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After 28 years, Teiken steps down from Waubun board

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Detroit Lakes, 56501

Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Even before he graduated from Waubun High School in 1965, Tom Teiken was already a farmer by trade.

"I owned a farm in 1963, when I was still in high school," he says. "It's the same land I live on now -- my dad helped me buy it and get started."

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Aside from a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, during the Vietnam War -- "I got drafted in 1967, and served one year stateside, and 10 months in Vietnam," says Teiken -- he's been a farmer his whole life.

And for most of that time, he's lived in rural Ogema. In 1972, Tom and his wife Janice moved to the home they had built on his farm, and raised four children there.

The couple will celebrate their 43rd wedding anniversary in June. And though their family has also expanded to include a couple of in-laws and eight grandchildren, it has also been touched by tragedy.

"Our youngest, Michael, died in a car accident when he was a senior in high school," Teiken says. "That's tough -- he was a good kid."

While his kids were still in school, in 1984, Teiken was elected to his first term on the Waubun-Ogema-White-Earth School Board.

"I wanted to make a difference," he said simply. "There was no earth-shaking reason ... I just took the advice of some neighbors."

Twenty-eight years and seven terms later, Teiken stepped down from his seat on the board at the end of December, after opting not to seek re-election.

"I just figured, enough is enough," he said. "I think it's time for some younger parents with kids in school to get involved -- sometimes you've just got to pass the job on."

Though he's still farming, Teiken says, he mostly just does baling of hay and straw, for the horse owners and dairy farmers in the area (some also use the straw as mulch for their strawberry crops).

"I put up about 6,000 bales of straw, and more than that of hay," he says. "I rent the rest of the land out to my nephews, and I drive truck and work for them as needed.

"It keeps me busy. Even though I'm retired, there's still no free time."

But Teiken admits that he's trying to ease his way into full-time retirement.

"I'm 65 now, will be 66 in September," he says. "I'm trying to enjoy my semi-retirement."

That enjoyment includes taking a few fishing trips during the summer, playing pinochle with his friends, and of course, his regular morning ritual.

"I go for coffee and breakfast every morning at Pappy's Restaurant in Waubun and shoot the breeze," he says.

Though attending the monthly school board meetings in Waubun will no longer be part of Teiken's routine, he does plan to stay involved with the district.

"The superintendent has asked me to put my two cents in if he calls and wants some advice," Teiken says with a smile.

He's proud of the fact that he has helped to keep the district in sound financial shape during his tenure.

"We're one of the few districts in the state that doesn't have an excess levy," he says. "Over the years, we've had several building projects, but we've paid for most of them by using district funds and not asking the voters (for money)."

There was one year when the district went to the voters for funding to repair the old school buildings in Ogema and Waubun, Teiken says, but "it was greatly needed."

He also feels that the test scores that led to Waubun being designated a "turnaround" school by the state of Minnesota a couple of years ago paint a misleading picture of the kids' performance.

"Test scores don't show everything," he says.

"When it comes to academics, we are slowly making progress. It is hard when government keeps changing the rules, standards and (desired) outcomes. Personally, I think we are pushing our kids too hard. We are expecting them to learn more, at such a young age."

Because of that, Teiken adds, he believes that today's students are not getting a solid enough grasp of basic skills before moving on to the next level.

"One of the big reasons that kids fail or have low test scores is because they don't get a sound base of learning before they move forward," he says. "Whether it be in academics, sports, or life in general, you've got to have a good foundation."

Teiken would also like to see more emphasis put on preparing students for post-high school paths other than attending a four-year college.

"We put a lot of time into preparing kids for four-year colleges," he said. "We also need to put in preparation for two-year and vocational colleges."

Overall Teiken is proud of the accomplishments of various Waubun High School alumni through the years.

"I just look at all our former students and say, 'Wow,'" Teiken observed. "Look at all the ones who have come back (to the district) and are serving as teachers or mechanics, own their own businesses, and all the former students who are doctors, nurses, engineers, architects and more."

He's also proud of the role he has played in giving those former students an education, and in serving the voters of the school district for so long.

"To be re-elected that many times -- one time when I wasn't even in the running -- I'd really like to say thank you to the voters of the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth school district for their support over the last 28 years," he said.

"I've enjoyed my 28 years of serving the public and students of the district. It has been a great educational experience for me."

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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