Captain Oreo, a black and white rabbit, sits nonchalantly in his cage in the second-grade classroom as Elaine Rockemann discusses her 31 years teaching at Shiloh Elementary School.
She is quick to laugh and deflect any praise., but others know differently.
Mandy Cockrell, a fellow second-grade teacher whose classroom is directly across the hall, showered her with compliments.
“This place can’t run without Elaine,” she said. Cockrell has been on the second-grade team for 12 years, as has Mandy Dill.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Not only is Elaine highly regarded in the community, but last fall, she earned one of our region’s highest education honors, the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award.
Every year, Emerson recognizes more than 100 educators in the St. Louis metropolitan area for their passion for teaching, their impact on student learning and their knowledge and creativity.
Recipients, from kindergarten teachers to college professors who are examples of excellence in their field, are selected by the chief administrators of their school districts or institutions.
“It is an honor. I was shocked,” Elaine said.
“She is an awesome teacher,” said Brenda Kern, Shiloh village clerk. “She was my youngest son’s second-grade teacher, and now she has my granddaughter. She always does interesting projects.”
Captain Oreo has been a fixture for five and six years in Elaine’s classroom, where every nook has interesting things to see and do.
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 1984, Elaine worked as a teacher’s aide for a year and a half. When Shiloh split grades into two classrooms, she was hired as a first-grade teacher. After that year, she was moved to second grade and has remained ever since.
“I love second-graders. I just like the age. They are a little independent and still enthusiastic,” she said.
Elaine said she is known for having “lots of art supplies” in her room, and enjoys doing arts and crafts at school and at home.
She grew up with a mom who excelled in arts and crafts. Her mother, the late Rosemary Connelly Kniker, was a P.E., then kindergarten teacher for many years at Shiloh School.
“She started teaching at Shiloh when I was in third grade,” Elaine said said.
The Butterfly Garden near the playground in the Community Park is named in her honor. She died in 2001. Elaine’s father, John, is also deceased.
Making crafts together became tradition at the family’s Fairview Heights home. In fact, friends enjoyed coming over to see what projects the Knikers were doing, Elaine said.
“My mother was very talented. She blows me out of the water. She would make dance costumes and formals. She was very creative,” she said.
Her mother made Christmas stockings for everyone, and as the family grew, she added one for each new person. “They were red felt with tons of sequins,” Elaine said.
Elaine and her sister Lisa have carried on the tradition, making them for children’s spouses and grandchildren. Their brother John lives in Belleville.
Elaine is also known for her Christmas specialty trees, including a patriotic “Fourth of July” one, plus Irish, “girlie,” and family themes.
She now lives in Fairview Heights in the home in which she grew up, and has two children. Her daughter Whitney is a nurse. Whitney and her husband Brandon are the proud parents of son, Maverick, who is just a few weeks old, and live in Swansea.
Her son Marty attends SIUE, majoring in business.
She considers her Irish wolfhound, Darcey, her “baby” and part of the family, too.
Elaine’s first grandbaby gets much attention these days.
When not doting on Maverick, in her spare time, she enjoys tinkering around the house — doing home improvements, painting, decorating and gardening. She quilts and reads when she gets a chance.
She is passionate about the St. Louis Cardinals and attends spring training annually in Jupiter, Fla.
She has hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains and Rocky Mountains. She also likes float trips, camping and swimming.
Genealogy is also a hobby, and she is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
At Shiloh, Elaine coached for many years.
“I have coached every girls sport,” she said, noting softball, volleyball, cheerleading, and track and field, which she helmed the longest — 15 years.
“My mom coached softball, volleyball and cheerleading for a long time. I kind of grew up here,” she said.
She stopped coaching when she returned to SIUE to obtain a master’s degree in elementary education in 1999, which she earned two years later.
While she is looking at retirement in a few years, she is still excited and passionate about teaching at Shiloh Elementary.
“You know a lot of families. I like the small-town atmosphere, even though it’s getting bigger, it still has that feel,” she said.
And the staff knows where to go if they need pipe cleaners.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: God only gives you as much as you can handle. Be nice!
Q: Whom do you most admire?
A: My mother, Rosemary Kniker. Mom taught P.E. and kindergarten and helped foster my love for teaching. She was also very creative and could make just about anything. She enhanced my ability to create new things. I still, to this day, love to do arts and crafts thanks to her!
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
A: Abraham Lincoln. I’m just intrigued with that time period and the events of his life.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A: “Hugs for Grandma” — someone gave it to me for Christmas after becoming a grandma. It’s a book of short stories and quotes for inspiration.
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: Crafts, reading, and relaxing by the pool. In the summer, I love to go hiking in the mountains.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A: Organized mess.
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: After realizing that a cowboy or artist was not in my future, teacher sounded great!
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
A: Creative thinking — with making things, problem solving and trying to find new ways to tackle problems. It sure has come in handy!
Q: What irritates you most?
A: Lack of good manners. A ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ sure does go a long way!
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: Anything besides rap.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: My colleagues, we make a great team! Never a dull moment!
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
A: Living on my own private mountain, in my mountain house next to a lake.
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A: Reese Witherspoon. I need somebody who can sing, since I can’t.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A: My cellphone, drinks and a towel.