Minnesota's longest-serving teachers

Two teachers
Karene Churchill, of Herman, (left) and Jerry Tedrow, of New London, are Minnesota's longest-serving active teachers. Churchill teaches third grade full-time; Tedrow teaches German part-time.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber


Mrs. Churchill's class
Third graders sit in a circle at the front of Karene Churchill's classroom for a reading lesson. Churchill will turn 72 in March and is in her 52nd year of teaching.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

In 1958, the school in rural Herman, Minn. opened a new wing for elementary classrooms. The school also hired a new teacher named Karene Churchill. Both are still around.

Churchill, just days from her 72nd birthday, doesn't seem that old when you spy her full head of dark, red hair, and you see the way she commands her class of 14 third-graders.

"I don't use my voice a lot - I'll raise my hand or I just stand there," Churchill said, in an interview. "They'll say 'Mrs. Churchill is standing there with her serious look' and that means 'be quiet!'"

Elder teacher
Karene Churchill, 71, speaks to one of her third grade students during a reading lesson at Herman-Norcross School in Herman. Churchill is in her 52nd year of teaching.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Churchill also coaches high school speech, but her favorite subject is reading - she almost gets bubbly talking about it.

"You need to read with excitement and get them to read many library books or magazine articles - find what interests children and go from there.

"From a little girl I've always wanted to be a teacher," she added. "And I had a little sister and her and I always played school."

Mrs. Churchill's classroom
A sign points the way to Mrs. Churchill's third grade classroom. Churchill is in her 52nd year of teaching.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Churchill got a three-year degree from Moorhead State in two years, which put her into a classroom at age 20. That first year was in Elbow Lake, but she then moved to Herman to marry her husband, Linden.

Linden reads with his wife's students a few times a week; plays Santa during school Christmas parties; and has also been Herman's mayor for more than 20 years.

"A lot of the people I'm on the council with have been her students," he joked.

Old school
This photo shows Karene Churchill during her early teaching days, in Herman, Minn.
photo submitted by Karene Churchill

It's one thing for everyone in a small town to know each other. But when you teach there for a half-century, your classes start to fill with the children and grandchildren of former students.

Jane Oachs remembers how snazzy Churchill dressed when she was her teacher back in the 60's. Oachs is now a fellow teacher at Herman-Norcross and appreciates Churchill as a mentor.

"She not only expects a lot out of her students but she expects a lot out of her colleagues, too, which is good for all of us," said Oachs. "It keeps us on our toes."


Through the looking glass
The image of Jerry Tedrow (legs crossed) can be seen through a mirror at New London-Spicer School. The mirror was set up for student photo day.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Drive 90 miles southwest of Herman and you'll find Jerry Tedrow teaching a German class in the very early morning hours. He's not full-time, like Churchill, but sure seems to share the enthusiasm.

"This is too much fun," he said, after a recent class. "A lot of people hang on because they don't know what to they're going to do with their free time. I don't worry about my free time.

Tedrow has taught at New London-Spicer School every year except one. He has just four students this year, but the thousands of students he's had over the years have been from many western Minnesota schools, thanks to video conferencing courses New London and its neighbors take part in.

old photo
Jerry Tedrow holds up an old photo of himself at New London-Spicer School. Tedrow, 75, is in his 51st year of teaching.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Tedrow is known in New London as the guy who - for years - threw water balloons from a bathtub in the town's Water Days parade. But he also directed school plays for four decades and still has keys to the town's small theatre across from the post office - where school performances are held.

Tedrow recalls his years in a way that also looks to the day he isn't teaching anymore.

"I would like to have a more positive attitude on the part of young people looking at teaching as a career," he said. "I taught 7th grade drama. Every 7th grader got to be in a one-act play and for some of those kids, that's the only time in their life that anyone would clap for them.

Jerry Tedrow speaks during his German class at New London-Spicer School. Tedrow only teaches one class a day this year and has a total of four students.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

"The moms and dads were so proud of their kids, so looking at education and the positive things we can get out of kids, it's terribly rewarding."

This school year is Churchill's 52nd and Tedrow's 51st. Both actually retired once before but came back just weeks later and both plan to teach next year.

The two also appear to have health on their side: Churchill lives four houses from Herman-Norcross School and plans to walk to work this spring. Tedrow, at 75, still gets up on his roof once a month to pour hot water down his standpipe when it freezes.

It's worth noting, though, an honorable mention for longevity. John Bendix started teaching the same year Jerry Tedrow did, 1958. But Bendix took one year off to go back to school, so technically, he ranks third because it's 'only' his 50th year.

But Bendix arguably has the best job security of the three. For one, he's free: He gave up his part-time salary this year to help the district's finances. And the principal where Bendix teaches - Waseca High - is a former student.

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