Classic and elegant, slender in stature but not in style, this is Nancy Gaertner: wife of one of Sam Houston State University’s most celebrated and popular Presidents, James Gaertner.
She describes her life as wonderful and feels honored that she has been able to work in the wonderful community of Huntsville and make such great friends. “I love being here, meeting wonderful people and I am having a great time being a Bearkat.” Gaertner is also an avid fan of the Houston Astros and San Antonio Spurs.
Education has been her life’s work and after graduating from Indiana University at South Bend, she has dedicated over 19 years to the field of education. She has taught all subjects at various grade levels but spent most of her time teaching fourth grade math and science. Her passion for learning is unmistakable.
“I loved trying to make learning fun and exciting for my students,” said Gaertner. “My favorite teaching day was one when the students were noisily working on a math challenge or science experiment. This meant they were excited and engaged in what they were learning.”
When asked if she thought President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Program was a good policy, she responded, “I think the focus on education that this program brings to light is a good thing. The strength of the NCLB program is the emphasis on making sure the children know the basic skills before moving on to the next grade and programs to help them achieve these skills.”
Gaertner also suggested that the program needed to challenge all students more.
“I think we should use the tests that are required as only a benchmark, not as the soul of the curriculum for the entire school year.”
Now retired, Mrs. Gaertner spends time volunteering with various committees in the community as well as on the Sam Houston State University campus. Two projects close to her heart include the Huntsville Public Library Friends, Inc. and the Wynne Home Arts Center.
Like first lady Laura Bush, she believes that reading is very important and works with the library helping to plan a variety of events that encourage a love for reading and learning.
“Nancy is a key element on the Friends Board,” said Director of Library Services Linda Dodson. “She always has fresh and intelligent ideas. Her volunteer background and experience is an asset to the library. She takes her responsibilities very seriously and is often involved behind the scenes.”
Her Wynne Home Arts Center volunteer duties began when two “incredible ladies.” Mary Frances Park and Linda Pease asked her to serve on the fundraising and special events committee.
“I continued my involvement because I realized what a great resource the center would be for all of Huntsville but especially for the children of Huntsville,” said Gaertner.
The center will provide hands on learning, pottery classes and other terrific opportunities for the community.
Mentoring is also on Gaertner’s list of priorities. She volunteers with the SAM Center as a First Alert/Maps counselor. This program provides students who are having difficulty staying on track in the classroom an opportunity to talk with someone and create a game plan to get them back on target.
“Sometimes students just need to know someone out there cares,” she said adding that the First Alert Program is unique to SHSU.
Instead of waiting for someone to fail, professors’ contact a counselor who in turn gets in touch with the student and together they work out a plan and offer students help in a variety of ways.
“Students really appreciate it,” said Gaertner.
Fitness is also one of Gaertner’s passions. She has competed in both 5K and 10K runs and has a personal trainer certification from the Cooper Aerobics Clinic in Arlington.
“I love to help people get fit as well as show them it can be enjoyable,” said Gaertner.
This is why she is involved in Walk Across Texas in collaboration with the Texas Cooperative Extension. The Walk Across Texas Campaign is an excellent way for people to get started on a fitness program according to Gaertner. Teams can be formed or individuals can register to walk the 830 miles across Texas without leaving Huntsville.
When asked how being the first lady of SHSU has changed her life, she replied that she was not sure how she would fit in or what her role would be to others. She feels honored to be able to participate on committees working with such wonderful friends.
“At first I was completely nervous,” said Gaertner. “I wasn’t sure what opportunities I would have.”
“Nancy has always been confident and comfortable in her own skin,” said SHSU President James Gaertner.
That is what drew him to her over 41 years ago one summer at Garner State Park while waiting in line at the diving board. They met again several years later on the SHSU campus.
When asked to describe his wife, President Gaertner simply stated, “She is beautiful and she makes me a better person.” He also described her as being passionate, intelligent and approachable.
“My family is the most important thing in my life,” said the first lady.
She enjoyed staying home to care for her older children and can remember feeding ducks at the pond by the museum with her son. She also enjoys spending time with her two “handsome” grandsons as well as attending the many sporting events of SHSU.
“I love being a Bearkat,” she said.