By MaryHelen Swanson
“There are trails to be hiked and lakes to be kayaked,” said Jeanne Leland sporting that familiar effervescent smile.
A devoted employee of North Branch School District #138, now retiring, she is temporarily caught between 30-plus years of giving to the people of this community and tomorrow where she may take a little time for herself.
Leland, whose name has been synonymous with Community Education in these parts for years, will be leaving her post in a few days.
“It’s been an amazing adventure,” she said of her time in the school district as a teacher, a coach, and more prominently Community Education director. “It’s gone fast.”
Leland arrived in North Branch set to teach middle school in 1979. She said the teachers at the middle school, which was housed in the Main Street School at the time, were amazing.
While she enjoyed the teaching, it was John Fredrickson, then Community Ed director, who got her started on the Community Ed advisory board and soon teaching Community Ed classes.
Leland went on to get a Master’s degree in Education with a focus on Community Education.
So in 1987, it was an easy fit when she became director of North Branch’s Community Education.
She laughed a little, remembering that she came to Minnesota from Milwaukee, Wis. to teach, and got involved in Community Education… and even married a local boy.
And it will be that boy with whom she now gets to spend her summers. In fact, she mused, it will be the first time in 21 years that she will live with her husband in the summer.
Hubby, Greg Leland, is a golf pro at Superior National golf course at Lutsen. He took the job 21 years ago and the family had planned to move up north. But the job did not come with health benefits and the young family needed that.
So, it was decided that the couple would spend summers in two different Minnesota towns, miles apart, and give it about 5 years. It’s been 21 years.
Now, Leland thinks retirement will be a good thing.
Leland is so grateful for the community and staff people she has worked with over the years. But it’s hard to think it’s done, she said, noting that she hadn’t completely come to grips with the idea.
You see, she had ideas for things for the next strategic plan stirring in her head ready to share with Superintendent Deb Henton, when “oops,” she remembered she’s not going to be part of the next plan.
Leland’s views on the importance of Community Education
With all the new technology and digital communication, Leland noted, she still believes there is true value in adults and children coming together face to face. That’s what community education can do.
Community Education provides an opportunity to welcome adults into the school buildings at night and it helps them see the value in those buildings.
Community Ed offers a venue to showcase what kids are learning, such as is evident at the annual Many Flags event in late winter where youngsters stand up to sing songs in foreign languages, and share what they have learned about the worldwide community.
Community Ed gives older members of the community an opportunity to interface with children such as those involved in the Sunrise Senior Story group, at least one of them in her 90s.
And when the Community Ed advisory board said “let’s do more to be welcoming,” Community Ed provided that opportunity in the summer with the concerts in the park. Now local businesses, the Chamber and the city had the opportunity to all work together, Leland noted.
Community Education classes, programs and events say “here’s what else we can do besides social medial and the Internet,” Leland went on.
While teaching a class or sharing a talent or skill is something good citizens can do through Community Ed, programs and projects like Kids Vote, can let children know they count too and help create more good citizens for the future. It’s all good for the community and it’s what community education is all about.
A whole new chapter
Leland said what’s next for her may be what some might call an “encore career.”
That’s taking a bow and coming back for yet another great performance. That’s what it’s like for people who never stop moving forward, learning and sharing, all those things she feels are so important in everyone’s life.
When asked if there was anything she’s always wanted to do that she might do now, Leland said “not really,” because she has always lived life each day.
But, as many know, mission trips are a passion, and her Christian faith is important to her, and there are trips to awesome countries igniting fires in her heart already.
She’s hoping she can share herself in this way more intently than she has already.
Essentially, though, she has no real plans.
But like she said, there are trails to be hiked, lakes to be kayaked, and, of course, summers to be spent with her husband.