Those who walked through the doors of North Branch Area High School Thursday or Friday last week could likely tell something was amiss shortly after entering the building.
It seemed as though the air had just been taken out of the school; the sense of loss was palpable.
Students and staff navigating the halls could be seen wearing their green “Team Madame” shirts in honor of longtime French teacher Andrea Grote.
Grote died the afternoon of May 22 after an 18-month battle with cancer. She was 47.
She leaves behind her husband, Kevin Grote — North Branch Area Middle School science teacher and the city’s fire chief — and two children, son Kyle and daughter Kallie. (See full obituary on page 7.)
Colleagues remember their friend
Social studies teacher Chas Bettendorf and his wife Christine Bettendorf, a math teacher at the high school, became close personal friends with Andrea Grote and her husband not long after Andrea Grote started working at the high school in 1988.
Chas Bettendorf recalled making a connection with Andrea Grote when he and a fellow teacher took her out for lunch to welcome her to the district that first year.
“We recognized immediately that we had a gem of a person here,” he said. “She was just a wonderful, wonderful human being.”
Christine Bettendorf didn’t start teaching in North Branch until 1998, and for a time she and her husband lived in St. Cloud while he commuted to the high school.
She had told him she wouldn’t move to North Branch until he “found her a good friend.”
“I said, ‘That’s easy, I’ve got one,’” Chas Bettendorf said, referring to Andrea Grote.
Christine Bettendorf and Andrea Grote became good friends, and the Grote and Bettendorf families became intertwined.
Art teacher Tom Moriarty’s classroom is at the opposite end of the building from Andrea Grote’s former classroom, but he got to know her well through Andrea Grote’s involvement in the teachers union and Detention Debut, a variety show that school staff put on at the end of most school years as a fundraiser for scholarships.
Andrea Grote organized Detention Debut for more than a decade.
“She just had a fantastic, positive attitude,” Moriarty said, noting Andrea Grote was good at putting up with the staff’s sometimes “childish antics.”
Marilyn Fagerness, the high school’s life skills teacher, described Andrea Grote as “the best-known teacher across the district.”
Fagerness and Andrea Grote were part of a group of four teachers who got their master’s degrees together at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. That was when Fagerness formed a very close relationship with Andrea Grote.
“In addition to getting to know Andrea and what a great person she was, I got a little window into her family and her relationship with Kevin,” she said. “I’ve always been struck by how much her family means to her.”
She added Andrea Grote was the type of person who would just light up a room with her personality.
“Her eyes were always smiling,” Fagerness said.
Social studies teacher Matt Lattimore and English teacher Mindy Lattimore are a pair as a result of Andrea Grote’s matchmaking work. Chas Bettendorf quipped that Andrea Grote was “always trying to set people up,” and he said she’s responsible for at least three marriages that he knows of.
The Lattimores were both former students of Andrea Grote’s, Mindy Lattimore being one year older than her now husband. When she started teaching at the district 12 years ago, Matt Lattimore was a long-term substitute teacher.
Andrea Grote felt the pair would be perfect for one another and approached them both about going out on a date.
“She went back and forth between us so many times and had orchestrated it so many times that, when Matt walked into my room, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to ask him out or if he was supposed to ask me out,” she said with a laugh.
Matt Lattimore added, “I think we just kind of both stared at each other, and we were both like, ‘So what day you want to go out?’”
Mindy Lattimore describes their relationship as one of Andrea Grote’s “setup successes.”
“I totally credit her with finding the love of my life,” she said.
English teacher Kelly Coleman started at the high school in 1992, and it didn’t take long for her to notice the camaraderie Andrea Grote had with her colleagues. She recalled all the laughs Andrea Grote and Chas Bettendorf would share and remembered thinking to herself, “I need to become friends with them.”
She did, and it was a friendship that evolved to include their families. Coleman’s daughter and Andrea Grote’s daughter were about the same age, and they became friends through sports.
The duo of teachers coached traveling basketball and volleyball together.
“We’d drive all over the country forever, it seemed like,” Coleman said.
English teacher Jennifer Van Dyke’s classroom was right across the hall from Andrea Grote’s for 16 years, and she met Andrea Grote her first day on the job. She, like others who were friends with Andrea Grote through their work at the high school, became close friends with Andrea Grote and her family outside of the school’s walls.
“She was just very open about letting other people into her family,” she said.
Van Dyke added that Andrea Grote was always willing to offer parenting advice and usually had personal accounts she could draw from to offer sound recommendations.
Her love for her family also served as an inspiration to Van Dyke.
“One of my parting words to her is I thanked her for letting my husband Chad and I learn so much about parenting and marriage and love from her and Kevin,” she said.
German teacher Barb Swenson, fighting back tears, recalled how Andrea Grote went out of her way to make her feel comfortable after she was hired in 1999.
“I had taught for 11 years before I came here, but yet I learned so much from her,” she said. “She led by example — how to get along with kids and how to enjoy life.”
School secretary Carol Baumann, also with tears in her eyes, recalled how much her two children — former students of Andrea Grote’s — admired her.
“My youngest, Britt, really got attached to her,” she said. “She was just so caring and kind.”
In her 25 years of teaching, Andrea Grote touched the lives of many students. Shortly after her death, a Facebook page was created as a memorial to her.
Hundreds of former students posted their favorite memories of Andrea Grote on the page.
Two of those students who decided to share those memories with the Post Review are Lizzy (Fleur) Schmidt and Cailie Kreitz.
Schmidt is a sophomore and had Andrea Grote as a teacher twice from 2011 to 2013. She said perhaps her favorite memory of her French teacher involved the games the students would play with her in class.
“She would tell us teasingly, ‘I’m gonna win!’ Schmidt said. “And she always did. She was just that good. The day she told us she had cancer, I could tell there was something wrong; that spring in her step was missing. She told us that she had cancer and with tear-filled eyes, she said, ‘I’m gonna win.’ And even though the cancer hit her so hard that she couldn’t get back up, she never lost her positive outlook and her faith.”
Kreitz was Andrea Grote’s student from 2005 to 2009.
“Madame Grote was an amazing woman,” she said. “She was a lot of fun and her French class was the highlight of my school day. My best memories of high school took place in her classroom. She believed in giving her students the freedom and creativity they really needed. She made a personal connection with every student she had. I feel blessed to have known her, and I feel sorrow for those that won’t get the chance to meet her.”