North Dakota Nice: Grand Forks educators elected to Teachers Hall of Fame

In a state full of exceptional educators, it’s hard to put into (grammatically-correct, structurally-accurate) words what makes a teacher truly outstanding.  However, at the 2018 Grand Forks Public Schools Teachers Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a few common traits rose to the top.  Compassionate and attentive.  Enthusiastic.  Expecting the best.  Encouraging.

The Teachers Hall of Fame was created by the Grand Forks Foundation for Education and Alumni Network to celebrate and recognize retired those teachers, administrators, counselors, and librarians that went above and beyond for their students.  Inductees are selected every other year, and anyone can submit a nomination.  This year, four educators were elected to the Hall of Fame: Kerry Jaeger, Gary Mitchell, Keith Ronkowski, and Annella Winger.  Thank you to the wonderful Emilia Hodgson at the Foundation for Education for providing the full induction scripts for these amazing individuals:

Teacher, Red River High School; Coach, Football, Wrestling, Boys’ Tennis, and Girls’ Tennis

THOF-JaegerKerry spent his entire Grand Forks Public Schools career at Red River High School where he taught English from 1978 until 2004. Not only was he an enthusiastic educator, Kerry also was a celebrated coach. Kerry coached football, wrestling, boys’ tennis, and girls’ tennis during his tenure, for which he was recently inducted into the Red River High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Teachers who coach have an opportunity to interact with students differently than when they interact with them in the classroom. Being a teacher and a coach requires a lot of time and sacrifice, and by all accounts, Kerry was a master at it.

Kerry was born in Mahnomen, Minnesota, in September of 1954. After his family moved to Fargo, he graduated from Fargo North High School in 1972, then went on to earn his undergraduate degree from the University of North Dakota in 1978. Kerry later went back to school, and received his masters from the University of North Dakota in 1991.

Former student, Susan Larsen Waller, was in his 1991 Literature of the Imagination class. She wrote, “Mr. Jaeger was excited about his classes and it showed. His enthusiasm was contagious, and his exercises were fun. He really seemed to care about his students and their understanding of his classes. He’s an excellent teacher!”

Another former student, Maura Ferguson, shared, “Mr. Jaeger is one of the best educators I have ever encountered. He challenged his students in such a sly way that I personally didn’t even realize how much he was pushing me until I had already completed my assignments for his class! His clever, witty nature and dry sense of humor made his class something that I truly looked forward to each day. Some of my best memories of high school include Mr. Jaeger and the way he made learning such an engaging experience.”

Kerry wasn’t done teaching when he retired from the Grand Forks Public Schools in 2004. He has taught English at Northland Community and Technical College for the past 13 years, and continues to teach still today. He has also worked at the University of North Dakota, Northwest Technical College, and Lake Region State College at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. It should go without saying, Kerry is a true educator, its who he is not just what he does.

During his professional career, Kerry has earned the following honors:

  • North Dakota High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame Inductee
  • Red River High School Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee
  • 3-time recipient of the National High School Coaches Association Region VI Tennis Coach of the Year
  • Recipient of the National Federation of High School Coaches Section 5 Tennis Coach of the Year
  • 9-time recipient of the NDHSCA Region Tennis Coach of the Year
  • 12-time recipient of the NDHSCA State Tennis Coach of the Year
  • And, 7-time recipient of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Gold Star Award – Northland Community and Technical College Chapter.

Teacher and Assistant Principal, Twining Elementary; Principal, Roosevelt Elementary, Lewis & Clark Elementary, Century Elementary

THOF-MitchellGary spent his early years teaching 5th and 6th grade at Twining Elementary. He went on to become the assistant principal there in 1971. In 1973, he took his first principal position at Lewis & Clark Elementary. Then, after seven years leading Roosevelt, Gary spent the last 15 years of his career as the principal of Century Elementary. 41 years spent serving the Grand Forks Public Schools, the vast majority of those as an administrator and leader, simply amazing.

Gary was born in Cando, North Dakota, in February of 1938. He graduated from Rock Lake High School High School in 1956. Gary then received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Dakota in 1963. He continued his studies at UND, earning graduate degrees in 1967 and 1976.

Former colleague and current Grand Forks Public Schools Associate Superintendent of Elementary Education, Jody Thompson, shared, “Gary was a major influence on me as an administrator. When I was first hired as a young and inexperienced elementary principal, Gary was the first one to reach out to me. Many times I sought his guidance during my first few years. He was a mentor and role model for me. He was actually the one who encouraged me to pursue the assistant superintendent of elementary education position. He convinced me that I had the skills to serve our district. And for that, I am forever grateful for Gary’s support and mentorship.”

Another colleague, Greg LaDouceur wrote, “Gary gave me my start in teaching 29 years ago. If he wouldn’t have taken a chance on a kid right out of college to start teaching PE at a brand new elementary school, who knows where I would be or what I would be doing today. I have always had a lot of respect for Gary as my first principal and I am very happy to call him a great friend today. He taught me a great deal on how to deal with kids, parents and co-workers. How do be compassionate, a good listener, fair but still have control of the situation. We shared a lot of laughs, a few disagreements but always kept a great amount of respect for each other.”

Another colleague, Sandra Stensland shared these thoughts, “Gary is one of a kind, always putting kids and teachers first. He was firm but fair with students and was always supportive of teachers and asked for their input. Gary is a fun loving guy that always has a huge smile on his face.”

During his professional career, Gary earned the following honors:

  • Grand Forks Outstanding young Educator – 1967
  • North Dakota Outstanding Young Educator – 1967
  • North Dakota Friend of Counseling Award – 1990
  • North Dakota Elementary Principals Service to Children Award – 2004

A former parent commented on a social media post announcing Gary’s upcoming induction, “We couldn’t of asked for a better principal and role model for our kids. Especially as young parents adjusting to our children starting school.” Throughout his career, Gary had a tremendous and positive impact on students, parents and colleagues.

Teacher and DECA Advisor, Red River High School

THOF-RonkowskiKeith spent the entirety of his 41-year career, from 1976 to 2016, at Red River High School where he taught Marking Education and was the DECA Advisor. Former student Andie Chandler said it the best, “Mr. Ronkowski spent just over four decades of his life devoted to educating students in the areas of business and marketing, encouraging students in and outside of the classroom, and equipping students with skills that lasted a lifetime.”

On her nomination form, Ms. Chandler added, “I owe so much of where I am today to those skills, habits, and lessons I learned in his classes. I am not an anomaly; students like myself have taken what they have learned under Mr. Ronkowski’s guidance and applied those lessons to their everyday life. His ability to make business and marketing principles applicable and enjoyable for students was evident in the number of students who voluntarily attended conferences and competitions outside of the classroom. If you are looking for an educator who has shaped students for decades, impacted the community by producing solid leaders, and who enjoyed their job all the while, then Mr. Ronkowski is Hall of Fame worthy.”

Keith was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in April of 1951. After moving to the Red River Valley, he graduated from Minto High School in 1969. Keith went on to earn his undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of North Dakota in 1974 and his masters degree in Marketing Education with an emphasis in Education Administration & Vocational Education in 1976.

Another former student, Shawn Peterson, wrote, “He has inspired countless students to find and follow their dreams and passions in the world of business. Keith is an unbelievable role model passing knowledge that many of his students and my peers still use today in college and in the professional world.”

During his professional career, Keith earned the following honors:

  • The National DECA Award for 40 Years of Service
  • 3-time recipient of the North Dakota CTE Directors Award of Excellence
  • Awarded the North Dakota Honorary Life Membership Award
  • The 1979 ND Marketing Education Young Educator of the Year Award
  • The 1995 & 2005 ND Ozwald M. Hager Award of Excellence
  • 9-time recipient of the ND Marking Education Chapter of the Year
  • And, was selected over 20 times as a Very Important Teacher for NTHS

Former student, James Arnason, shared the following, “Mr. Ronkowski’s commitment to students over the years is something that should absolutely be recognized. Whether it was staying late or coming in early to help students with projects, he was always willing to give of his time. As a young professional living and working in New York City, I often reflect on the building blocks that helped launch my young career. Most certainly the foundation came from things I learned from Mr. Ronkowski and I know I’m not the only student that feels this way. We all start somewhere, and we all need support along the way. Teachers like Keith aren’t always the easiest to find, and I think it’s so important to recognize them when we do.”

Teacher, Ben Franklin Elementary

Annella spent her entire 34-year career at Ben Franklin Elementary. In the early years, she taught 3rd-6th grade music and 4th grade science, math and art. Beginning in 1984, she made the switch to being a full-time music teacher for all grades. And, although her days in the classroom are over, she continues to make a difference by serving as a mentor for first year music educators in Grand Forks Public Schools and across North Dakota.

On his nomination form, Greg Nelson wrote, “Mrs. Winger is the teacher that every parent wants their child to have. The first time that I saw her interact with a student was with a second grader and Mrs. Winger was on her knees, looking the student directly in the eyes and giving encouragement and praise for a song well sung. I have worked directly with Mrs. Winger in the Grand Cities Children’s Choir, and witnessed how she inspires her students to dig deep into their inner selves and abilities and soar to personal greatness. And in a time where personal contact between students and teachers is limited, I have never witnessed a student, or former student, turn down a hug from Mrs. Winger. In addition to aspiring her students to personal greatness, Mrs. Winger has done the same for new music educators who have trained under her gifted leadership. The vocal music students at Ben Franklin Elementary were blessed to have Mrs. Annella Winger as their teacher for two generations.”

Annella was born right here in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in January of 1958. She graduated from Grand Forks Central High School in 1956 and went on to earn her undergraduate degree from the University of North Dakota in 1981.

The Associate Director of Choral Activities at the University of North Dakota and the Founder and Artistic Director of the Grand Cities Children’s Choir, Melanie Popejoy, wrote, “Watching Mrs. Winger with children is watching a master teacher at work. She diligently strives to make a connection with each student who walks through her door, causing them to feel valued. Classroom procedures and expectations are taught to insure structure is created, that students feel safe, and that learning takes place. She continues to support her former students at numerous concerts, theatrical performances, and special events in the district where she always greats them with a big smile, hugs, and accolades for a job well done. The reaction on every face, whether it be elementary, high school or college age is priceless.”

During her professional career, Annella earned the following honors:

  • Ben Franklin Service to Children Award
  • VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award
  • WDAZ Teachers Making a Difference Award
  • And, the 2015 North Dakota Music Educator of the Year Award

Connie Sherwood shared, “Not only am I lucky enough to have Annella Winger as a friend, I had her as a colleague. Everyone who ever worked with her knew that she was the ultimate professional. Annella was the role model of what we all aspired to be and the ultimate teacher. I could not possibly have more respect for her. My professional and personal life has been richer because of her mentorship and her friendship.”

Thank you, Mr. Jaeger, Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Ronkowski, and Mrs. Winger for being such a crucial part of so many lives!


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