Start of school excites teachers, too

Do you ever wonder if teachers get the same back-to-school jitters as everyone else? One local family knows.

Tim Tilman was born in Boulder City to an original 31er (someone who worked on the construction of Hoover Dam.) He attended elementary school in the building now known as City Hall. His best year started off nervous, just like the ones before, but this teacher was special.

“Mrs. (Merle) Lyon, in my third grade, was a wonderful teacher and a wonderful person. … That was the first year I liked school,” he said.

One of the projects he remembers best was being shown how to make puppets. The reason Lyon was so successful was, “she gave you complete freedom and you got to form the face of the puppet.”

That feeling of freedom remained all the way through Tilman’s graduation from Boulder City High School in 1962.

Other Boulder City teachers bring joy and a sense of freedom to the schools in town. It’s interesting that Tilman married just such a teacher and his son Chris did also.

Jody Tilman, Tim’s wife, had a long career in Boulder City public elementary schools (both Mitchell and King.) Her specialty was gifted education. During her career, the school year used to start in early September. “On August first, summer was over for me,” she said, adding it was because she was preparing her room to welcome a new group of students. “Every wall had to have a bulletin board of some kind. On one wall we always had a chart with the students’ names for tracking their achievements, usually with stars.”

She said she was responsible for coming up with “innovative topics each year” to focus her students’ learning. They did projects ranging from calligraphy to cartooning to ocean studies, and she even led a yearly ocean camp.

“Even when I retired,” she said, “I felt excited at the beginning of each year.”

Devon Tilman, Tim and Jody’s daughter-in-law, is carrying on the tradition of education in Boulder City. She is principal of Grace Christian Academy, a private school where both of her now-teenage children once attended. She said she gets excited for the first day when she can watch the pre-kindergarten students.

“They have such joy to be at school. They are excited to be here because they want to be a part of the big kids.”

The oldest, fifth- and sixth-graders, sometimes encounter tough topics such as racism. Devon Tilman observed how “9- and 10-year-olds came up with a plan to deal with racism through the words they chose and the tone they gave. They wanted to be the start of people who do things differently” than in the past.

Although Devon Tilman is an administrator now, she started as a teacher. “In my 20s, as a classroom teacher, I can remember thinking, ‘I hope I get to love a child of my own as much as I love these kids.’”

Boulder City’s teachers keep bringing their best to the students in their classroom. Merle Lyon set a third-grader free in the early 1950s. Jody Tilman kept the spirit of innovation alive from the 1970s through the 1990s. Devon Tilman continues the trend in 2017 by fostering a sense of idealism in her students.

Children with great teachers are eager to begin a new school year. The Tilman family knows that teachers, too, will always be excited on the first day of school.

Paige Ladd attended Mitchell Elementary School and still gets excited for the first day of school. If you have a long family history in Boulder City and would like to be featured, contact the author at

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