was fitness advocate
Ronna Johnson had taught for one year when she came to Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 to teach adaptive physical education at Rahn Elementary in Eagan.
The next four years were some of the most important of her career. Johnson taught special-needs students while colleague Cindy Hart handled the mainstream phy ed classes.
“After that I moved over to Byrne (Elementary) to teach mainstream phy ed,” said Johnson, who still teaches there. “But everything I learned about teaching, I learned from Cindy.”
Cindy (Gullekson) Hart, of Apple Valley, died of sudden illness on March 2, 2017, said her son, James. She was 63.
She taught for 27 years in District 191, nearly all of it at Rahn, her son said. In 2007 Hart was named state Teacher of the Year by the Minnesota Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
“She was really passionate about everything she did” — especially promoting an active lifestyle for her students, said Johnson, who remained Hart’s friend and colleague after leaving Rahn.
“She wanted kids to like physical activity and enjoy what they were doing,” Johnson said.
Hart graduated from Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, where she ran track, played volleyball, badminton and golf, and was on the debate team, student council and National Honor Society.
She played volleyball and earned an education degree at Bemidji State University.
Hart “did some pretty impressive teaching before she ever came to Rahn,” including a stint at Redwood Falls in southwestern Minnesota, James said.
“There were a couple of girls who wanted to do gymnastics and she was like, ‘OK, I don’t know anything about gymnastics, but I’ll figure it out,’ ” he said. “So she formed a gymnastics team.”
Hart also coached high school volleyball in Redwood Falls, sending one team to the state tournament and a couple of her players to college programs, James said. She coached many of her children’s youth sports teams.
“She was really passionate about sport and the importance of it in life,” he said. “She was constantly trying to learn more about how important it was.”
His mother kept “shelves of books” on the relationship between physical health and learning, he said.
“She really did consider that an important part of education,” he said. “We live in California. We don’t have physical education at my daughter’s school, and she was fairly horrified by that.”
Hart teamed up with Rahn music specialist Rachel Lucius to present annual school shows of singing and athletic dance.
The “big, extravagant programs” were a “labor of love” for his mother, who retired from teaching in 2015, James said.
“She’d go to the library and hit the internet to figure out what sort of dances to do and what the costumes should look like, and then she’d come home and spend days and days after school making the costumes the kids would wear,” he said.
Hart was involved in setting school district phy ed curriculum and advocated for an innovative program in cup-stacking, her son said.
“When I was home, I saw a number of speeches she’d written out to give to the School Board,” he said.
An Apple Valley resident for some 30 years, she served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. When her adult children came home to visit, she would proudly show off the latest park improvements, James said.
His mother remained active after retiring, enjoying walks and bike rides despite ankle problems, James said.
“Having been a college athlete kind of took a toll,” he said. “By the time she retired, she was definitely feeling some of those old volleyball dives.”
Hart was preceded in death by her father, Darryl Gullekson. She is survived by her mother, Thea Gullekson, of Bloomington; sisters, Deanna (Jeffrey) Anderson, of Shoreview, and Sally (William) Zeinemann, of Middleton, Wisconsin; husband, Robert Hart; children, James (Cassandra), of Davis, California, Bradley (Rebecca) Hart, of Renton, Washington, and Suzanne (Andrew) Langdell, of Portland, Oregon; grandchildren, Brennan, Lauren, Rose and John; and friends, colleagues and students.
A memorial service will be held in June.