‘Last times’ at Rush City High
Candi Crippen retires, reflects on 42-year career as school’s health, physical education teacher
Candi Crippen discovered something about herself while on a canoe trip in Canada during her youth. Surrounded by the wonders of nature, she found her place.
“That canoe trip was my element in high school,” recalled the Owatonna, Minn., native. “I fell in love with the outdoors and everything it had to offer. We had bears visit us.”
Teaching was another of Crippen’s “elements,” as evident by her 42 and a half-year career at Rush City High School. Hired in the fall of 1970, she was the school’s health and physical education teacher who reached three generations of students under eight different principals.
As with all good things, her long and rewarding career came to an end this month with her decision to retire. Her last day was Friday, Jan. 18, and her dedication to the school district has been noted by both the school and Rush City communities.
“The last few days have been hard,” she said in a Jan. 17 interview at the high school. “I would catch myself thinking, ‘This is the last time I’ll do grades; this will be my last class to do exercises; this is the last time I’ll blow a whistle. All the last times…”
Actually, Crippen said she could have retired six or seven years ago, but she didn’t have a reason. “I love my job and the kids,” she noted. At semester time this year, however, she thought it was as good a time as any to make the announcement.
She said her decades of service at Rush City High have been educational.
“I learned a lot about kids and people (in general),” she pointed out. “One of the biggest things is every child is different. Just a smile can make a difference in making a student’s day. They come with such a variety of different backgrounds. I believe if you respect the students, they will respect you back.”
Crippen shared what kept her motivated through the years.
“Every day was different,” she noted. “Teaching is not repetitive at all. I taught a wide variety of ages (seventh through 12th grade at the high school) and more than 300 students a day. Something different happened every day. It never ever got boring.”
Crippen received her bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from Mankato State University, which is now Minnesota State University, Mankato, in the spring of 1970. She then discovered a job opportunity at Rush City schools through “a somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody deal,” she explained.
So Crippen got into contact with then principal Bill Collins and scheduled an interview right out of college, June or July of 1970. For three decades, she worked in the former high school building by the Rush City pool until the current high school was built some 10-plus years ago. Aside from Collins, she worked under principals Jon McBroom, Dwight Davis, Tim Eklund, Mark Saari, Kim Erdman, Stuart Fuhs and now Brent Stavig, who is in the middle of his first year in the principal’s chair.
She said she was the school’s first girls coach in sports including volleyball, basketball, track and softball. “We were one game from going to state in girls volleyball,” she explained of one of many highlights. She advised Pep Club, an organization of students that made posters and locker signs in support of student athletes and teams, and a cheerleaders group for several years, too.
“I enjoyed it all,” she said.
Outside of teaching, Crippen was a volunteer EMT for eight years when the Rush City Hospital was up and running in town. She was part of the Rush City Ambulance Service team.
“Our first ambulance was a Chevy station wagon with lights on it,” she laughed. “I was sad to see (the hospital) go. It was the closest place for people in Rush City, Pine City and Harris to (receive care). It was a sad day when it closed.”
Back at school, one can only imagine the changes that she both welcomed and endured.
“The biggest change I’ve seen throughout the years are the kids,” said Crippen. “Now, there isn’t the discipline coming from home like there used to be. It shows in the classroom when there’s no discipline at home.”
She believes social networking websites like Facebook, cell phones and some of the technology of today have not been helpful either. “Kids are cruel to each other on those,” she explained. “Kids don’t respect each other anymore. Technology leads to a lot of unnecessary drama. It’s scary sometimes.”
Yet the job has been a rewarding one for Crippen, who reached her third generation of students in the gym and classroom.
To put it another way, “I’ve had students, their parents and their grandparents,” she noted. “It really scared me the first time when a student said, ‘You had my dad.’ It made me feel old. It’s rewarding, too, seeing the kids grow up, become professionals, get married and have kids of their own.”
Also rewarding for Crippen was seeing the look on a student’s face when he or she would say “I get it” or those “ah-ha” moments from students learning about self discipline, sportsmanship and other life lessons that make good people in life.
“To visibly see them get what I’m trying to teach, you could see the light blink on on their faces,” she explained of some of her favorite moments.
Crippen said the most important lesson she could teach was how to be a good sport.
“Winning isn’t everything,” she stressed. “You learn by losing and hopefully get better. I think sometimes we put too much stress on kids to perform. We need to allow them to have fun, to play, to be a kid, to laugh. Kids don’t go outside anymore. We used to be out from sun up to sun set. I don’t see kids outside anymore.”
Crippen also was big on being fair to her students.
“They are not objects to boss around,” she explained. “Parents need to realize they can’t be their best friends… They (students) have to make choices, and I would challenge them to make the good choice. If they screw up, fess up to it. I told kids to think, ‘How many choices do you make in a day?’”
And another thing,“Be honest, and we can work through anything,” she advised her students.
Looking back on her career, she gives credit to students, fellow teachers and the community for their support and keeping things interesting at school.
“I’ve learned so many things from so many kids,” she noted. “The people here (at school) and the community are wonderful. We have a close-knit group of people I work with here. We would do anything for each other. You can’t get bored; there’s something different every day. There are frustrating days of teaching, too, but you get over it.”
In her last week, Crippen had the chance to meet with the high school’s new health and physical education teacher, Angie Houlahan. The veteran offered some advice — like she would to any new or young teacher.
“Don’t be their (a student’s) friend,” she suggested. “You are here to be their teacher. Kids like that structure. They want the discipline, and they want things organized.”
In her retirement, Crippen is looking forward to getting back to her other “element” with a move north on her friends’ property by Grindstone Lake near Sandstone. There, she can fish, go for a walk in the woods with her dogs Maggie and Jessie and take in the great outdoors that she fell in love with during that canoe trip in Canada.
“I’m planning on having a conversation with big foot,” she smiled.