ST. IGNATIUS — The last day of school will be bittersweet for some Saint Ignatius High School students who must say farewell to a teacher who's been there for decades, teaching generations of Mission kids all about science -- and about life.
On a recent rainy morning along McDonald Lake deep in the Mission Mountains Saint Ignatius High School Science teacher John Ligas was teaching his students about rocks -- for the last time.
“I remember the first time coming here for an interview and I came up over the mountains and I thought, ‘whoa, this might be the place’,” Ligas told MTN News.
That interview was in1985 and now more than 35 years later Ligas is retiring -- and the whole school turned out to say farewell in a show of love he didn’t expect.
Ligas might have underestimated his impact at the school.
"He's so levelheaded that it’s super easy to connect with him about anything. And he finds a way to reach out to every student. It doesn’t matter who you are, senior Syd Brander said.
"He’ll give you the reality check you need even if you don’t want to hear it. But you know he has your best interests at heart,” added fellow senior Brynn Pule.
The day that we stopped by two of his former students -- who are now attending Montana Tech -- came back with a retirement gift as well as memories of how Ligas believed in them.
"He played a really big part in my life and pushing me to higher education and making me realize that my circumstances may not be the best here and there,” Tech student Issac Dumontier said.
But someone like Ligas is someone who will be there to push you forward and kind of make you uncomfortable so you can prepare for the real world and college,” Dumontier continued.
"Things can happen. Some people don’t have the best home life and just coming to school, he will make it better and make it safe,” added Hunter Eichert who also attends Montana Tech in Butte.
“It's one of those bittersweet things where I'm torn between wanting to do something new and leaving what I've known forever,” Ligas explained.
The Mission Mountains must have been calling to him that day he decided to make Saint Ignatius his home to live and to teach and mentor generations of students.
He never expected the kind of reaction to his retirement that he received, but it’s confirmation that he made the right choice all those years ago.
“I’ve always felt that way. Always felt extremely fortunate for choosing the career I did, I fell into it and it was completely rewarding and fulling,” Ligas noted.
“I go home feeling like I'm doing something positive in the world and a great fit for me," Ligas concluded.
When we stopped by St. Ignatius High School we heard story after story about the science teacher's spring break field trips.
For decades, he would take his advanced biology students on a science trip to explore the landscapes in Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, and for most, it remains one of the highlights of their high school careers.