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St. Patrick's School teacher dies after long illness

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Students and staff at St. Patrick's Catholic School held a prayer service Monday to honor the memory of teacher Claire Ihle, who died on Saturday.

Ihle, 54, died of complications from a strep infection she contracted last fall as a result of an infected tooth. The infection led to surgery and treatment at United Hospital. Ihle spent several months at Bethesda Rehabilitation Center in St. Paul and moved to Christian Community Home in Hudson in late December. Ihle was able to communicate with her family and friends and occasionally returned to her home for visits. Over the first part of this year she improved to the point where she was able to walk with a walker and feed and dress herself.

In April, Ihle returned to Bethesda for more intensive therapy in preparation for her eventual move home. Her husband, David, was planning on taking an early retirement to care for his wife.

However, Ihle suffered a setback and returned to United in early May and had several more surgeries. According to her husband, Ihle's surgeon said the strain on her after months of treatment proved to be too much.

"She simply had no reserve left to fight back this time. She died peacefully. We were all with her," said David.

Ihle is survived by her husband and children, Joshua and Amanda, a granddaughter, Jordan, and her mother, Margaret Hady of Waunakee. She is also survived by 13 siblings.

Teaching was her passion

Ihle taught fifth grade at St. Patrick's for 10 years, and David said it was her passion. "She always looked for the best in people, but especially her students, and she worked hard to bring that out in each of them."

St. Patrick's colleague Cheryl Forester said Ihle had a special connection with her students. "She took a special interest in each of her students and always gave them her individual attention," said Forester. "She was creative and energetic and just had a sparkle in her eye."

David said she always looked for unique and inventive ways to engage her students. One year when they accomplished a fund-raising goal, the students were rewarded by seeing their teacher eat cake using no hands. "She did that one more than once. She loved what she did and she loved them."

Forester said Ihle always called on everyone around her, both students and co-workers, to excellence. "She expected the very best from everyone around her and she accepted no sub-standard work. She was just a neat, neat person and she is going to be missed. She added something special to our staff."

Staff and students from the school will participate in services for Ihle. According to David, students will act as servers at the Mass, and teachers will be Eucharistic ministers. Former students will sing. Friends of her daughter, Amanda, who attends Marquette University, will also attend the services along with Marquette's choral director.

Ihle's co-workers at St. Patrick's have put together a vignette of her life as a teacher, which will be on display at the visitation.

David Ihle believes it was his wife's energetic approach to life that helped her through her nine-month struggle. "Throughout this entire challenge, Claire never complained, not once. She was so amazing."

Upon her arrival at CCH back in December, she was evaluated by a social worker to determine her capabilities. One of the things she was asked to do was write a sentence, which David said was very difficult for her. But what she wrote, he says, amazed him then and is a comfort to him now. She wrote: "I'm sitting in a railroad station with a ticket to an unknown destination."

Visitation is Thursday, June 9 starting at 4 p.m. at O'Connell Family Funeral Home with a prayer service scheduled for 7 p.m. The funeral is Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

Memorials can be made to a scholarship fund in Ihle's name that has been established at the school. Her complete obituary appears on page 21A, and will also be posted online.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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