Year in Review 2016: An imposing figure with an endearing heart in Farmington

Robert Boeckman remembered in looking back at 2016

Robert Boeckman attended the dedication ceremony that named the middle school building in his honor. (Photo submitted)
Robert Boeckman attended the dedication ceremony that named the middle school building in his honor. (Photo submitted)

Tall, broad, and well-known among Farmington residents for decades. Robert Boeckman, former superintendent of District 192, played a pivotal role in Farmington schools and community. While he is most remembered for his dedication to, and passion for, the district, those closest to him remember most his genuine care and compassion in looking back after his death June 30, 2016.

His daughter, Holly, reflected on Boeckman’s role in the community, and at home: “Dad was an imposing figure in Farmington when I was growing up — he was tall, broad. Kids would always say, ‘Wow, your dad is the superintendent?’ and think he was a menacing figure. But the truth was that dad was a giant teddy bear. When Mom would say no to something, we’d go work on Dad. Those conversations would almost always end with, ‘OK. But let’s not tell your mother.’ When any of us had a bad dream we’d sneak into Mom and Dad’s room, go directly to Dad’s side of the bed and that big arm of his would automatically lift up the blankets and let us in. He was always our protector.”

Robert Boeckman at his first teaching job in Phelps, Wis., in 1952. To his left is Larry Schmitt. (Photo submitted)
Robert Boeckman at his first teaching job in Phelps, Wis., in 1952. To his left is Larry Schmitt. (Photo submitted)

His career began in Phelps, Wis., where he taught shop and coached for two years before returning to Minnesota. From the beginning of his career, Boeckman

Robert and Shirley Boeckman (Photo submitted)
Robert and Shirley Boeckman (Photo submitted)

inspired students.

Larry Schmitt, a senior during Boeckman’s last year of teaching, still fondly remembers him as teacher and coach. As a coach and superintendent, Boeckman saw to it that things got done. During one basketball game, Schmitt recalled that he had taken a shot he wasn’t supposed to and was severely reprimanded for it.

After Boeckman’s tutelage in shop and since graduating from Phelps, Schmitt went on to obtain his doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and practiced psychiatry for children. He described Boeckman as “a truly fine man who improved the lives of so many students beginning with a tiny school in northern Wisconsin.”

Boeckman’s first big project as superintendent was to organize a referendum for the former high school – a building that now bears his name.

Nancy Bjerke, Boeckman’s secretary of 17 years, stood by his side as he oversaw the referendums, new buildings, and general management of the district as it grew.

He did it all before additional district positions were created: “he did the buildings and grounds, he did the food service, he did the special ed.; everything was under him. He watched it all and was on top of it all.”

Not only that, but as Boeckman was in the decision-making process, he sought input from all those around him. He would often ask Bjerke her insights on particular projects. He still remained involved in the district even after retirement; he’d often ask about teachers that he’d hired and wanted to hear the current happenings going on at the school.

Robert Shirley, a Farmington School Board member who served for 21 years while Boeckman was superintendent, said she “very much admired (Boeckman)” and his ability to keep everyone informed, while never having a negative thing to say about others.

Even as he involved himself with seemingly every minute work detail, he still managed to be an active father figure. His daughter, Holly, shared that “(she) was in just about every school sport offered. It didn’t matter if it was a home game or some far away town, dad was always in attendance. His job never prevented him from sitting in the stands to cheer.”

Holly had the opportunity to see his professional successes throughout the years, but she prides herself most in seeing his success at home.

“Obviously Dad leaves a legacy with the school district and community but when I think of him now I’m more proud of what he did over the last decade in caring for my mom. She slowly fell to Alzheimer’s disease. Dad was tireless in the way he cared for her every day. I continually tried to move them into assisted living but he wanted to stay in their house, knowing it was a comfort to Mom to watch the wildlife out their windows. Even as he struggled with his own health challenges he cared for her as she no longer knew who he was.”

Tributes to the Boeckman were plentiful after Boeckman’s death as people celebrated the life and times of one of Farmington’s great figures.

He was one of many prominent local residents who died in the past year. The newspaper will look at back in the coming weeks at some of these other community contributors who died in 2016.

Email Maren Bauer at
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