Gina Van Ginkel may be the only Bryan County Schools employee who can teach pre-kindergarteners their colors and letters and, at the same time, how to do a high wire trapeze act.
The McAllister Elementary School teacher graduated high among her peers at the Trapeze High Academy in Jacksonville.
She is a military spouse and Iowa native whose husband, Matt, is a 16-year veteran, currently serving in the Coast Guard, with prior Army service.
The mother of two teenage boys, Lucas, 18, and Chase, 14, who recently celebrated her 21st wedding anniversary, says being a military spouse is a lot tougher than doing a flip on a trapeze.
"We’ve lived in four places during that time. We’ve lived in Iowa, Alabama -- where Matt, an engineering officer, went to flight school -- Jacksonville and now Richmond Hill. We’ve been in Richmond Hill four-and-a-half years. Military families make a lot of sacrifices, but I love being a military spouse. It’s hard when your spouse is away on duty. You have to be both parents. I don’t think a lot of non-military spouses understand that. But it’s what I signed up for and it’s my life.
"My friends and neighbors have been very supportive. If I need anything, they will jump to my rescue. This community is very supportive of military families."
Van Ginkel said, as is the case in many military families, her oldest son, Lucas, an Eagle Scout, is exploring the possibility of serving in the military after high school. Her youngest son, Chase, is hoping to achieve Eagle Scout status early in 2018.
"I think it is because of our family connection and an interest in serving his country," she said. "He’s seen that the military has provided a good life for us.
"I work with 22 4- and 5-year-olds every day so that comes with a lot of challenges, too. Being a military spouse and working with students can be interesting, but I love it. If you would have told me 15 years ago this was going to be my life, I would have told you that you were crazy," the youthful looking blond said with a wide grin.
"I grew up in the same house and slept in the same bedroom for 18 years. I thought I would live my life in Iowa. So being here and moving occasionally and doing the things I do is fun. I just never thought this would be my life, but I wouldn’t change anything. I have met and worked with some amazing people. I belong to an amazing church. I wouldn’t change this journey for anything."
She said she doesn’t know how long she will be in Richmond Hill, but she’s in no hurry to leave.
"I love this community," she said. "I love the quiet feel of it. There is great military support. I teach in my church and am involved in Bible study there. I also teach middle and high school youth group at the church."
A typical day for her begins at 5 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m.
"My days are very busy."
When not working or running a busy household, Van Ginkel loves being outdoors.
"We have a boat and love to be on it. We love to fish. Sometimes we go to Ossabaw or St. Catherines. We just hang out there. A perfect day for us is getting up early, getting on the boat, heading offshore about seven miles and going to the reefs, and just spending the day out there. When it’s too cold outside to go on the boat, we love turning on the fireplace and watching movies together."
She also likes to curl up with a good book.
"I like reading biographies and historical fiction," she said. "I’m also a big sports person. I love the Green Bay Packers and New York Yankees. I also love to run. I just got a Nordic track. I like to bike every day. The running is tough on the joints so I’m doing more biking."
She credits her grandfather, John Frank, with being one of the biggest influences in her life.
"He is 91-years-old. He has always been my biggest cheerleader. We would visit him every summer in Hackenensack, N.J., when I was a kid and he always said I could do and be whatever I wanted."
She says that although she never had a desire to join the circus as a kid, when a friend suggested they take trapeze classes, she leapt at the chance.
"My best friend asked me if I wanted to try it and I’m always up for an adventure so I said, why not?
"We were pretty high off the ground. I’d say at least 30 feet. We had to wear harnesses and there were safety nets. They taught us to swing and catch another person on a trapeze. I was at the point where I could get myself on the bar and hang and be caught by somebody else.
"I did a flip and fall and would wind up bouncing up and down the safety net. The first time I took the class I was scared. I took the class four or five times. At the end of the class you had to do a trick on the trapeze. You would do a flip and he would catch you and then you’d fall into the net. It was kind of like your final exam."
Always up for an adventure, Van Ginkel admits she loves trying random things.
"On my 30th birthday, I went to my computer and booked a trip for my mom and sister and I to go to England. I had always wanted to go to Europe. We were there from a Thursday to Monday so it was a quick trip. For my 40th birthday, I had always wanted to go to Paris. So my best friend and I bought a ticket and the next thing I know, we’re in Paris."
Van Ginkel said calling her spontaneous would be a fair assessment and that life’s milestones come easy for her. Although she has many years to go, she is contemplating what lies ahead on her 50th birthday.
"I would love to go to Holland in May when all the tulips are blooming. I’d also love to go to Australia and climb the Harbor Bridge.
"Every now and then I think I’d like to jump out of an airplane. That would be the ultimate rush, but then I don’t know if I could actually do that."
Van Ginkel admits that life is a little about challenges and, generally, she is up to the challenges.
"I don’t want life to pass me by and realize I didn’t do the things I wanted to.