Art teacher Dawn Burton helps sophomore Celia Macias, left, and junior Claire Dlouhy with their pottery projects May 4 at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha. Burton retires this month after 43 years at the school. MIKE MAY/STAFF


Bringing art to life for decades: Dawn Burton retires from Roncalli High School

In her 43 years of teaching art at Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha, Dawn Burton has inspired students to become artists and teachers themselves. She has reignited passions for art and inspired students to see the beauty in God’s creation.

Burton retires this month after teaching photography, drawing, painting, pottery, 3D design, a fashion design class, introductory and advanced level courses, as well as portfolio development.

“I was so worried about this in the fall – did I make enough of a difference in the lives of some of these students?” said Burton. “I’m starting to hear from quite a few of them now.”

“This year I taught the grandson of an alum, so I knew this was time to go,” she said.

As she cleaned out her classroom full of art samples, remembering the students who made them, Burton said the tears came easily. 

“It will be good, but I’m missing these kids already,” she said. “Going through all the art brings back memories.”

Burton said it is fun to think about how far the kids have come.

Charles Baughman was one such student she influenced. Now a nationally known artist and teacher, Baughman said he at first gave Burton a lot of grief. 

“Freshman and sophomore year I was thinking I knew much more than I did,” he said. “I took a lot from her. She proved she knew her stuff.”

Baughman said Burton was a big influence in his life. 

“My wife and I own an art school and I’ve shown around the world,” he said. “I’m making a living and I have her to thank for getting me started on those things. My students are part of her legacy because she influenced me, and I influenced them.” 

Baughman noted Burton’s patience, always taking her time and explaining how the different mediums worked.

“She was very caring about each student and working with them on what they would be interested in.” 

And Baughman learned that art can be a spiritual and meditative process. 

“If you’re in the pursuit of beauty you’re also in the pursuit of truth,” he said. “You’re finding yourself, or God or nature’s wisdom.”


Burton, a member of Lord of Love Lutheran Church in Omaha, said she felt called to Roncalli because faith underlies everything that happens, such as beginning every class period with prayers, and was confident she had the job before she left the interview.

And Burton appreciates that teaching at a Catholic school allows teachers to relate to students on a deeper, more spiritual level.

“I look for the face of Jesus in my students but also hope they see the face of Jesus in me.”

“Most students do not know that I am not Catholic,” she said. When a student is hurting, showing faith can be just listening to them, talking with them, giving them a needed hug, a smile, saying ‘have a great day,’ giving them advice, or relating stories to their needs, such as my heaven story when my father was dying.”

Burton said her father spoke of seeing his deceased father in the room during his final moments of life. 

“It’s so neat to know that when you’re dying someone you love will come and show you the way to heaven is what I tell the kids,” she said. “I have told my heaven story many times to the student who is on the verge of not believing in heaven or not knowing what to think when a family member is sick or dying.”

“A lot of times you can look at a student and know they need extra support, and you will ask about their days,” she said. “I’ve talked a lot about things that have happened in my life because of God and try to help them that way.”

“I knew this was where I was meant to be and that God led me here,” Burton said. “It’s home. The wonderful faculty, kids, working with the families – that’s why I’m here.”


Sophomore Celia Macias said Burton reignited her passion for art that she lost when she was younger. Macias said she enjoyed drawing but didn’t have many ideas. She said she didn’t see much of a career in art so stopped drawing around fifth grade. 

“Miss Burton really helped me get my passion back, she really helped me get back out there with her help,” she said. “I’ve been able to enter stuff in competitions and I’ve got a lot of great recognition for my stuff that I never thought would happen.”  

Macias said she feels genuinely sorry for future Roncalli students who will never be able to develop under Burton’s guidance and find their true love and passion for the arts. 

“I am so very grateful and proud to have been able to develop my skills in ways I never thought I would,” she said. “Miss Burton has helped me make so many new amazing friendships and has really helped me come out of my shell this year,” Macias said.

“When I was a freshman I was super introverted and didn’t see a need to be making friends,” she said. “Not only did she impact me so greatly with my art but also helped me become the person I am right now and helped me create so many amazing friendships.”

Junior Claire Dlouhy said Burton is the best teacher she’s had.

“Ms. Burton always sees the potential in people and never the faults. She helps kids, including myself, see the importance of art,” she said.

“I’ve learned how to look at positives, when to start over, and when my art doesn’t need any more work. I love her with all my heart, and I’ll miss her so much when she’s retired.”

Burton said Roncalli is a special place.

“It’s family. The people are always in my heart and never forgotten,” she said. “There’s so much special meaning to me with relationships. It’s going to be really hard to leave. One door closes and another one opens.”

Burton will continue to inspire artists after her retirement by teaching private lessons. She will also have time to work on her own art, which includes photography and fused glasswork.

“It’s so much fun working with people and when you see what level they are at, help them realize all the skills they have and how they can take that to a new level and nurture them along,” she said.



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