When recounting some of his most memorable art students, retired Jackson Hole High School art teacher Greg Houda smiled and teared up a little as he bragged about some of his favorite students.
One has a local tattoo studio with a year-long waiting list. Another former student just moved to the West Coast after holding several successful art shows in Jackson. Houda even proudly bragged about the third grader he once taught who had so much energy and looseness in his art, which may have just looked like scribbles to the untrained eye.
“It just makes you cry, you’re so proud of how hard they work and how accomplished they are,” he says.
Houda never intended to become a teacher. He went to college for fine art in South Dakota and traveled around the West looking for work. When he found himself in Jackson in 1979, he took a job as a log home builder.
One day, the local art teacher at the time, who worked with Houda in construction during the summers, mentioned to him that he would make a great art teacher.
“And I still to this day don’t know why he said that,” Houda says.
After some work accidents forced him out of the building business, Houda began substitute teaching for all grades and subjects throughout Teton County.
“I did this for a few years, so I got to follow these kids as they grew up,” he says. “I got to see the same kids, spend time with the same kids, and really get to know them.”
Eventually, he had the opportunity to teach art full-time at Jackson Hole High School, where he spent the remainder of his career. Houda loved teaching so much that for many years he would teach after-school art programs for elementary students in addition to his high school duties. He was also artist-in-residence for special art and literature retreats, and he spent time teaching workshops during the summers.
Mostly, he cared about connecting with students, whether they bonded over art or life in general. If a student didn’t have time in his or her schedule for an art class, Houda would fit the student into his planning period.
“I spent time one-on-one with students,” he says. “It didn’t even need to be about art. It could be about life, it could be about whatever. That is a big part about the teaching thing. It isn’t just about getting your decimals in the right place, it’s just life, trying to share and sort things out.”
In the spring of 2016, Houda officially retired from teaching at Jackson Hole High School. While he has big plans to clean out his art studio, work on his vintage Harleys, focus on his own art, and hang out with his wife of 44 years, Judy, you can see in his face that he will never stop teaching.
“People do a lot of rich things,” he says. “People are doctors and nurses. There are many angels out there helping other people, but I was never going to be a doctor. This was cut out for me. Teaching was the richest thing that I could have done with my life.”