The Grendahls: Thankful for life - in Wadena

Say hello to Robby and Lori Grendahl, Wadena residents for 26 years and counting.

Lori, Robby Grendahl.JPG
Lori and Robby Grendahl have hearts for teaching and the community. Submitted photo

T his story is one of a collection called Hometown Wadena . As you read about people in the community, I hope you find more reason to call Wadena home. Whether you’ve known the people for years or never even seen them walking down main street, may you enjoy getting to know people.

In the details, these two know each other. And with a love for teaching and the community, Wadena-Deer Creek social studies teacher Robby Grendahl and sixth grade teacher Lori Grendahl are sharing pieces of their journey together.

“Do you know this story?” Lori asks me as she began noting how the two have known each other since 12 years old when Robby saw a picture of Lori in the contest case after she shot her first deer with a bow. That same year Robby determined he was going to marry Lori. Lori too knew she had a crush on Robby but that neither would say so. Both their fathers also worked for Tenaco in locations around the area.

Heart transplant

At 15 years old, Robby had a heart transplant at the University of Minnesota, the youngest at the time. With no “playbook” to follow, Robby said things were somewhat invented as they went. He was considered a “flagship” patient, as Lori said.


“I went from a super physically active person, young kid, playing sports and doing all that to being pretty much bed ridden that summer in a short amount of time,” Robby said.

The special guests at the Donate Life flag raising included (left to right) Robby and Lori Grendahl and Donna and Bob Grendahl. Photo courtesy TCHC

From June to August, it was a downhill battle. The community “definitely made a difference,” as Robby said, like the current networks of the wrestling club, hockey association, Rotary and the Lions.

By December, Robby played in a hockey game for a few shifts, though the no checking rule didn’t work out and the evening news showing the game meant a call from his doctor. He stayed with his pediatrician until 25 years old, an emotional change as Lori said.

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Today Robby said he doesn’t share much about his heart transplant with his students though Lori finds his experience to be a good role model for the students. She shares about his transplant with her students as the “extremely open” one, as Robby said. There is always the balance of lifestyle precautions and medication after a transplant but if he could tell people anything following his organ transplant, Robby would say use your time well.

“We have a sign in our house that says, ‘I do not intend to tiptoe safely through life to arrive safely at the grave,’” Robby said which doesn’t mean living recklessly but rather that “We live,” as Lori said.


College, early career years

While there weren’t a lot of chances for the two to meet with both at different high schools and in sports, they again connected in college. And when they started dating it was like an “old glove,” as Lori described.

Robby started college as a biology education major and switched to social studies; Lori started in business and psychology before Robby encouraged her to become a teacher. Lori’s brother and sister are also in the education field. Community involvement comes at a high value for the Grendahls, too.

“We both grew up in households where human service professions were extremely valued,” Robby said.

With just months of difference, the Grendahls began their journey of teaching at WDC rather than Pillager.

“We made a pact whoever got the first job that’s where we were going to move,” Lori said.

Robby began first and after three years of applying Lori also started at WDC. They wanted to have health insurance, which wasn’t required at the time, and simply start where they could.

Education lessons


Robby Grendahl
Wadena-Deer Creek High School social studies teacher, Robby Grendahl, was selected by Wadena VFW to receive the Citizen Education Teacher award. Grendahl's nomination will be forwarded to the VFW District competition in February.

Around 3,000 students and 26 years later for Robby, he is grateful for the families he’s gotten to meet as a teacher at WDC. Lori too noted the “ripple effect” despite now feeling like the Grandma of the class. The students have come “full circle,” from students to their younger siblings to now the original students being the parents of new students, as Robby and Lori said.

“Oh it gets worse dear,” Lori said. “I looked at my class and I went, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve had your mom, your dad, your mom and dad.’”

"It’s not because it’s easy, you have to love this."

— Lori Grendahl

The two plan to keep their career of teaching going as long as they can. They simply love teaching.

“I keep telling her if I wake up one morning and say I don’t want to go then I’m done,” Robby said.

Both have countless lessons they teach their students, but on the lessons they hope to instill Lori said if her students get anything this would be it.

“Love yourself in a humble way,” Lori said.

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For the high school students and those he coaches, Robby said responsibility and having a professional approach are important. Not every student passing through the hallways will get this message, Robby said with a laugh, but when the students need to take responsibility they always have.

“You have to be there. Being there is such a huge part of it,” Robby said.

What makes Wadena home?

Robby and Lori had moments that marked Wadena as home. Besides being born and raised in Wadena, when Robby was in college a striking moment of three volunteers showing up in Duluth made him realize how much the community in Wadena shows up, as he said.

“The community really they come together with a lot of things,” Robby said.

The memories too, like in the old high school where he attended and taught, make Wadena home.

"That's pretty gratifying to see that your students, your former students, chose to make homes here as well. That speaks a lot to the community."

— Robby Grendahl

Lori’s moments include getting pulled over by a police officer in front of the school and a woman commenting about it to her at Snyder Drug. She was also reminded of how well she’s known neighbors when naming off who lived in houses three times ago while they helped deliver materials for distance learning in the spring.

“I’m going to say connectiveness and you get out of it what you put into it,” Lori said. “I think the school is a hub in most of our smaller towns like Wadena and so being a part there and trying to … do well and be a good role model and enjoy getting to know our students on a, like you said, a human basis and just being connected.”

Have someone you think should be included in this collection? Email with the person’s name and a few notes about them.

Related Topics: WADENA
Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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