Dobbs exposed students to many forms of expression from sculpting to drawing to pottery

RTHS teacher retires after 24 years

Vicki Snyder-Chura
Posted 5/26/21

RTHS Art Teacher John Dobbs is retiring this year after 24 years at the school

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Dobbs exposed students to many forms of expression from sculpting to drawing to pottery

RTHS teacher retires after 24 years


ROCHELLE — Rochelle Township High School veteran John Dobbs has been counting down the days left in this school year, but not because he can’t wait to retire. As he has throughout his 24 years here, Dobbs has a new iron in the fire, an idea he is excited about bringing to fruition.

A graduate of the University of Iowa where he was a member of the track team, Dobbs taught in Davenport for about a decade as well as high school art at a small parochial school before relocating to Rochelle.

He interviewed for the art position just one week after RTHS lost longtime art teacher Dr. Al Reynolds unexpectedly.

“At that time, there were 95 students enrolled in art, making me the lone art teacher,” Dobbs said. “We offered art 1 through art 4. At the end of my first year, Principal Todd Prusator came to share some bad news and some good news.”

The good news: enrollment in the art program soared from 95 to 160. The bad news: an additional art teacher will be hired by the district.

“Beth Mock joined me the next year,” Dobbs said. “She wanted to teach photography. I wanted to expand ceramics, so as we planned for the Flagg Road campus, Superintendent Doug Creason was very supportive of the arts, allowing us three classrooms to accommodate all of the elective art courses Beth and I planned to create.”

In fact, Dobbs’ thesis for his master’s degree was essentially a rewrite of the RTHS Art curriculum.

“We wanted to expand; to grow the kids’ talent in a variety of areas,” Dobbs said.

To ignite young students’ passion for creativity, Dobbs and Mock offered after school art during the fall & winter months for elementary kids enrolled in our feeder districts. High school students assisted, an unexpected bonus for both.

“When we moved out here to Flagg Road, art after school morphed into the popular summer art camp,” Dobbs said.

Ceramics students were exposed to all sorts of methods, sometimes throwing pottery with their feet as well as their hands.  Ever popular was Raku, a Japanese style of pottery first made in the 1580s. Raku is characterized by a very earthy, organic effect. Created for the tea ceremony, Raku ware is most commonly in the form of tea bowls.

When snow piled up and it was too cold for Raku, Dobbs called in local sculptor Fran Volz who taught the classes about snow sculpting. 

“I remember that first year we competed at the Rockford Park District Snow Sculpting Competition,” Dobbs said. “Ben Spriggs (now a tattoo artist) was on that team.  We had tons of snow, but the weather warmed up the week of the competition, so we had to get up there well before dawn to sculpt before it got too warm, then insulate the snow blocks to keep them from melting and then go back up to work after dark after the temps had dropped.”

Dobbs also has a distinct talent for reconnecting people with objects.  For a few years now he has been buying storage unit contents and metal detecting. 

“It’s amazing what you can find and what people are willing to pay for things,” Dobbs said. “But what I really enjoy is reconnecting people with lost objects like a ring I lost and a ring I found for someone.”  

After a tremendous effort by Dobbs and daughter, Michelle, to reconnect a WWII Purple Heart he found in a sack of socks with the family of the veteran whose ship was torpedoed by the Japanese, it went to a collector. 

Dobbs has his sights set on breaking ground for Hub City Self Storage, a facility he is building on Illinois Route 251 in the southern sector of the city.

At an end of the year assembly, our faculty band, the Eraserheads, performed the Neil Young classic, ‘Long May You Run’ as a tribute to Dobbs who for decades has also been our cross country and track coach.  

His memories and successes from the track are a whole other story, but besides older daughter Michelle’s success as a collegiate track all-american, another thing Dobbs is very proud to point out is the trio of former students he has been able to coach alongside: Eric Chalus, Zack Miller, and Dale Bergeson have worked to continue to develop the track program.