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Beloved Detroit Lakes Middle School teacher loses battle with cancer

Michelle Harris

Just a little over a week after the students and staff at Detroit Lakes Middle School rallied behind their ailing colleague and teacher, Michelle Harris, they learned Monday that the beloved EBD instructor had lost her battle with colon cancer.

Since her daughter, Heather, posted the news of Michelle's passing on her Caring Bridge Web site, condolences and messages of sympathy have been coming in from all over the country.

"My friend, the Angel, has been called back to reward her for her tireless efforts here on earth," wrote fellow DLMS teacher Bruce Raboin.

"I'm not the most religious person, but I truly believe if there is such a thing (as an angel), Michelle is one of them," Raboin said later in a telephone interview.

"Any adult that I ever saw her come in contact with, including myself, she was so sincere in her interest, in her caring and in her unselfishness," he added. "It was always so evident."

And as for the children, Raboin said that as a fellow EBD (emotional and behavioral disabilities) teacher, he had seen her "open her arms wide for those kids...many times, the kids nobody else has the patience for...and give them everything she possibly could."

In a 2004 interview after she had been chosen as Teacher of the Year for Detroit Lakes Public Schools, Harris herself admitted she truly loved her work.

"It's incredibly rewarding to watch these students grow, mature and in some cases, make better choices," Harris said in 2004. "There's nothing more rewarding or empowering than being part of a team which helps a student attain their full potential...I believe an (EBD) student is a person first, and that's far more important than the disability."

"She lit up the lives of everyone who knew her," said Rev. Brenda North of Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church, who has served as Harris's pastor since moving to the community last year.

"Michelle was a tenderhearted person, just a wonderful encourager," North added.

"I just feel so blessed to have had her in my life, as many, many other people do," said friend Luann Porter, who added, "I have known Michelle for 20 years."

Porter, who is the executive director of the United Way of Becker County, first became acquainted with Michelle Harris through her late husband Bob's volunteer work with the United Way and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce. Porter also served on the Detroit Lakes School Board for many years, until her retirement last fall.

"She (Michelle) actually student taught at Moorhead High School under my sister-in-law," Porter added.

Over the years, their professional and charitable ties became stronger, and Porter said the cup of coffee she shared with Harris just prior to leaving for a winter vacation in Florida is a memory that "I will cherish for a long time."

"She has left a legacy that will be felt far into the future by many people," Porter continued. "She was just a class act, there's no other way to describe it...she was gracious, she was kind, she always put others before herself.

"She will always be in my heart, wherever I go and whatever I do."

Services for Michelle Harris are scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 14 in the Detroit Lakes High School gymnasium, with the Rev. Brenda North officiating. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 13 at First Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes; there will be a prayer service at 7 p.m. Friends may also call at the DLHS gymnasium for one hour prior to the start of services. Messages of sympathy may be left online at, as well as at the Caring Bridge Web site, (type in "michelleharris1" to locate her page).

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454