HJ/EDApril 24, 2006

Darryl Giesselmann: his last lesson was about life

By Lynda Jensen

Most people who knew Darryl Giesselmann of New Germany can hardly hold back the tears when it comes to thinking of him, and his early death from cancer recently.

What will they miss? His kindness, patience and willingness to listen? His friendship, thoroughness, or positive attitude?

Yes, all these things, and so much more, for a man who started out as a Nebraska farm boy and ended up as longtime principal at St. Mark School.

Giesselmann died April 11 at the age of 56.

Giesselmann spent 35 years teaching students about many different subjects.

But it isn’t reading, writing or arithmetic that his students will remember.

It was the last few years of his life when he stared cancer in the eye and still conducted his life with the same positive attitude, the same steadfast resolve and quiet dignity that he always had.

“He was honest about it,” said teacher Mary Mielke, who has six children attend St. Mark. His students were given the facts, but always with the positive attitude that was associated with Mr. G, she said.

Friend and pastor Allen Holthus agreed with this, saying that the cancer was used as a learning experience for many. “We spoke with hope, but he never minimized the situation.”

“He was a very solid man, with a strong heart for the Lord,” Holthus said.

“He had a strong faith in Christ,” commented teacher Linda Edmison. “Losing him was like losing a brother.”

Students remember his willingness to listen and help them, as well as his way of injecting humor to make work go along better.

“He always had a great sense of humor, and we’d cry from laughing,” said eighth grader Stephanie Aurich. This is despite undergoing cancer treatments during the past year of school.

Giesselmann’s favorite saying was “Variety is the spice of life,” which his students will tell you, is shown via the Minnesota seasons.

But it wasn’t all fun and games, since Giesselmann was a firm believer in discipline and good old-fashioned hard work.

“He wanted each child to be responsible and respectful,” Mielke said.

Teacher Becky Aurich said Giesselmann knew how to provide an excellent mix of discipline and fun.

“He found good in every single person,” commented student Koty Hensel.

Edmison shared an interesting bond with Giesselmann, since both were from Nebraska and loved the Cornhuskers.

Edmison’s husband, Gordy, who was also a teacher at St. Mark, is from Columbus, which is also where Giesselmann’s wife, Betty is from. Giesselmann himself is from Omaha, and Linda is from Lincoln.

Jerry Roepke remembers Giesselmann in a completely different way – for his pitching abilities as a younger man.

“He was tall – intimidating,” Roepke remembered. Giesselmann would wear athletic glasses, standing on the mound, and serve up good fast balls, sharp curve balls, and sliders, he said. “I’ll never forget that.”

“He was one of the best control pitchers I’ve seen.”

In fact, Koty Hensel recalls a favorite story of his dad, Mike Hensel.

Mike Hensel got a home run off of Giesselmann’s pitch during the playoffs, when the two men played against each other, Hensel for the New Germany Dutchmen, and Giesselmann for the Mayer Blazers.

If this is so, it was not the usual way of things, Roepke said, since Giesselmann pitched his team to the state tournaments.

Giesselmann was teaching at Zion Lutheran School in Mayer at that time.

“He was very kind hearted,” Roepke said. “He was an all around nice person. Pleasant to talk with, and friendly.”

Through his life, Giesselmann never forgot his roots, since he went back to the farm during his off time and helped out with local field work.

“His role on our little farm was pretty big,” commented Mark Strehlke, who is also on the St. Mark school board. Giesselmann would help Mark and his parents, Vernon and Darlene Strehlke.

“He was patient, reliable . . . pick any adjective,” Mark said. “He was a blessing to our church, our school, and our family,” Mark said.

Darlene remembered a special bale hook that Giesselmann would use when the Strehlkes still had dairy cows. “When you put him on a piece of machinery, you didn’t have to worry,” she said. “He acted like it was his own.”

“It was a hard one,” Darlene said, her voice breaking, about the funeral.

It will be tough to fill his shoes, since Giesselmann made so many things look easy, Mark Strehlke said. However, he left records and files in great shape, which makes it easier. “It’s a bit overwhelming.”

Connie Stahlke found it bittersweet that she was acting principal before Giesselmann came nearly 17 years ago, and now this year, she ended up doing this again through the last part of his illness.

Casket bearers at Giesselmann’s funeral were his former students, although he didn’t give reasons why this was so, commented Shelly Quaas, wife of pallbearer Brad Quaas.

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