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Ronneberg's sunny saying pulled him through the ups and downs

Photo by Dana Pavek Some of the proud owners of Curt Ronneberg T-shirts at Wadena-Deer Creek High School are, front row, from left: Paige Hartman, Curt Ronneberg, Hope Theisen and A.J. Tollefson. Back row, from left: Michaela Lehmkuhl, Hailey Formo, Whitney Ament, Heather Theisen and Sydney Schissel. The T-Shirts impart a philosophy that Ronneberg has lived by the last quarter of a century.

Curt Ronneberg came to a crossroads in his 39-year teaching career after he had been teaching at Wadena-Deer Creek for a quarter century.

The senior faculty member at WDC, who is retiring from his full-time teaching position at the end of the school year, was in jeopardy of losing his teaching job at the time because he was the junior member of his department and the district was being forced to make cuts. To make matters worse, his wife, Jeanne, was also facing the loss of her teaching job at M State-Wadena.

Ronneberg, who served in combat during the Vietnam War with the Third Marine Division, knew a serious situation when he saw one. The Dawson, Minn., farm boy, who had never heard of Wadena before starting work here in 1970, knew he might have to move his family away from the community they had come to call home. It was at that point that he added philosophy to his math teaching skills and decided "every day is a good day." The philosophy buoyed his spirits and helped him through the crisis.

"I decided that no matter what happens in my life, no matter what someone says to me, no matter what they do, that today is going to be a good day," Ronneberg said.

Some of Ronneberg's seventh-grade students had T-shirts printed up earlier in the school year that states his philosophy and about 25 of them own one.

Not only students but teachers have bought into Ronneberg's philosophy. Some time back one of his colleagues was upset and frustrated because she believed she was responsible for her student's failure to behave and grasp their lessons. After dwelling on Ronneberg's philosophy for a week, she came back with a better outlook.

"That made my day that I could help her out too," Ronneberg said.

One of Ronneberg's best students was Dr. David Foley, presently serving as a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, the son of former WDC superintendent Larry Foley.

"I remember one day in eighth grade math at the end of the year we were reviewing for the final exam. Just at that instant I couldn't remember the world 'parabola' and I just asked 'does anyone remember what this curve is called and David Foley put his hand up and said 'Mr. Ronneberg, that is called a parabola.' He had probably heard me mention the word a couple of times. He could have probably done anything he wanted to. He was very conscientious."

What kind of kid makes a good math student?

"They have good reasoning skills, they can see patterns. I think those two things primarily," Ronneberg said.

One of the biggest changes Ronneberg has witnessed during his years of teaching math is the integration of calculators and computers into the curriculum. Students and teachers have also changed, he said.

"Present-day students might lack basic skills but they are good problem-solvers," Ronneberg said. "The role of the teacher has changed too. The teacher is now sometimes the parent, the disciplinarian, the counselor, the probation officer, the clergy, etc."

When WDC High School science teacher Craig Klawitter came to Wadena 31 years ago to teach, Ronneberg was the eighth-grade math teacher.

"Curt tag-teamed with Laurel "Baldy" Waldahl as the junior high math department," Klawitter recalled.

Then, 24 years ago with budget cuts looming, Ronneberg and Klawitter furthered their education. They were classmates at Bemidji State University for three summers studying chemistry and physics through the National Science Foundation. "Curt and I became co-physical science teachers," Klawitter said. "Curt even got a chance to teach high school chemistry."

While Ronneberg is not tired of teaching, he believes the time is right for him to leave his full-time job.

"If I wouldn't retire another person would be a halftime, maybe a part-time person, so I did it to save someone else's job," Ronneberg said, who plans to continue teaching as a substitute, that is, when he not exercising his horses.

The Ronnebergs own a 40-acre ranch two miles east of Sebeka and the corral is filling up with chubby horseflesh.

"We have these horses at home that have to be ridden, they are just getting fat now," Ronneberg said with a smile.

After 39 years of teaching math at WDC, Ronneberg has plenty to smile about: his wife, Jeanne, also an educator, retires from M State Wadena on Thursday of this week. They plan to travel and spend time with their two married children, Andy and Molly, as well as their seven grandchildren, who range in age from 21 to 7.

Ronneberg's advice for the next generation of teachers is quite simple to grasp, but not always easy to follow.

"Students expect you, parents expect you, the school board expects you to give your best performance every day," Ronneberg said. "I guess that is what I have tried to do every day for 39 years, give my best performance."

Dana Pavek of WDC schools contributed to this report.