I remember going to that football game at Lac qui Parle and taking a photo of Carlson and Dennis Rettke sitting together. They were sitting away from the main body of fans - by themselves really - and were conversing in an intense way. I deduced they were discussing school issues which would entail funding.
Education is always a huge priority for state-level politicians. No one says he/she doesn't support education. It's a question of how. Rettke made a career of building education interests. He's one of two former pillars in Morris area education who have left us recently. Les Lindor (my former neighbor) is the other.
Rettke passed away suddenly at his home at the end of August. I'm sure many of us lost track of him after he left Morris. I wasn't aware he had settled in Wisconsin, Boyceville specifically (a town I'm not familiar with). I'm inclined to admire a professional like Rettke who decided never to become a "lifer" somewhere. His resume showed him moving periodically. Oh, he'd certainly stay in one place long enough to have an impact, like he did here. Then he'd hear a different call and roll up his sleeves for the next challenge.
Watching him converse with such earnestness with Governor Carlson, it doesn't surprise me he moved on to become director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association. That chapter in his career covered 2001-04. I suppose you could say he was a lobbyist. A more worthy cause you probably couldn't find. Getting schools funded properly requires finesse and a feel for politics, perhaps even with some of the cynicism that comes with the latter.
Because I was in the cynicism-laced profession of journalism, maybe we were on the same wavelength even if not exactly partners. He was rather upset once when I photographed one of our fine orange Morris school buses with "Donnelly" misspelled on the side. In a memo to the board he stated "I have some theories on how (the photo) ended up on the front page." He appeared to know that I was assigned to take the picture, so he couldn't blame me for the actual act. I had in fact suggested in the back shop of the newspaper that it might be a neat photo for page 1. Lo and behold it got put there. Mr. Rettke had a "mole" at the paper who gave him the background, not that I care.
Regarding the old "Morris-Donnelly" days, I have been informed there was nothing legal about that name. By "nothing legal" I don't mean illegal. I just mean the name was promoted as a gentlemen's agreement, not as an actual formal, legal construction. Heck, I also learned that in a legal way, we never had a "middle school" here, even though I typed that term a thousand times, seemingly. We referred to the middle school on an informal basis. This information comes my way from a school board member.
Anyway, the school bus story had a happy ending with the spelling corrected, and I seem to recall Rettke reporting there was a second bus with a glitch too.
Dennis Rettke was superintendent in Morris from 1987 to 1995. It's a reflection of his caliber as a leader that he was chosen for that even in the midst of quite substantial school strife and controversy. He was already an administrator in the Morris system. A time of controversy might be expected to influence the board to get "someone from outside," someone about whom there would be no suggestions of bias. The board gave the nod for Rettke and his promotion, and it seemed the job got done in relation to that controversy.
Oh my, it wasn't pretty. A dispute had arisen over whether extracurricular was headed in the right direction. Not that I think anyone would say it was. There was a prevailing feeling that extracurricular was sort of hanging limp with no special motivation or idealism. It wasn't a simple case of wins and losses although losses can be a reflection of festering issues.
This all developed in the mid-1980s when I think education was reaching a crossroads anyway. The boomers were gone from school hallways and with them the assurance schools could get by just managing their teeming numbers - just keeping "order," really.
Education is always going through chapters. An administrator who fits in nicely with one chapter might not make the adjustments for the next.
I think beginning in the mid-1980s, parents started demanding accountability in a new and special way. They wanted administrators to begin behaving more like real administrators or managers, not just former teachers whose heart would still be in promoting the parochial aims of the teachers union. Oh, I have a long memory about these things. I know of what I speak.
No one wants teachers to be hassled. But at the time Rettke was here, the constituencies of schools weren't going to back off any more, i.e. to be docile and not engaging. Their hesitation about engagement or even some confrontation was dwindling. The era of the "helicopter parents" was dawning.
I remember Rettke standing on the stage of our high school auditorium after the conclusion of a sports banquet/program, smiling ear to ear even though he was probably in a mood to deck someone. This was probably one of the most bizarre sports banquets in the history of our republic. An individual who had become a lightning rod, who had been sort of a bear with boxing gloves in dealing with concerns, was the emcee and dragged politics into the event. He returned to the podium more than once to do this. He said he would "name names" but he didn't. He referred to "a great work of American literature" but he wasn't talking about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He brandished it. It was a "statement of concern" signed by local citizens. Those on his side referred to it as a "petition" because that term suggests a bunch of narrow busybodies.
The Dairy Queen became controversial in town. People reportedly could avail themselves of signing the document in question there. Today we have Chick-Fil-A and gay rights. In 1987 we had the Dairy Queen in Morris. (It has different owners now.)
Apparently letters were sent out on school stationery advising area schools not to have their buses stop at the Dairy Queen, or so the legend goes. Were there boycotts generally? All I can do is quote a high-profile business owner from that time, who said "a lot of people got hurt by that."
On the morning after the banquet/program I sat at the counter of Atlantic Avenue Restaurant (DeToy's now) next to a former school board member, a fellow affiliated with a church that keeps its distance from athletics. Even so, he knew all about what happened the night before. And this was at a very early hour, probably around 6 a.m. which was my habit for getting going then. (Today I watch "Morning Joe" on MSNBC.)
"Everybody knew he was going to do it," this fellow counter-sitter told me, referring to that lightning rod individual.
Oh my, I agreed. But "do it" he did. I still don't see why it was allowed. The normal professional decorum should have been maintained. As time went on I found there was no clear consensus in the community about this. That's what made it a controversy - the inability of the loose network of "town leaders" to push a consensus that would bring quiet in a timely way. I would have loved to see a sociologist camp out here, take notes and write a book about it all.
My career was hurt by all of that. Years later certain people would still have reservations about dealing with me.
Rettke was a declared candidate for superintendent at the time of the banquet. He got it, worked to suppress the "insurgence" by making wise decisions, and today we have pretty smooth sailing. We even have Big Cat Stadium which is a palace of a facility.
Rettke spent three years as superintendent of Boyceville (WI) Public Schools as the last chapter of his career. I think a lot of us would suggest he left this world in the best way: suddenly. No languishing with chronic conditions.
He leaves behind a legacy of education quality. I'm convinced that if someone were to tell him up in heaven that yours truly is still covering the Tigers, post-newspaper, he'd smile! I hope he has shaken hands with Les Lindor.
A memorial service for Dennis Rettke was held on September 7 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Boyceville.
Dennis Rettke, RIP.