Favorite Teachers of RAYGUN Staff!

It's hard to overstate the importance of educators. There was a chain e-mail that went around a few years ago with text that was attributed to Dr Seuss (he didn't write it, FYI) that discussed what was important in life. One of the questions was: "Try and name the last 10 Super Bowl winners; now try and name 10 of your favorite educators."

Dayummm.... talk things that make you go "hmmm." 

RAYGUN has always been a strong supporter of educators and the school systems they work within because we believe they are the most critical piece of any community. They are the foundation of our civil society.

But the critical piece of that foundation are the educators and administrators themselves -- they are the people who make real connections with kids, who help draw their talents and interests out, who often chart the next several decades of their lives, and who will stay in the memories of their students far longer than any Super Bowl champion.  

We wanted to take a minute to poll our staff and get their reflections on their education, their schools, and some of their favorite teachers:  


Mike Draper
(Founder, owner)
Van Meter, Iowa

Van Meter Community Schools, DM Central

Teacher: Jim Swearngin (Art)
Only picking one teacher to highlight is tough. But considering that I have built my career on art, I should probably mention the only art training I ever got was from Van Meter school’s only art teacher, Jim Swearngin. He taught elementary art, junior high art, high school art and photography. So he was my art teacher for close to 8 years — and I took A LOT of art. He was a funny dude, loved classic rock (but hated the Steve Miller Band), and loved hunting and trucks and 'Merica (so don't blame him for my left-wing indoctrination). A lot of technical lessons and life lessons happened in Van Meter’s art room. 

Honorable Mentions: Bruce Sittner (History), Mrs Merical (3rd Grade), Mrs Garvey (5th Grade), Rick Roberts (Football), Mr Person (English, Central), Mr Parks (History, Central), Mrs Ellerhoff (English, Central), Mrs Sayer (1st and 2nd Grade, Children's House), Mrs Ramsey (English Central), Mr Tapps (Math, Track), Mrs Dawson (Librarian) << I was also in my first band with Mrs Dawson's son and we practiced in her basement


Jennifer Leatherby (Director of Design)
Sheldahl, Iowa
North Polk Community Schools

Teacher: Burdette Christensen (Counselor)
Burdette went above and beyond to connect with kids like me who didn't have a great time in Jr High and High School. He took the lives and concerns of kids seriously and genuinely wanted them to succeed, even when they didn't see any potential in themselves. 

Honorable Mentions: Mr Latimer (geography) who made me study, bringing my grades from Ds to As and helping me realize my own potential. 


Mikey Brown (Custom Printing Manager)
Des Moines, Iowa
Iowa State University

Teacher: Tina Cofelt (Communications)
Dr. Cofelt was an amazing instructor that I had throughout all 4 years at ISU. She was really one of the first teachers I had ever encountered that embraced conversations regarding sex, gender, feminism, racism, and basically every relevant thing that pertained to our society. I valued her skill because of how independent and intelligent she was and how content she seemed to be as an individual overall. It was inspiring. I also loved the way she made us study certain topics that weren’t necessarily “comfortable” for other students. Teachers that can break the mold and open up minds to all walks of life are the teachers that can make the biggest differences in the world. She’s also one of the main people who taught me what it meant to be a true feminist and ally. She connected with students on a level I had just never seen before.


Taylor Frame
(Director of Stores)
Ankeny, Iowa

Ankeny Community Schools

Favorite Teacher: Jim Cowger (English) 
Picking one favorite teacher is incredibly difficult, but Jim had to suffer through 2 years and 3 different English classes of reading my papers about Lady Gaga, so he gets the title. Not only that, but he sparked a new, literary interest in me, as well as a confidence in my own writing. Most importantly, however, is that I knew he always had my back. Due a positive climate and support system built by the school administration, I wasn’t really bullied for coming out as gay in high school, but on the off chance that Cowger heard a name being hurled at me, he was on them faster than Lady Gaga on a movie audition. 

Honorable Mentions: Brenda Colby (Principal), Jeff Hawkins (Vice-Principal), Amy Gage (English), Brandon Johnson (History)Jackie Tonhouse (Art), Renee Pepper (Spanish), Andrea Thatcher (Spanish), Chad Larson (5th Grade), Rose Fear (Kindergarten [Spencer, IA])


Peyton Johnson
(Floor Staff, Spiritual Guide)
Aurora, Illinois

Oswego East High School

Teacher: Mr. Query (English)
I'll be honest, my school district could be rough. Diversity was plentiful but so was prejudice. In a place that constantly attempted to fit me in a box, Mr. Query, my senior year english teacher, said no. He taught me that being authentically myself is cool. He taught me that no matter what, there is someone who knows more about something than me, and that that is cool. He let me know my words had weight, meaning, responsibility and value. He probably doesn't remember any of this. To him, allowing students to be theirselves was just his job. His love for flannel, hatred for the oxford comma and admiration for students is something that influences my art even today. 

Honorable Mentions: Mrs. Davies (9th grade), you absolutely rock. Mrs. White (10th grade), a queen. Gloria Olsen and Adam Yankowy (MT), my stars. 


Jordan Bush (Kansas City Store Manager)
Blue Springs, Missouri
Blue Springs High School

Teacher: Mr. Rudolph (High School Choir)
As a student only interested in music, Mr. Rudolph's curriculum was a perfect fit. He taught all the choir classes at Blue Springs High School along with AP Music Theory. By my senior year, I was spending over half of the school day in his classroom. He helped teach me every voice matters, no matter how small and no note is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. He was always willing to make time for any student in need of extra help or practice (usually during lunch, before and after school). This helped me learn that any goal is achievable through hard work and diligent practice. 

Honorable Mentions: Mrs. VerDught (Accompanist) who always greeted me with a smile and patience for every rehearsal, Mrs. Scott (Social Studies and Lacrosse)Mr. Anwander (Anatomy and Physiology), Ms. Brown (Algebra 1).


Anthony Arroyo
(Photography Manager)
Des Moines, Iowa

Des Moines East

Teacher: Natalie Niemeyer-Lorenz (Journalism)
There has been so many teachers who have made a great impact on my life that I still connect with often but lately Natalie Niemeyer has been someone I could always go back to when I need any advice. She was my newspaper advisor in high school and really let me go off the rails with my ideas especially when I asked her if I could stop writing stories and start making videos. I give a lot of credit to her with the path I decided to take after high school. There was a lot of self growth happening in room 3060N.

Honorable Mentions: John Walling (Gym), Lauren Brandt-Erickson (Counselor), Eric Galvin (Math), Kelli Folkerts (3rd Grade), Paul Sporleder (Government), Bill Flesch (Science)


Rachel Buse (Graphic Design, Head Covering)
Lincoln, Nebraska
Huntington Elementary School

Teacher: Mrs Clark (Kindergarten)
Before going to kindergarten, I thought it would be a bunch of kids working in the dirt all day. But instead it was this room with little areas dedicated to different experiences and things to make. She taught me how to count to 10 in Spanish, using scissors and glue, memorizing my phone number and giving me time to read my favorite book. I liked going to school because of Mrs. Clark. She made a safe space for us to play pretend and make friends.

Honorable Mentions: There were a lot of teachers that helped me over the years: Mr. Harmon taught me problem solving in middle school math, the teacher that taught me world religions in high school revealed how many different ways you can view the world, all the teachers at the Arts & Humanities Focus Program who shared art and ideas with me. Santiago Cal, Mo Neal and Justin Shaw who encouraged me to keep making sculpture. 


Chris Biagini
(A Little of Everything)
Burr Ridge, Illinois

Hinsdale South High School

Teacher: Jeff Waterman (Social Studies)
Mr. Waterman went from retired banker to all-star high school teacher while still in his 30's. He was thoughtful, engaging, and got me interested in subjects that I wouldn't normally care about (like macro economics). Between three years I took all four classes that he taught and went on the first class trip abroad that he led.  

Honorable Mentions: Jim Kelly - not the former NFL quarterback - (High School English), "Mr. Social Studies" (6th Grade Social Studies, recycling extraordinaire), Barbara Mack (College Journalism)


Kaysha Duke
 (Floor Staff, Knee Brace Tester)
Des Moines, Iowa 
Des Moines Lincoln 

Teacher: Kevin Stegemann (band)
The Lincoln High School band director, Kevin Stegemann, is the coolest teacher I’ve ever known. He is very funny, super chill, and has claves of steel from all of his years of marching band. His office door was always open for his students, even when he was busy. Every morning and afternoon, i would walk into his office and talk about anything and everything for hours. I would mostly tease him about how he can never keep his calendar up to date, and beg him to let the band play certain songs. Steg has taught me so much throughout my high school years, one of them being how to make his famous dessert.  

Honorable mentions: Michael Masteller (AVID, english), Bridget Bowser (AP Lit), Bartachek (band director), Mrs. Chronister (3rd grade), Miss Clinton (counselor) 


Holly Hildreth (Web Order Manager)
Ankeny, Iowa

Ankeny Community Schools

Teacher: Sylvia Wineland (Mathematics)
Mrs. Wineland was an amazing teacher! She always made sure every.single.student understood what we were learning in class, no matter if it cut time into the lesson. She was always so enthusiastic and positive no matter what. She boosted my self confidence in class; which gave me the ability to ask or answer questions in class without that fear of asking a "dumb" question or giving the incorrect answer. 

Honorable Mentions: Lisa Hill (Associate High School Principal)Mr. Carenza (Kindergarten), Mrs. Ford (First grade), Guy Loraine (Art), Mr. Hubbard (Science)


Samuel Buckton
(Wholesale Manager)
Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines Hoover, DM Central

Teacher: Emily Lang and Kristopher Rollins (Urban Leadership) 
Emily Lang and Kristopher Rollins have created an environment that allows students of diverse backgrounds whether that be race, gender, sexual orientation, to flourish. With the class Urban Leadership and Movement 515, they made it something that didn’t even fully feel like a class in how well everyone enjoyed themselves and engaged with each other. Seeing them inspire youth to thrive and to truly be themselves is a testament to how much love they have to share. I would honestly retake the class if I could!

Honorable Mentions: Mrs. Stockton (English / Creative Writing), Mr. Hoepker (Band), Mr. Danielson (History), Mrs. Murphy (History)


Samantha Green
(Woodshop Manager)
Waukee, Iowa
Waukee Community Schools

Teacher: Kevin Tow (shop class)
Mr. Tow was an awesome teacher. He helped me realize that I can put my ideas and designs into motion, and make them extraordinary.

Honorable Mentions: Luke Jennings (art); Mrs. McCarthy, (Geography); Mr. Priest (English Literature).


Claire Anderson (Chicago Manager)
Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines Roosevelt, DM Central 

Teacher: Mrs Wicker (Photography) & Mr Rice (Graphic Design)
I've been blessed with an abundance of amazing teachers & mentors so this is not easy - however Wicker & Rice were a high schooler's dream team of wacky art teachers. They gave me the perfect blend of independence & instruction & were always up for an arty prank or weirdo extracurricular project. 

Honorable Mentions: Mrs Drees (Downtown School), Mrs Christiansen (K/1st), Mrs Donovan (3rd grade), Mrs Ellerhoff (English)


Emma Rink (Chicago Asst Manager)
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 
Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Teacher: Mr. Hynek (math)
Mr. Hynek went above and beyond in a lot of ways. He actually found a way to make math interesting (sounds impossible, but have you ever watched a video of a fractal zoom?) and taught us real life lessons. Who knew taxes would be such a big part of real life? Apparently Mr. Hynek. There wasn't a day that I dreaded walking into his classroom. I can partly attribute my interest in business/entrepreneurship to watching/discussing Shark Tank during class. 

Honorable mentions: Dr. Ayers (language arts), Mr. Anderson (History), Mr. Evans (social studies), Mr. White (US history) 


Kurtis Fox (Cedar Rapids Manager)
Durant, Iowa
Durant Community Schools

Teacher: Dawn Lake-Stone (Band Director)
We did not get off to the best start when she came into our school district. We use to argue and get on each others nerves constantly. Throughout the two years she was my band director we grew to understand each other and she taught me more than any other teacher I had. She is a wonderful human being and I’m glad I had a teacher like her in my life!  


Ian Coon
Waukee, Iowa

Waukee Community School District

Teacher: Michelle Hill (Waukee APEX)
Mrs. Hill was my biggest mentor through high school and still a close friend today. When I met her my 9th grade year, she invited me to come join her after-school technology club. Little did I know that was just the beginning of our time together. Through the years, she has been influential in shaping what I know about applying to college, the business world, and finding internships. And, of course, being a teacher also includes conversations on finding your passion, what love is, how to fix the world, defining your personal morals and many more memorable life skills than is ever written in the underpaid job description of being an educator. I wouldn’t be who I am today without having met her nearly 8 years ago.

Honorable mentions: Russ Goerend (middle school English), Scott Palmer (high school math), Kelly Reinhold (middle school librarian), Corey St. John (middle school social studies), Keri Mendenhall (middle school math)


Joe Heuermann (Iowa City Manager)
Des Moines, Iowa
Saydel Community Schools

Teacher: Mrs. Thompson (Kindergarten) 
Mrs. Thompson always encouraged creativity and was one of the first people who encouraged me personally to draw. She also through her years at Cornell was an advocate for their Monarch Butterfly garden. She loved butterflies. Her class would maintain the garden as well as collect chrysalises and follow the evolution of the monarchs. Her students came to her as caterpillers and left as butterflies.  

Tess Paxson 
Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines Roosevelt

Teacher: Melissa Chia (English)
I first met Mrs. Chia my sophomore year at Roosevelt. I was taking 2 classes from her at that time so I literally saw her everyday. We started off on the wrong foot because I was an annoying 15 year old that thought I knew everything and I thought she was too hard on us kid. I quickly realized that Chia just wanted the best for her students and wouldn’t stop until we reached our full potential. She is kind hearted, loving, the hardest worker I know, and never gives up on a kid. Throughout junior year, we got even closer even though I didn’t have any classes taught by her. There wasn’t a day that passed where I didn’t stop in to talk to Chia. Now that I’ve graduated, we still keep in touch and I’ve even developed relationships with her young children. She has changed my life for the better. Mrs. Chia always gave us a high-five and said “You have a head on your shoulders - use it!” when we walked out of her classroom every Friday. Those words, in her handwriting, is the tattoo you can see on my right arm. Melissa Chia is the type of teacher that cares for each and every one of her students, even when they aren’t in her classroom anymore. I can never thank her enough.

Honorable Mentions: Leslie Dunbar (Yearbook), Lindsey Smith (English), Edward Moody (7th&8th Grade), Nan Kloberdanz (Pre-k & Kindergarten), Casey Dunley (Gifted and Talented)

Grace Schulte (Floor Staff, Ray of Sunshine)
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Truman Elementary School 

Teacher: Mary Pat Schulte (First Grade)
My favorite teacher ever was the one I had throughout every grade...my mom has taught first grade for over 20 years and I have never met a more hard-working, dedicated, passionate educator. She doesn’t just teach the curriculum- she teaches life. 


PJ Graham
(Des Moines Manager)
Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines East

Teacher: Natalie Niemeyer-Lorenz (Yearbook & Newspaper)
There were many teachers in high school who made a true impact in my life. Ms. Niemeyer has a passion to make sure her students succeed. She created paths for me like helping me get financial aid for summer journalism camps I couldn’t afford, or rewarding us with treats and words of encouragement. I think what makes her a great  teacher is that she thoroughly enjoys making change in her students lives. I always knew if I had any issues I could rely on her advice. She gave me my first camera to take pictures for the yearbook, and she continued to do whatever she could to help me be a better person - that’s what makes a teacher great. I know today she is doing what she can to ensure that her students receive the best possible education, and she deserves so much recognition for her hard work. 

Honorable mentions: Mr. Allan (theatre - pretty cool guy), Ms. Hood (4th Grade - taught me how to explode things)


Sierra Hoeger (Floor Staff, Moral Compass)
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Teacher: Mr. Preston (Language Arts & Journalism)
I had Mr. Preston all four years of high school and he's one of the most upbeat and lively people I've ever met. His willingness to help students succeed and be creative within the classroom is unlike any other teacher I've had. Mr. Preston's newspaper class made me realize my love for Journalism and want to continue writing. 

Honorable Mentions: Mrs. Buckley (3rd grade), Senora Hamel (High School Spanish), and Mrs. Carey (5th grade)

Joe Tomlin (Floor Staff, Snapchat Filters)
Des Moines, Iowa
Jefferson Elementary School

Teacher: Mrs. Johnson (1st Grade Teacher)
It’s hard to choose just one teacher, but the one that’s stuck with me throughout the years has to be Mrs. Johnson. I even went to school throughout the years with her daughter (Annie). On top of it she had another kid when I was in her class and had said she named him after me. Even when I graduated I would run into Mrs. Johnson around town and would catch up talking! Always a joy to catch up with her and to hear what’s going on with her and her family!

Honorable mentions: Mrs. Wicker (Photography), Mr. Nizzi (Social Studies)

James Stetzel (Printing Asst Manager)
Casey, Iowa
Adair-Casey Community Schools

Teacher: Gary Bond (Art)
Pretty obvious choice really. I had so many wonderful teachers, but Mr. Bond was there from start to finish. He taught K-12 and was the only art teacher at our small/rural public school. Dude was an amazing drummer, and a crazy car enthusiast. Even won awards for his homemade hot-rod. Hands-down the coolest! "Bond...Gary Bond."

Honorable Mention: Bill Umbaugh (Shop and FFA Advisor). This man drove 3hrs (each way) to come to my collage senior art show. I was blown away, and I will never forget that.