At an age when most people typically get ready to retire, Bonnie Ryder went back to college to start her second career as a Title I teacher.

Ryder was 63 when she got her first and only teaching job at Columbia Elementary School. That was 21 years ago. Now, the 84-year-old has decided it’s finally her time to settle into retirement.

“Because I’m 84,” Ryder said with a laugh when asked why she chose to retire now. “My children and all my friends were saying I have to retire so we can have fun.”

Ryder’s final day at the school was on Monday.

The school is planning to have a retirement party for her at 2 p.m. Oct. 18 in the library on the campus, according to Michelle Solis, an administrative assistant with the Columbia Union School District.

Some of Ryder’s children and extended family are in town visiting to celebrate her retirement as well.

As a Title I teacher, Ryder’s job over the years was to help catch up students who had fallen behind.

“It’s just so exciting when you see them catch up because it’s so important for them,” she said. “The kids are just awesome, too. They make your heart grow. It’s a very, very rewarding job.”

Ryder attended Columbia Elementary School while growing up in the 1940s, so she said it was special for her to teach there all these decades later.

There’s a photo of Ryder’s class in the hallway of the school’s main building with a message asking children if they can tell which one is “Ms. Bonnie.”

“I realized, my goodness, my picture has been here a long time,” Ryder said.

Ryder moved to Columbia with her family in 1937 when she was 2 years old.

She graduated from Sonora High School and went to Modesto Junior College for a little over a year before getting married and starting a family.

Her late husband, Jerry, worked for a few years at the Sonora Police Department before going to work on the railroad and moving the family to Colorado.

They lived in Colorado for 24 years while raising their family before moving back to Columbia in 1982 after he retired from the railroad.

Ryder held jobs at various eye doctor offices while in Colorado and went to work for Blue Shield in Sonora upon moving back to Tuolumne County.

When the Blue Shield offices moved to Riverbank, Ryder said they offered to pay for the first year of tuition at Columbia College for their employees.

Ryder said her granddaughter was in fourth grade at the time and falling behind in her reading level, which is how she got the desire to become a Title I teacher.

“We got a tutor for her and I decided that was what I wanted to do,” she said.

Ryder went to Columbia College for two years to earn her associate’s degree and did some volunteering at Columbia Elementary before getting a job at the school in 1998.

Her husband passed away one year into her teaching career. Ryder said he supported her endeavors.

Ryder said she would recommend a second career to anyone who doesn’t feel ready to retire.

“I think it’s wonderful for people to do that because it makes you much healthier and busier,” she said. “It keeps you younger.”

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.