ABO secondary school counselor Matthew Van Zee is perhaps in the perfect position to counsel Sully Buttes students on their path after high school, given the twists and turns his path has taken to become a school counselor.
The Miller native says, “I never got to where I wanted to be, and I couldn’t be happier.” Originally, he intended to be a mechanical engineer. “They brought in some working engineers to talk about the profession,” Van Zee said. “They just weren’t the kind of people I could connect with or be happy to work with, and I decided engineering wasn’t the right place for me.”
Instead, he earned a liberal arts degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. “I had taken quite a few landscape design courses and worked for a landscaping company.” After graduating, Van Zee says the company he worked for asked him to continue working. “Kansas City is one of my favorite cities, so I stayed.”
After some time, Van Zee returned to his hometown and started his own construction company. “I have worked all my life in construction starting with tile at the age of twelve.” The physical demands of the job took a toll on his body and Van Zee looked for professional alternatives.
“I’ve always loved math, so I went to Northern and asked what it would take to get a high school math teaching diploma,” VanZee said. “I love that age group and their optimism, their belief that the world is still accessible and full of hope; they are just starting their journey and the sky is the limit.
Upon learning it would take three more years of education to become certified in math, “the admissions rep asked if I’d be interested in school counseling.” Van Zee says he has dismissed the possibility. After talking to his wife about it, he decided to explore it further. For this, it took another two years and he got his master’s degree.
“This is the third time we’ve worked together,” VanZee said of fellow ABO elementary counselor Dianna Knox. “Dr. Knox was my advisor and professor at Northern.
With his school counselor certification, Van Zee returned to his hometown to serve there as an elementary counselor. He continued his career at Stanley County where he became a partner of Knox. “Sometime after she left, they merged the elementary and high school locations,” Van Zee said. “It was too much. The school was too big for that. I asked them to go back to having two consultants, but they didn’t.
Van Zee began looking for other positions and landed the position at Sully Buttes, where, as an ABO elementary counselor, Knox is again his colleague.
“I never thought about becoming a consultant, but I love it,” Van Zee said. At Stanley County, Van Zee coached three sports in addition to serving as a counselor, and he says he appreciates the free time he now has at night. “There’s always something happening,” VanZee said. “My daughter is a sophomore at Sunshine Bible Academy and she plays basketball now, so I got to watch her play. My youngest is also in the basketball club at Miller. They asked me about coaching, but I said I’d rather not do it this year. I do some refereeing, when they need help, I enjoy it.”
Van Zee lives in Miller with his wife Rebecca and children Garrett (18), Annaliese (16) and Alexander (13). “We remain committed to pursuing the sport,” Van Zee said.
“With our summers off, my kids and I go on the road. Our goal is to hit all fifty states. When it’s time to hit the road, we load up my car and tend it, go cheap packing cheese and mortadella sandwiches until we get to our destination, and then find the best restaurant to eat,” where they experience the cuisine of such as alligator and etouffee in New Orleans and lobster in Maine.
“When I was young, my family traveled, so I love doing it with my kids,” Van Zee said.