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Bemidji teacher, principal to retire; open house set at his first school

Richard and Vange Anderson, accompanied by their dog, Shadow, check their cow herd at their farmstead north of Solway. Richard will celebrate his retirement with an open house from 2-5 p.m. June 13 at Solway Elementary School. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Bemidji High School Principal Richard Anderson presided May 30 at his last graduation ceremony.

"They gave him a standing ovation," said Richard's wife, Vange Anderson.

"Very humbling," Richard said.

He will celebrate his retirement with an open house from 2-5 p.m. with a program at 4 p.m. June 13 at Solway Elementary School.

"I started there, and I'm going to end there," Richard said.

As a boy, he attended the old Solway Elementary School on the west side of town.

He moved from Shevlin with his family to their farm north of Solway 60 years ago when he was a toddler. He and his sister, JoAnn Anderson of Tenstrike, took over ownership of the farm from their parents when their father died. The Andersons raise Angus-Shorthorn cross cattle in a cow-calf operation and raise hay on 280 acres. Their brothers, Steve, Leroy and Gene, also help out on occasion.

"We help each other back and forth," Richard said.

Richard began his teaching career in 1968 in Wayzata, Minn., but was drafted a year later into the 25th Infantry to serve in the Vietnam War.

Sgt. Anderson served for 15 months, returned to Wayzata and finished the spring semester for a teacher on maternity leave.

At the end of the 1970-71 school year, his father called Richard with the news that a teaching position was open at Solway Elementary School. Richard taught sixth grade, and later fifth grade when the Bemidji Middle School opened and sixth-graders were bused into Bemidji.

"You were the first student of Solway School to actually teach there," said Vange.

In 1995, Richard moved over to the middle school to teach sixth-grade math. He had started a master's program and was two courses shy of finishing it, but decided, with young children at home, going to graduate school was too hard on the family.

On July 3, 2000, the family suffered the tragic death of their youngest child, 17-year-old Amy, in a vehicle accident.

"It shattered our lives," Richard said. "I talked to (then Bemidji School District Superintendent) Rollie Morud and said I needed a change."

Morud appointed Richard as principal of Lincoln Elementary School, and that fall, he finished his master's degree in administration at the University of Minnesota. He already had a master's in education.

After Richard served two years at Lincoln, Morud and Bemidji School Board members asked if he would become principal at BHS. He said he would consider the offer.

"My faith is, I pray about it, and I visit with my family and my wife, and we decided that's what I should do," Richard said.

"He's always gone to work thanking God for a job he loves," Vange said.

Richard said he met with members of all the high school departments to ask what they needed before he moved into the principal's office.

"My idea of a principal is to serve," he said.

Gradual additions to the curriculum - especially courses that help students move into work or higher education -followed Richard's acceptance of the high school principal's job. Junior ROTC is a new offering under his tenure, as are College on Campus courses in science, business, math and English, in partnership with Bemidji State University. Students can take the courses for both high school and college credit. Another partnership with BSU, Northwest Technical College and North Country Health Services gives students a head start in a nursing career.

Throughout Richard's teaching and administrative career, he has continued to farm. He said tending the cows is like therapy for him, as he can let go of the tensions and stresses of his school days by caring for the animals and land.

"I love the smell of freshly turned soil," he said, adding that freshly cut alfalfa is also a wonderful scent.

They have set up their herd to calve in August, rather than the usual early spring calving season. They wean the calves in May and send them to market in the fall.

"Our kids still love to come home," he said. "In the fall, we have a little roundup."

The Anderson's children are:

- Mark, a computer programmer and teacher in Fargo, N.D. He and his wife, Donna, a medical transcriptionist, have two children.

- Mary, a physician's assistant in Minneapolis.

- Bob, a math teacher at Roseville High School. He and his wife, Pam, have two children. Pam works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

- Jeff, a fifth-grade teacher in Rochester, Minn. His wife, Kim, is a resident in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

"I'm really looking forward to getting more involved as a grandpa," Richard said.

In addition to his academic career and farming, Richard also has served for more than 30 years on the Lammers Town Board and on the church council at Sacred Heart in Wilton.

He said he plans to take a year to enjoy farming and family. After that, he said he will look at a possible foray into politics, or becoming more involved in church work.

"Or whatever the Lord has in store for me," he said. "Vange and I will have ..."

"Many adventures," Vange said, smiling and finishing her husband's thought.