BEMIDJI-Mary Rollheiser has the best of both worlds.

After a 34-year career at Bemidji Area Schools, the longtime elementary school teacher started substitute teaching at J.W. Smith and a handful of other elementaries in 2007.

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She was recently named Minnesota Substitute Teacher of the Year by Teachers on Call, a company that supplies school districts and charters with the replacement educators. A worker at the company on Monday afternoon presented Rollheiser with flowers noting her recognition.

"I was looking to keep busy and kind of wondered what could I do," Rollheiser said. "It's just fun and it's the best of both worlds. I can say 'yay' or 'nay' to work or not."

Staff at J.W. Smith sung Rollheiser's praises to the company, which picked her from a list of other nominees and formally announced her award on Tuesday.

"I never worry when I hear that Mary is subbing anywhere in our building," Jenny Frenzel, a kindergarten teacher at J.W. Smith wrote in the letter nominating Rollheiser for the award. Frenzel and other staff at the elementary characterized Rollheiser as a flexible and talented substitute who often goes above and beyond.

"We see students visibly reap the benefits of her passion and commitment to their education," said Christine Bush, secretary at the elementary. "She knows the students and teachers by name and we consider her a member of our school staff."

Rollheiser was hired at Bemidji Area Schools almost immediately after she graduated from Bemidji State Teachers College, which has since become Bemidji State University. She started teaching at Central Elementary on Jan. 5, 1970, and taught at Solway Elementary and Northern Elementary before she retired in 2003. Rollheiser helped out at her husband's business until she headed back to the classroom.

She subs for a day or weeks at a time, and said that teaching has changed a lot since she started: times are "a little more troubling" and family structures were "a little bit more stable."

"I just love the enthusiasm that children have," Rollheiser said. "Children energize you, and I seem to have the energy."