ABO Secondary School Counselor Matthew Van Zee is perhaps perfectly positioned to advise Sully Buttes students about their path after high school given the twists and turns his own path took toward becoming a school counselor.
The Miller native says, “I’ve never ended up where I wanted to be, and I couldn’t be happier” Initially, he intended to become a mechanical engineer. “They had some working engineers come in to talk about the profession,” said Van Zee. “They just weren’t the sorts of people I could connect with or that I would be happy to work with, and I decided engineering wasn’t the right spot for me.”
Instead, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. “I had taken quite a few landscape design classes, and worked for a landscaping company.” After he graduated, Van Zee says the company he worked for asked him to remain on the job. “Kansas City is one of my favorite cities, so I stayed.”
After a time, Van Zee returned to his hometown and started his own construction company. “I’ve been working my whole life in construction starting with shingling at the age of twelve.” The physical demands of the job took a toll on his body, and Van Zee looked into professional alternatives.
“I have always loved math, so I went to Northern and asked what it would take to get a teaching degree for high school math,” said VanZee. “I love that age group and their optimism, their belief that the world is still accessible and full of hope; they’re just starting their journey and the sky is the limit.”
Upon learning it would require an additional three years of education to earn the math certification, “the admissions rep asked if I’d be interested in School Counseling.” Van Zee says that he dismissed the possibility. After talking with his wife about it, he decided to explore it further. For that, another two years was required, and he earned his Master’s Degree.
“This is our third time working together,” said VanZee of his colleague ABO Elementary Counselor Dianna Knox. “Dr. Knox was my advisor and professor at Northern.”
With his school counseling certification, Van Zee returned to his hometown to serve as the elementary counselor there. He continued his career at Stanley County where he became Knox’s colleague. “Some time after she left, they combined the elementary and high school positions,” said Van Zee. “It was too much. The school was too big for that. I asked them to go back to having two counselors, but they wouldn’t.”
Van Zee began looking for other positions and landed the placement at Sully Buttes, where, as ABO Elementary Counselor, Knox is again his colleague.
“I never planned on being a counselor, but I love it,” said Van Zee. At Stanley County, Van Zee coached three sports in addition to serving as the counselor, and says he appreciates the free time at night he has now. “Something always comes up,” said VanZee. “My daughter is a sophomore at Sunshine Bible Academy and she plays basketball right now so I’ve been able to watch her play. My youngest is also in club basketball in Miller. They asked me about coaching, but I said I’d rather not this year. I do some refereeing, when they need help with that, I enjoy that.”
Van Zee makes his home in Miller with his wife Rebecca and children Garrett (18), Annaliese (16) and Alexander (13). “We keep busy chasing sports,” said Van Zee.
“With our summers off, my kids and I go on trips. Our goal is to hit all fifty states. When it’s time to hit the road, we pack into my car and tent it, go on the cheap by packing cheese and bologna sandwiches until we get to our destination, and then we find the best restaurant to eat,” where they experience the cuisine of the area such as alligator and etouffee in New Orleans and lobster in Maine.
“When I was young, my family traveled, so I like to do that with my kids,” said Van Zee.