Elementary teacher Yvette Olson, and high school teachers and coaches Lee Dettmer and Steve Kinney are retiring after close to four decades in education, mostly at Princeton Public Schools.
Dettmer teaches health and physical education and in the past has been the wrestling and softball head coach and has been a football coach in the district for many years.
Kinney teaches ninth-grade social studies and history and was a ninth-grade girls basketball coach for 30 years. He has also coached some ninth-grade volleyball and softball.
Olson’s teaching has been in the elementary grades. Fellow teachers commented that she has helped many teachers at North Elementary by repairing their clothing. Third-grade teacher Sara Dokken, in fact, refers to Olson as the building’s “seamstress.”
Olson has also used her sewing skill to make travel pillows and pillow cases with her sister, Marie, to donate to some of North Elementary’s annual silent auctions to raise funds for school activities.
Yvette Olson is a native of Princeton and had some inspiration to be in education. Her father, the late Ray Peterson, was a principal and superintendent for many years in the school district. Olson began her 36 years of teaching in 1974 at St. Andrew’s Catholic Elementary in Elk River. Her first year was fourth grade and then she switched to second grade for her remaining two years there.
During her years at St. Andrew’s, she taught summer school reading at South Elementary in Princeton and from that experience she applied for a first-grade teaching job at South and was hired. The position was to start in November of the 1977, when a teacher went on maternity leave. That year Olson taught eighth grade in September until the first-grade job began.
The next school year she was hired as a fifth-grade teacher at North Elementary and continued for three years before going on maternity leave for three years.
Upon returning, she taught first grade for two years, and then taught third grade for her remaining years of teaching.
Olson has begun writing a memoir of her teaching experiences and the humor she saw in her classroom. She called some of her students “little rascals who played tricks on me.”
“Every year I’d get little rascals,” Olson said. “Sometimes you had to hold your laugh until the end of the day.”
Olson remembers a boy in one of her classes coming to school wearing layers of clothing and no coat. When she asked him about it, he explained that he couldn’t find a hanger at home so he would throw his coat in various places until one day he didn’t know where it was in the rush to catch the bus.
Olson said she brainstormed with her students for a solution, and one little child said, “I know what he can do: Put it under the sofa because that’s where I put mine and I find it every morning.” The boy with the layered clothing adopted the idea.
Olson is also known for having a pet in her classroom. For some years it was either a hamster, a guinea pig or a bird. About six years ago, a rule came out prohibiting any animals with fur or feathers in the classroom, so she went to having either fish or a bearded dragon lizard named Dracco. The original Dracco died about a year ago at age 19, seven more years than that species normally lives. Olson speculates that it lived longer because it enjoyed the children’s voices. She now has a replacement bearded
dragon, with the same name, in her room.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked with all the wonderful teachers, and so many students that made be laugh because they were rascals or because they loved to learn,” Olson said.
Olson’s retirement plans include more reading of mystery stories, quilting, volunteering (especially at Caley House assisted living apartments), visiting museums and traveling.
Dettmer grew up in Faribault and spent his first year of teaching health and physical education at MacGregor, where he was also the head track coach. The remaining 39 years of his career were spent teaching health and P.E., mostly at the high school. Dettmer was head wrestling coach at Princeton High School from 1978-88, and then head softball coach from 1988-2005, during which the softball team competed at state three years. His softball team placed sixth two of the years at state and was twice the state academic champion in softball.
One of Dettmer’s best memories as a wrestling coach was the summer he coached a USA wrestling team that competed in Germany for a month. Any Minnesota high school junior or senior could try out for the camp and two of the approximately 15 team members were from PHS, he said. It was a different competition because the German wrestlers could be as old as 25 or 26, he said.
Dettmer has been a fixture at varsity football games as an assistant coach, working with the defensive team from varsity to JV to sophomore for most of 40 years. He worked with the offensive line two years. In college at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Dettmer was an offensive guard and a linebacker. He also threw the javelin in track and field.
Dettmer said that one of his best experiences coaching has been watching a student develop athletically. There have been freshmen who maybe weighed 190 pounds, “mostly body fat,” early in their high school time and by their senior year would still weigh 190 but it was “all muscle,” Dettmer said.
Dettmer said he believes that if a student keeps their body in better physical condition, they are more apt to do well academically and be in more activities.
He said he has also found that the “family atmosphere” is important whether it is in coaching or in the classroom, because “if it feels like a family, and that is not always, they will treat each other with respect.”
One change that Dettmer recalled in his years of teaching health had to do with sexually transmitted diseases, the big one being the onset of AIDS.
Dettmer works out regularly to keep in shape but does less running now and more other kinds of exercising.
“If you stop using your body, you’re going to lose it,” he said. “The more active you are, the longer you are going to be able to do things.”
Dettmer’s retirement plans include assisting his wife, Shirley, at the day spa she owns and operates and help with managing some commercial rental properties they have. Otherwise, his plans include traveling and spending more time with the couple’s six grandchildren. He also plans to continue umpiring softball, something he started doing in 1995.
Looking back on 40 years in education and coaching, Dettmer asked, “Where did it go?”
If Kinney’s freshmen social studies students haven’t been up to speed on current events when they entered his classroom, they should have by the end of the class period.
Kinney, who has taught for 36 years, makes a point of showing students what big events happened on the current date and then compares them to current events of the day.
For example, he pointed out on May 15 that it was on that day in 1988 when the Soviets, who had invaded Afghanistan some years earlier, began their withdrawal.
It was also that day in 1943 when the Nazis ended the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, and also that day in 1618 when Yohannes Kepler discovered the Law of Harmonics, he said.
Kinney said history can repeat itself and people can learn from the past. He said the Americans didn’t heed what the French had warned them about not venturing into a military conflict in Vietnam.
Kinney’s classes on Sept. 11, 2001, had an edge to them as terrorists that morning had crashed jetliners into the twin towers in New York City. Kinney said he left the TV on in his room so that all could watch the coverage.
“I suppose it was like when (President John) Kennedy was assassinated,” he said about what effect the terrorist attacks must have had on the students.
When his students saw the footage of the planes crashing into the twin towers, they “sat there, stunned” and discussed what was going on and what impact it would have, Kinney said.
Kinney’s 36 years of teaching began at Milaca, where he taught for two years starting in 1978, when he mostly taught junior high geography. He next began teaching ninth-grade government classes at what was the junior high school in Princeton. When it was turned into a middle school in the 1980s, he transferred to the high school, still teaching ninth grade, as the high school grade configuration changed. This was when he began teaching introduction to social studies and world history.
Asked what he liked about his job, Kinney said: “I think, just the variety. You can take the events today and relate it to history and make it relevant.”
One of the recent events he discussed with his students was the kidnapping by terrorist group Boko Haram of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria.
“I can’t get my head around how it (the kidnapping) is beneficial,” Kinney said. “Some extremists are afraid of women getting an education.”
Kinney said he has challenged his students to think about the definition of terms, such as equality. He said he asked them if in the time of Voltaire in France, when it was stated that all men are created equal, did that just pertain then to white men.
Kinney said that if students in America aren’t aware of certain things that happened in history, then “democracy is in trouble.”
Kinney has been teaching history from the Paleolithic era up through the French Revolution. The 10th-graders get more U.S. history, he notes.
“It’s all been for the students,” Kinney said about his career. “I’ve really enjoyed the students. They keep you young. If you don’t like kids, it would be the worst job.”
Among Kinney’s retirement plans are to spend more time camping and fishing with his daughter, Edi.
“I have a great admiration for her because her mom (Kinney’s wife, Lorna) died (of a rare blood cancer) when Edi was a freshman in high school,” Kinney said.
Like Dettmer and Olson, Kinney said he wonders how his years of teaching went by so fast.