Schmidtke’s teaching career touched hundreds of lives

by Jennifer Chick
Sun Thisweek

Arlene Schmidtke is being remembered as a teacher loved by students, parents and her colleagues.

Arlene Schmidtke
Arlene Schmidtke

Schmidtke, 87, of Farmington, died Jan. 9 from pneumonia. She was described as a person who lived life to the fullest.

As a teacher at Farmington Elementary School, Schmidtke touched hundreds of lives during her career. She taught third grade there for 22 years from 1968-1990. Colleagues and students remember her as a wonderful teacher who truly cared about each and every student.

“She always had a smile on her face,” said Kimberly Boulanger, one of her former students who now lives in New Prague. “I don’t remember her ever getting mad or yelling. She had a kind soul.”

Connie Dahl, Schmidtke’s daughter, said she has received several Facebook messages from students saying she was one of the best teachers they ever had.

“I really think that every kid that had her liked her,” Dahl said.

What Boulanger remembers from that year was that Schmidtke read “Charlotte’s Web,” a book Dahl said Schmidtke read every year. Boulanger remembers Schmidtke’s perfect cursive handwriting, something she pressed her students to perfect as well.

Sandy Luther taught fourth grade at Farmington Elementary School during Schmidtke’s tenure there. She remembers Schmidtke as a teacher who perfectly exemplified the quote, “A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.”

“I think she did that for all her students, and the parents loved her, too,” Luther said.

In 1987, Schmidtke earned Teacher of the Year at Farmington Elementary.

“I think she taught in the years when there was time to have fun with the kids,” Luther said. “We felt like we had a good career.”

Boulanger admits she was skeptical when she first heard she would have Schmidtke for her third-grade teacher since Schmidtke was one of the older teachers by 1978, but Boulanger learned she shouldn’t judge someone by outward appearances.

“She made everybody feel special in their own little way,” Boulanger said. “She was very influential in my life, and I have very fond memories of her.”

Before teaching at Farmington, Schmidtke taught in a one-room schoolhouse near Morristown. She also taught in East Chain, Cannon Falls, Dakota County District 47, and Lakeville. Even before her retirement, she was an active volunteer for the Dakota City Heritage Village, a role she continued after her retirement. She loved to dress up as a schoolteacher and reenact those days in a one-room schoolhouse for children.

Pearl Shirley, Schmidtke’s sister-in-law and past president of the Dakota City Heritage Village Board, said Schmidtke would make sure the schoolhouse was clean and equipment was ready every spring and fall, when Dakota City Heritage Village opened its doors.

She often brought her grandchildren down to help clean the schoolhouse. Schmidtke was raised on a farm and her own mother taught in one-room schoolhouses in North Dakota.

“I think she just felt an interest in preserving the rural history,” Shirley said. Schmidtke’s daughter, Diane, is now president of Dakota City Heritage Village, and the family asks that any memorials be given to Dakota City.

After Schmidtke quit teaching, she traveled around the country visiting historical sites. Her son, David Schmidtke, of Jamesville, Wis., said she was even planning a trip this summer to tour the Minnesota River Valley, visiting sites from the Dakota Indian Rising.

She celebrated her 87th birthday with family Dec. 13 and had a wonderful Christmas with family before pneumonia sent her to the hospital on Jan. 8. She died peacefully the next day.

“Arlene was a wonderful person and lived a wonderful life,” Luther said. “Many people have wonderful memories of her as their teacher. She’ll truly be missed.”

She is survived by her four children, David Schmidtke, Lynn Radvansky, Diane Schmidtke, and Connie Dahl, as well as five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.