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Cass Lake-Bena superintendent dies in traffic accident; school districts reflect on Lehse's career as educator, superintendent

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The Cass Lake-Bena interim superintendent died in a traffic accident Sunday afternoon.

Diane M. Lehse, 66, of Menahga, died when the 2010 Ford Fusion she was in struck a semi truck head-on on state Highway 34 west of Walker, according to the Minnesota State Patrol out of Thief River Falls.

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The accident was reported at 4:38 p.m. in Cass County.

The Cass Lake-Bena Board of Education, along with administrators and school staff, met in an emergency session Monday morning to address Lehse's death. The board later sent a press release.

"It is with great sadness that we inform you that Interim Superintendent of Cass Lake-Bena School (District) Diane Lehse was killed in an automobile accident Sunday afternoon," the press release stated. "Counselors and social workers will be available at each site in order to provide grief counseling as needed."

According to the press release, all regularly scheduled school events and activities will take place as scheduled.

Lehse, who was wearing her seat belt, was driving east in the westbound lane of Highway 34 when the accident occurred, according the State Patrol.

Driving the 1989 Mack 400 semi truck was Bernard P. Dahlvang, 56, of Wadena, who was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Park Rapids with non-life-threatening injuries.

A passenger in the semi, 32-year-old Steven R. Dahlvang of Verndale, Minn., also suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Park Rapids.

Both vehicles were totaled.

'So willing to help'

In August, Lehse succeeded Carl Remmers, who resigned after he was charged in July with groping a 17-year-old boy in a school building and at a Bemidji motel.

"(Lehse) just began with us, but she was getting us organized and on the right path, that's for sure," said Terri Goggleye, the district's administrative assistant.

Lehse came out of retirement as the superintendent of the Clearbrook-Gonvick School District after two years to take on the interim duties in Cass Lake-Bena.

"Diane came to us in August, when we were in dire need of a superintendent," said Cass Lake-Bena school board Chairwoman Holly Evans. "She called me out of the blue. I had never met her before. She was so willing to help us out."

Lehse was hired as a temporary interim superintendent and was later hired to be the interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year. She commuted to Cass Lake from her home in Menahga.

"We're in shock over here that this has happened," Evans said. "We feel bad she was driving back and forth."

Evans said the district's main concern is the well-being of Lehse's family and also to have grieving counselors available.

"We're so sad," Evans said. "We've been through so much this summer. To have gotten that phone call last night was devastating. We're very lucky to have her for the short time that we did. She came in here, jumped in with two feet on the ground and took off running."

Previous to her work in Cass Lake, Lehse served as superintendent in Clearbrook-Gonvick and Kelliher school districts. She started her education career teaching at Rosemount High School.

"She always made time for people," said Jacob Melby, dean of students/athletic director at Clearbrook-Gonvick. "Her door was always open. She took pride in her job and always had time to ask how I was doing."

Melby said he was shocked to hear of her death. He said he will remember Lehse for her positive encouragement she gave him when he was considering a career move to school administration.

"She encouraged me and gave me things specifically to do, like how to work things out with parents and how to document things - she was very professional in that sense," Melby said.

Melby added he remembered Lehse was "really good at getting grants," and was still actively involved in an early childhood initiative committee with the school district.

Mary Lundin, the dean of students at the Kelliher School District, said she recalls working with Lehse when the school moved into its new building more than 10 years ago.

"We moved into the new school building the first year she came," said Lundin, who was then a teacher when Lehse was superintendent. "She wrote a lot of grants to help move us ahead as far technology."

Lundin said she remembers Lehse was actively involved in an arts committee.

"I think she very much cared about schools, the community and students," Lundin added. "She wanted us to be a good school district the whole time she was here."

"The state of Minnesota definitely lost one of greatest educators," Evans said. "Our sympathies go out to her husband and two children."

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