grew in God, it grew in each other. We started practicing unconditional love in our marriage, and little by little this became our reality. We never doubt our love for each other and even in those few times we disagree, we never doubt that we will figure it out together. Forgiveness is also at the heart of a good marriage. When you put all these attributes together, you find that laughing becomes a daily delight. You can see that some things in life really aren’t as serious as they seem and humor is like medicine for the soul.
BB: Your Christian faith seems to be an integral aspect of your life. How have you recently seen God acting in your life, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
DC: God is my teacher, friend, and social worker. He is where I turn to for help with the fears and worries plaguing my life. Prayer leads me to Him each day. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the “what ifs” during this pandemic, but with a little prayer time, I feel the peace and calm I need to remember life can only be lived one day at a time. God doesn’t take the problems of the world away. He leads me through them with the tools and skills I need to get through the problems. He shows me where I can help and my job is to listen and follow through.
BB: What is your go-to frozen yogurt flavor? And what do you put on top of this (candies, nuts, caramel, etc.)?
DC: Vanilla with caramel 🙂 Much more of an ice cream person, but I do on occasion eat frozen yogurt 🙂
BB: Tell about a recent moment when you felt proud to be you. Why do you think you felt this way? And what does this moment say about you?
DC: Being proud is a tough thing to talk about. As Christians, we think of humility rather than being proud, and praise God for how He uses us in this world. Yet, those moments of feeling proud that God worked through you, do come about. Honestly, I am proud to be chosen to work as a lead teacher in a Head Start preschool classroom. Each day, I have the ability to help a child see the beautiful person they are and can grow up to be. When I see kids with behavior challenges, I know God is asking me to help them. When I see kids with cognitive challenges, I know God is asking me to find the resources to help them. God has placed me there, and I am like the middle man in the classroom. God has given me expectation, and when I meet those expectations to the best of my ability, I feel proud to see those children moving forward toward a better future.
BB: What do you like to do for fun?
DC: I am an introvert. Fun for me is different than for many. I love working in the yard with my flowers, taking walks with my husband or a couple of dear friends I walk with on occasion, planning my classroom set-up for the next year based on what did or didn’t work well the year before, some biking and hiking, and being with my husband. Jim and I love music of all different genres and eras. A dance in the kitchen is not unusual in our home. I always tell my husband that I am low maintenance and that he got a bargain 🙂
BB: What does a “typical day” in your role look like?
DC: A typical day during the school year would be up at 5:15, heading to school at 7:00, and getting home between 3:30 and 4:00. Each day in a preschool classroom is different. You really never know what the day will bring. Sometimes by day’s end you are still filled with energy to work on classroom lessons and projects and some days you feel exhausted. My joy always comes from Jim walking through the door and together sharing about our days. Our entire marriage we have washed dishes together. We decided against a dishwasher because it is our time each day to talk without interruptions. He washes and I dry. It is quality time:)
BB: Imagine you and three famous people (dead or alive) are holed up in a Trans-Siberian Express sleeper car for the eight-day journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. What three people would you pick? How would you pass the time?
DC: Jesus, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Oprah Winfrey – The discussion would center around how we can bring equality and justice to the world. Jesus would listen and advise as Eleanor, Oprah, and I talk about the imbalance as we see it. My hope is that at the end of the conversation Jesus would provide the profound wisdom needed to begin the reality of finding equality and justice for all. What would a world look like where everyone respected one another? That is the world I dream of seeing.
BB: With modern technology and social media, it seems really easy to perceive others’ lives differently than they occur. Given this phenomenon, what do wish the world knew about you that they might not already know?
DC: Life isn’t really easy for anyone. Often people think I have it all together because of my positive Facebook posts. We all face heartaches and difficulties in our lives. I face them regularly, too. Maybe life is more like the race to Heaven. You put on your running shoes and you face one obstacle after another. The flat course is familiar and is easy to run because you have trained for it. The course might change when you least expect it. The downhill is refreshing and the uphill can be exhausting. Some hills may be so difficult you want to throw in the towel. You have to keep your eye on the goal. Even if you have to stop and sit awhile, you have to keep working toward that finish line. You may need some cheering and encouragement to keep going. We all need that from time to time. Remember we’re not in the race alone. As the race comes to an end with a life well-lived, we cross the finish line. Heaven’s door awaits.
Author’s Note: Rays of Light is a blog dedicated to spreading positivity, recognizing everyday servants and role models, and allowing others to be vulnerable and share more of their stories. These words are found as they were written, except when subtle rewriting improved narrative flow. It was such a joy getting to know Debbie through this process. Her authenticity, positivity, compassion, and care for others is so refreshing.