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Local leaders reflect on the educators who inspired them

Local leaders reflect on the educators who inspired them

Teachers in Rochester Public Schools returned to the classroom Monday. (Students don't go back to school until after Labor Day.) To celebrate all the educators in our area, we decided to republish this piece from Teacher Appreciation Day back in May.

In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Day, we reached out to some notable community leaders and asked them to tell us about the educators who have made an impact on their lives. 

The following responses were published unedited.

LIsa Clarke, executive director of the Destination Medical Center EDA

As a child I was very inquisitive and active in the classroom.

As I look back, I realize I was fortunate to have many influential teachers during my K-12 education.

I recall one science teacher in particular who created an environment that allowed for ideas and questions and also allowed for mistakes- all part of his philosophy of learning. 

During his class, he showed us, through experiments, that many ideas are important and many of those same ideas will not come to fruition. He accepted mistakes every single day as part of problem-solving. Through this teacher, I learned that mistakes are an important part of finding solutions and finding success.

It has served me well in life all around.

Heidi Mestad, director of the Minnesota Children's Museum Rochester

I have great admiration and respect for Snuffy Williams! He was my economics teacher at John Marshall who had a vibrant and nontraditional style of teaching. I am a visual learner and shined through other approaches to reflect my learning and creativity.  He embraced that all students should be empowered and that not all student intelligence is based on standardized testing.

Audrey Betcher, director of the Rochester Public Library

The Stewartville Public School teachers that had the most influence on me growing up had two common characteristics:  

  • they pushed me to work hard and love learning

  • they did not tolerate kids being mean to other kids.

Thank you Stan Tordsen, Diane Bergland, Ron Kummer, and Gordy Koehn.

Kevin Torgerson, Olmsted County Sheriff

I have several and it is hard to single one out. But I would say the greatest impact still have to be Rich Decker (current coach for Mayo’s Girls Basketball team). Coach Decker was my homeroom in Kenyon for Kenyon High School as they say back in the glory days.  He as a Social Studies/Civics teacher but more importantly he was my homeroom teacher. I admired him as our basketball coach and how he coached. 

I was a wrestler and we had a great teacher/coach too in Dave Mauseth who taught me how discipline and hard work would pay off and it did many times over. But for Coach Decker I have followed him throughout his career since leaving Kenyon and he has been the same man, father, teacher and coach he was then and still is today. He demanded much, through hard work and discipline and expected results. 

Thank you to all our teachers for the hard work they do. Sometimes it isn’t the teaching but the modeling of being a solid adult that makes the difference in kids’ lives.

Steve Borchardt, Housing Initiative Director for the Rochester Area Foundation

I was blessed to have several very good teachers and coaches along my journey in ISD 535. The standout for me was: Mike Ladin (Grade 6, 1964-1965 school year, Elton Hills Elementary School).

He was the exactly the right mix of disciplinarian, coach and nurturer. He knew how to relate to and reach both the impetuous/challenging kid from a tough background and the well-behaved-achiever kid. He made me want to learn and, very importantly, I wanted to become the kind of man he was. He made me feel accepted. He made me feel worthy. He taught me accountability. He would be 86 years old today. 

Unfortunately, we lost him to cancer at the tender age of 62 in 1993. He never knew the profound impact he had on the person I am today. I think of him often.

PS: He lived on 37th St NW. When I ran for sheriff in 1990 I asked him if I could put an campaign sign in his yard; a great, high traffic, location. He said: “Borchardt, I’ve never put a campaign sign in my yard for anyone. For you I will make an exception.” I was so proud of that sign and it wasn’t about the value of the location. It was that, once again, he had validated me on a very personal level.

Jenna Bowman, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance

My educator would be Kathryn Gardner at Century High School here in Rochester.

While I was not a student of Kathryn’s in the classroom, I had the great fortunate to be instructed by her during my four years on the Century Student Government. Kathryn has supported, challenged, and aided in the development of many student leaders during her career. Her wit and wisdom was greatly appreciated during my time with her at Century. Kathryn has continued to serve as a mentor and confidant since I graduated and I feel grateful to have her in my life. She is an inspiring example of the lasting impact educators have on the lives of their students.

Annie Henderson, co-owner of Forager Brewing Company

Mrs. Mielke was my second grade teacher. She taught me to find value in all my classmates and that everyone learns differently. She was my teacher during the international trans-Antarctica expedition, which we followed throughout the school year. The coverage of that expedition and the life lessons we learned about perseverance and teamwork I will never forget.  

Tim Nela, co-founder of the Med City Freeze

I went to many different schools as a child and don't remember many teachers (or even classmates) because of that hoppingaround so often, but I will never forget my 4th grade art teacher, Mrs. Suter.

As a child, I never wanted to admit my passion for art because being a jock was the thing to do. Mrs. Suter was the first teacher who allowed me to openly express myself, and I credit a lot of my free spirit to her.

She made such an imprint on my life and character that now, as an adult, I still get together with her from time to time ... and we even exchange texts every now and then. Mrs. Suter made a huge impact on me and I will always remember her for that.

I commend teachers like her, Malachi Johnson, Mr. Rietvald, and Will Ruffin, just to name a few.


Cover graphic: Med City Beat / Canva

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