We heard it first on WCCO radio, a serious head on crash by the High School between Dassel and Cokato, one dead, one seriously injured. After living there for 17 years, our immediate response was “I’m sure we know who was involved.”
Emails flew back and forth, radios and TV’s listened to, news websites checked. Then the news came out, it was Gail Schwandt who was killed.
Gail Schwandt was the Family and Consumer Science teacher at Dassel-Cokato School for 15 years (FACS is Home Ec. to us old timers). Her example and impact on the lives of her students was widespread but I wonder if she knew that.
Our daughter, Katie is a teacher largely because of Gail Schwandt’s encouragement and example. To Gail, teaching was not a job but a passion. If she saw a flicker of passion for teaching in someone, she would fan that flicker into a flame.
When Gail was married, Katie was in charge of the guest book. When Katie graduated from high school, Gail stopped by and we visited for a long time. She and Katie had developed a special friendship. Gail was a genuine, caring teacher. Gail did it all with a calm assurance, impeccable organization, underlying sense of humor, and a beautiful smile.
Our son Andy called his friend Tommy to let him know that Ms. Schwandt had been killed. Tommy was a student of great talent with an irrepressible chip on is shoulder which did not endear him to many teachers. Tommy was labeled, he knew it, and took his lumps for it. But Gail saw under that hard shell and cajoled, encouraged and expected the best for Tommy and she was rewarded for her faith and patience.
When Andy told Tommy about Ms. Schwandt, Tommy did not respond immediately but when he did, the macho man, and all around American man said it best, “Ms. Schwandt loved me.” Tommy knew he had been blessed for knowing her.
Students gathered from all over to attend her funeral in Litchfield. I wonder if she fully understood the impact she had on her students.
So, the former Meeker County Dairy Princess turned teacher never lost her beautiful smile and unassuming easy going way. She was a mentor and yes, like Tommy said, she loved her students.
As I sit here writing, how sad it is that I never wrote to her when she was living to tell her all this…O Lord, may we encourage and lift up our brothers and sisters when there is still time.
To Gail Schwandt, Thank you for a life well lived. Amen.