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ST. ANSGAR — Larry Pleggenkuhle has cultivated 40 years’ worth of students at St. Ansgar High School.
Soon, the 62-year-old English instructor, the champion of Chaucer, good conversation and kids, will say goodbye to his final crop.
“I’ll do the normal stuff on the last day — return their tests and papers,” he said. “It is starting to feel a little weird — strange, but not strained.”
“Mr. P” has spent his entire career at St. Ansgar, most of it in this room on the far south side of the building, across the hall from art teacher Tom Townsend, a buddy and colleague of major proportions.
“He is a man of words and a man of great compassion,” said Townsend.
Pleggenkuhle was raised in rural Hawkeye, born to Esther and Ross, the middle of three children. All three would grow to be teachers, mostly “because of how much my mother valued it,” he said.
“I think she always felt bad that she had to drop out of school after the eighth grade. Despite that, she was always extremely well-read.”
He never considered studying anything but language arts when he attended Wartburg College. St. Ansgar seemed the perfect place to hone his craft.
“It paid $6,000 in salary — an outrageous sum — when everyone else was paying $5,400.”
He came to love the community. Today, you might catch him directing mystery plays at the Blue Belle Inn or teaching a journaling class there.
He has taught hundreds — perhaps thousands — of students, starting as a ninth-grade English instructor who has also taught mythology and American literature. During 1989, he was one of a handful chosen, by virtue of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, to study Chaucer one summer at Aberdeen, S.D.
“I am a classicist,” he said. “It was wonderful.”
He made sure his students also got a taste of Chaucer in return.
His daughter, Katie Hansen, was one of them.
“Memorizing and reciting part of Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ was somewhat of a legend in St. Ansgar schools,” she recalled.
“Kids heard about this requirement in about seventh grade and knew that once they reached Mr. P’s English 9, they would have to speak Middle English, complete with the proper pronunciation.
“I think a lot of people who took that class can still recite at least some of the ‘Canterbury Tales.’ ”
Her sister, Ann Pleggenkuhle, said being a daughter and a student “was hard in some aspects.”
“He expected more of my sister and I than his other kids. We are were lucky, though, as others were in St. Ansgar to have him as a resource.”
Teaching for 40 years — he officially reached his third generation of students this year — has been equally as great.
“He starts the class making us laugh,” said Bradford Bisbee, 15. “And then we all get down to business.”
Students still have the same needs as they did when he began, “but they are not nearly as sophisticated as they would like to pretend.”
“The one thing I have noticed, however, is how very much they have these days, how privileged they are,” he said.
Pleggenkuhle is proud of the fact that several of his students have gone on to become editors and proofreaders in publishing houses. He was a journalism teacher until cuts forced elimination of the position.
“The year they cut the program, I had five former students all serving as editors on college newspapers,” he said.
Pleggenkuhle enjoys writing poetry, working and weaving his ideas into a new creation.
“It’s just a creative outlet; I need to do it for my soul,” he said.
When his time nurturing students is done, he will turn his energies to gardening, a hobby enjoyed by both Pleggenkuhle and his wife, Marcia.
His time as a teacher was fulfilling, “except for the times I wanted to quit,” he said with a laugh.
“I did my own thing. I was pretty confident of my abilities — most of the time, erroneously so.”
“The kids kept it fresh,” Pleggenkuhle said.
“Every once in a while, you’d have that student who would have such insight into a book or story — and after 40 years of teaching, you’d look at that student and think, ‘Wow, that is totally new; I never thought of that. Wow.’ ”
Among the retirees:
The following is a list of retiring teachers, administrators and staff from North Iowa public and private schools. Names were provided by the schools.
John Nordman, elementary teacher.
Lynn Whittmeier, secretary.
Charles City I.C.
Lorretta Brown, K-8 teacher.
Charles City Community
Leon Mulford, administrator.
Jan Mulford, elementary teacher.
Joyce Laffe, elementary teacher.
Sheldon Laffe, high school teacher.
Linda Hughes, elementary teacher.
Ann Bottenberg, paraeducator.
Liesel Brummel, food service worker.
Marlene Hennick, secretary.
Mike Callanan, high school teacher.
Doug Harrenstein, elementary teacher librarian.
Lana Ringus, elementary teacher.
Cheral Morgan, high school teacher.
Kel Kramer, high school teacher.
Delores Glawe, elementary secretary.
Karen Hanig, elementary cook, aide.
Diana Pearson, high school teacher.
Dwight Pierson, superintendent.
Alice Lewellen, high school teacher.
Paul Jensen, high school teacher.
Linda Jacobson, high school teacher.
Linda Ferjak, high school teacher.
Pat Formanek, middle school teacher.
Sharon Ubben, high school teacher.
Linda Kuehner, high school teacher.
Sandy Morrison, K-12, talent development program teacher.
Juliana Routh, elementary teacher.
Jan Horner, middle school secretary.
Mike Hansen, high school instructor and coach.
Mason City Community
Dan Delaney, athletics and sctivities director/associate principal, high school.
Geraldine Stahl, Madison Elementary teacher.
Nancy Brown, school nurse.
Janet Kostka, high school teacher.
Tim Swyter, Roosevelt Middle School teacher.
Sharon Steckman, Title 1, Hoover Elementary.
Christine Wyrick, elementary guidance counselor.
Charlotte Locher, high school teacher.
Georgia Luker, high school teacher.
Laura Scoles, elementary media.
Carol Budke, food service, John Adams Middle School.
Eloise Davis, paraprofessional/special education, high school.
Judy Ver Brugge, secretary, Harding Elementary.
Janice Faktor, food service, Roosevelt Middle School.
Judy Carstens, food service, John Adams Middle School.
Jerry Clemons, buildings and grounds, Roosevelt Middle School.
Janice DeLong, food service, Roosevelt Middle School.
Sandy Skipper, secretary, Harding Elementary.
Sherri Clemons, food service, John Adams Middle School.
Inez Dunbar, food service, John Adams Middle School.
Mason City Newman
Mike Kavars, K-12 administrator.
Karen Dadisman, high school instructor.
Mavis Beenen, cook.
Donna Faught, cook.
Georgia Holm, cook.
Cheryl Sluik, cook.
David Kakacek, vocal music.
Tom Smith, high school teacher.
Gloria Holland, middle school teacher.
Barb Weaver, secretary.
Keith Mayer, elementary teacher.
Dianne Souder, high school teacher.
Denise Mayer, elementary secretary.
Darlene Boehlje, elementary teacher.
Marty Taylor, high school teacher.
Lana Eagen and Marlys Pitzenberger, teacher aides.
Gary Beelman, elementary and middle school principal.
Linda Beelman, high school teacher.
Judy Tange, Title I reading.
Elaine Govern, high school teacher.
Sherry Krantz, media specialist.
Robert Peterson, middle school teacher.
Patricia Hinman, high school teacher.
Martha Chancellor, media.
Larry Pleggenkuhle, high school teacher.
Bonnie Wendt, high school teacher.
Donna Egy, elementary teacher.
Polly Suntken, elementary teacher.
Carolyn Bowman, middle school teacher.
Nancy Sliefert, middle school teacher.