Former students, colleagues mourn principal killed in Fitchburg crash: ‘She was integral in me staying alive during a really tough time’

VERONA, Wis. — Multiple school district communities are mourning the loss of a beloved educator, Beth Steffen, killed in a tragic accident in Fitchburg Tuesday morning. They remember her for supporting students and staff not just through studies, but through life.

Steffen was well known throughout south-central Wisconsin’s education community, working as a teacher and administrator at Beloit High School, La Follette High School, Edgewood High School, and Badger Ridge Middle School, where she was principal up until her death.

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“Great people are hard to come by and she was one of them,” said James Listug, who worked with Steffen at Edgewood High School from 2018-2019.

But for Jennifer May, Steffen was more than great — she was a lifeline for struggling teens like she was at Beloit High School.

“She was integral in me staying alive during a really tough time in my life,” she said in an email to News 3 Now after hearing of Steffen’s death.

Without Steffen’s presence, “I wouldn’t be here,” May said.

“There’s no way I would. I went through some really horrific things. Just knowing she was there to listen to me was what kept me here,” she said.

May was a student in Steffen’s English and Women Writers classes.

“I was in a really unhealthy, unsafe home. And I was able to write about what was happening in my journals,” she recalled.

And after reading them, she said Steffen lent a much-needed ear and kind heart.

“My mother had said some things that were very abusive,” May said. “And [Steffen] had just put something, you know, in the border: ‘Yeah, that does sound really painful.’”

“And just knowing that someone was hearing me, that’s what kept me going — I’m really grateful for her,” she said, fighting back tears.

It’s that extra mile that Listug recalls Steffen going at Edgewood.

“She made it a point to walk over when the first day she was hired and shake everybody’s hand and when I mean everybody, I mean even the maintenance crew,” he said.

“She’d walk by, talk to everybody ask some questions,” Listug said. “And that’s the way she approached life, that’s the way she approached her teaching.”

While at Edgewood, she also pushed the boundaries of what teaching could do for students. After taking a trip to Montgomery, Alabama, Listug said she was very intrigued by lawyer and equal rights advocate Bryan Stevenson.

“She got us to do an all-school read on Bryan Stevenson and that was the focus for a whole year,” Listug said, “really got kids out of their comfort zone to really talk about things in a frank way that maybe at a parochial school they never really experienced before.”

“She valued experiences over things, she valued learning about people, the things that make us different and the things that make us the same,” he said.

Years after her time at Beloit High, May said she’s gotten trauma therapy and has worked through some of her pain.

While Steffen is no longer touching young minds, May said her legacy can never be erased.

“She’s made an impact on everyone. Because now I have children, I know I can help and be there for them in a way that she modeled for me,” May said. “She’s amazing. Really amazing.”