Riding into retirement

Social studies teacher Eileen Balikov, right, expresses feeling overwhelmed as her husband Stu, left, surprises her by picking her up in a horse-drawn carriage after school on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Balikov is retiring after teaching for more than 40 years. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Stewart (Stu) Balikov knew how to stirrup emotions for his wife Eileen after her final day teaching students at Hart High School.

As Eileen Balikov made her way out of the high school Thursday she was amazed to see her husband—dressed as one of her favorite historical figures William S. Hart—in front of a horse-drawn carriage.

“I was completely shocked, I had no idea,” Eileen Balikov said.  “My husband has pulled some good ones for me over the years, but this one takes the cake.  This is absolutely phenomenal.”

For Eileen Balikov, Thursday marked the end of a 40-year teaching career.  She spent 31 years in the William S. Hart Union High School District and the last 15 years as a social studies teacher at Hart High School.

“I was sitting in my room after they [the students] were all gone and realizing that it’s done when the last class left,” she said.  “I don’t think it will really hit me until August when I would normally go back and I won’t be going back.”

Stu Balikov knew surprising his wife dressed as William S. Hart and with a horse-drawn carriage would make the day a memorable one.

The couple’s admiration for the district’s namesake began several years ago when Eileen realized her students did not know much about the cowboy actor their high school was named for.

Eileen Balikov smiles as she rides off in a horse-drawn carriage with her husband, Stu, who surprised her following her last teaching day at Hart High School on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“Since I taught 20th century history I just started working him in to my curriculum so they would learn about what a phenomenal character he was and why the school is named after him and the district is named after him,” Eileen Balikov said.

On Thursday, it was evident that Eileen Balikov was admired by her peers and will be missed by those in the district and at the high school.

She will be especially missed by Lisa Parra, a Hart High School government teacher and chair advisor, who has been friends with Eileen Balikov for 32 years.

“The joke is that we’re called Parakov because together we’re the perfect person,” Parra said.  “I’m the other half of the Parakov.  We’ve been friends for 32 years and we’ve taught together during that time.”

When asked what she would do without her other half, Parra joked that she may “wander aimlessly for a while.”

“We’ll have lunch and she’ll come back and say hi,” Parra said.  “I’m happy for her, she’s worked hard and she deserves it… We love teaching, we love the kids, this is just perfect.”

After countless years working with friends and teaching in the classroom, Eileen Balikov said it is the students she will miss most.

“The students are who I’m going to miss,” she said.  “They were frustrating and inspiring at the same time.”

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