‘Cornerstone of our school’

Elly Dahler, the administrative assistant at Vista View Elementary School, stands in one of the school gardens she maintains. Dahler is retiring after 30 years at Vista View. (Photo by John Gessner)

Longtime administrative
assistant retiring from Vista View

Most everyone who visits the office at Vista View Elementary School in Burnsville recognizes Elly Dahler, who has occupied the front desk for 25 years.

When she’s outside trimming or weeding the school gardens, passersby on County Road 5 sometimes honk and wave.

And when former students return to register their own children for school, they’re often pleased and surprised to see a familiar face.

Dahler — “the cornerstone of our school,” in the words of Principal Brad Robb — will retire in June at 65.

“She is the welcoming committee, she is the gardener, she is the caretaker, she’s the family liaison, she laughs with the kids and she smiles with them and she hugs them when they’re sad, or she’ll go on a walk with the kids,” Robb said. “She’ll have kids come and help her with the garden.

“She’s just a great first impression for Vista View. She embodies what we are. We’re a safe and welcoming place, and she lives that out.”

Dahler said she was determined to work through age 65. Her husband, Larry, retired seven years ago from the Union Pacific Railroad. They live a half-mile from Vista View in the attendance area of Edward Neill Elementary, which daughters Julie and Jenny attended.

Vista View is her “family,” her “home away from home,” Dahler said. “I’ve seen so many changes with staff, and I’ve seen staff that have been here almost as long as I have been. When you share their lives with them, it’s hard to leave.”

Raised in Blaine, Dahler started her career as an administrative assistant at the old Spring Lake Park Junior High. The family moved to Burnsville 35 years ago, and Dahler started working at Vista View in 1987.

For five years she split her time as a media center assistant and the administrative assistant for the Burnsville Fire Department. Twenty-five years ago Dahler was hired full time as school secretary, or administrative assistant as the job is now known.

The job duties have changed and expanded over the years. Among other duties, she learned the school’s student-data programs and works with purchasing. She oversees a kindergarten graduation program “complete with caps and gowns” and a half-day orientation program for incoming kindergartners.

She greets office visitors and answers calls from parents and teachers who need something in the classroom. Dahler is sometimes dispatched to bring students to the office for cooling off.

“I have to go to the classroom and persuade a little student who just has dug his heels in and doesn’t want to leave,” Dahler said. “Eventually I can talk him into coming down to the office for a little while.”

Job expectations change with principals, Dahler said.

“There was a time when I was very involved in helping with the budgets, but Mr. Robb is very tech-savvy, so he just does it like that and it’s done in no time,” she said. “I’m blessed that I have two assistants in the office that I can delegate responsibilities to.”

A few years ago Dahler was instrumental in securing bus transportation to Vista View from The Pines of Burnsville Apartments on Burnsville Parkway. Bad weather brought increased absenteeism from the neighborhood, home to many one-car families and many of the school’s Hispanic and Somali students.

Under School District 191 policy, elementary students walk to school if they live a mile or less away. Most of the complex is barely inside a mile. But Dahler, keying in address data, discovered that one building was 1.01 miles away. She called the transportation office, and soon a bus was running from The Pines.

“And significantly more kids were coming to school because of it,” Robb said. “I think that’s just the epitome of how much she cares about the kids and families of Vista View.”

Dahler became the school gardener a dozen years ago after Target donated funds to plant gardens on both sides of the sidewalk at the school’s entrance.

She helped design the gardens and still maintains them, even during the deep weeks of summer when she’s off duty. Dahler said she’ll continue gardening in retirement, though an automatic sprinkler system has been installed because she won’t always be around for watering.

Her favored plants are “anything that will come up on a yearly basis,” Dahler said, laughing, “so all I have to do is cut them down in the fall and trim the bushes up a little bit and pull weeds all summer long and make sure they’re watered.”

She thinks the school’s inviting entrance sends a message to citizens.

“I want everybody that drives by here to know that we care about this school — not just what goes on inside with the kids, but outside, too,” Dahler said. “Their tax dollars, they’re being well-spent. We’re taking care of our building and our kids.”

Dahler also has home gardens to take care of and a summer place on Lake Mille Lacs.

“Larry’s an avid fisherman,” she said, “and he thinks he’s found his new best fishing partner. Not gonna happen.”

But in retirement she would like to visit all of Minnesota’s state parks with her husband, riding on the back of his Harley.