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DL schools wizard is retiring

Ben Weekly in his basement office downtown. Brian Basham/Tribune

Walking around the various buildings that make up the Detroit Lakes Public Schools, Ben Weekly can’t help but see a little bit of himself all over. 

“It’s a bit of a storybook for me because I can see my fingerprints all over them,” said Weekly, “whether it’s new tile or painting of the gymnasium … it’s all very meaningful to me.”

Weekly, who is the supervisor of operations and transportation director for the school district, takes care of the school facilities, but is now hanging up his hat after 29 years.

The tall, slender, strawberry-blonde man with the low voice has himself become a bit of a fixture around the school buildings, checking out problems and working on upgrades. 

Becoming a DL guy

Growing up in Park Rapids, Ben Weekly moved to Detroit Lakes in 1968 with the high school sweetheart he’d just made his wife.  He got a job at Snappy, and the low-key guy with a quick smile worked his way up to production manager while he happily raised his children as Detroit Lakes Lakers. 

When the Snappy plant Weekly was working in closed in 1984, Weekly started up a business manufacturing winter sporting goods.  The job may have seemed fitting for the outdoors enthusiast, but it was only seasonal and Weekly decided to get a part time job as a custodian at the high school. It was a way to keep him busy and earn extra money for his children’s college.  But it didn’t take too long before Weekly decided to sell his business and go full time at the school.

He popped back and forth between the old Washington School and the old Lincoln school, shining them up like new pennies.  But a new president was about to come calling on Weekly – Roosevelt.  “When the new Roosevelt building opened up in 1990, they made me head custodian of the new school,” said Weekly, who worked inside that building for four years before being transferred back to the high school as head custodian.  He had gotten to know the school buildings like the back of his hand. 

But as Weekly’s life rolled on, it came to a screeching halt when his son, Chad, passed away from a heart transplant when he was only 21 years old.  Weekly wrote and published a book about Chad’s too-short life and titled it “No Matter What.”

“That was his philosophy going into surgery, it was his life’s philosophy, and I think it was a good way to approach life,” said Weekly, who says after 2,000 copies of the book were sold, he no longer sees them on the shelves. And “no matter what,” Weekly pushed forward and continued to make sure the schools his children grew up in were humming like a well-oiled machine.

But his “fix-it” reputation was growing, and Emmanuel Nursing Home convinced him to begin work for them as the maintenance supervisor, helping them through remodels and mechanical upgrades

“I was there for four years, but the school kept calling me,” he laughed, “so finally I went back.”

Named the new supervisor of operations and transportation director in 2007, Weekly’s last handful of years at the school district have been his favorite.

“They’ve been the most rewarding,” he said from what he calls his “humble, little office” in the basement of the District building. 

On the walls of his painted white, brick office, he has large aerial photos of the different school buildings, and he can point out anything you need to know about them. 

“Some of the most interesting projects I’ve had in the last years is the upgrading of the high school football complex, overseeing the building of the new concession stand, the rebuilding of the track and the upgrading of the entire lighting systems down there … all very interesting projects,” said Weekly, who also had a big hand in dressing up the outside of the high school with paver stones.

Truly, to attempt to list all of the projects Weekly has worked on in the schools would be overwhelming.  “Yeah, I’ve done a little in this school, a little in that school…” he said, adding that he believes now is a good time for transition as the district looks for Weekly’s replacement at the end of the school year.  “I think it’s good to get somebody in here now so they can sort of get grounded before all the new construction takes place,” said Weekly of the possible building of a new school and large upgrades to the high school.  “I really hope that bond issue will pass because I think it’s essential the community support that so that the school can continue to push forward and maintain good facilities for the children into the future.”

In fact, Weekly hopes he can be of help to school leaders if the building projects do come to fruition, as he plans on working part time as a consultant for anything involving building operations.

He’ll also continue the side-gig he has now of teaching boiler classes for commercial boiler operators getting their Minnesota licenses.

But although the mechanically-inclined man will stay busy with work, he also intends on making a lot more time for play as well. 

“I want to do some more fishing and hunting … maybe even do some more mountain climbing,” he says, excited to now have the time to hang out with his grandchildren in the woods and out on the lake.

And just when a person thinks they might have a grasp on who Ben Weekly is, he breaks out his poetry and oil paintings.

“I enjoy these hobbies a lot too, so I suppose I’ll get to do a little more writing and painting,” he said, saying he’s heading into retirement with no regrets.

“DL has been good to me, and the school has been good to me,” said Weekly, “I love the wildlife here, I’ve raised my family here… I’ve had a very good experience.”