By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN People can often think of at least one teacher who greatly influenced their lives and allowed them to become the person they are as an adult.
For many Dassel-Cokato High School choir alumni, that teacher is Don Anderson, who was the music teacher and choir director for 39 years.
“He was a great influence on a great many people,” said former student Cameron Goodrich.
Anderson, who began his career at DC in 1968, passed away Oct. 20 after battling pancreatic cancer.
When Anderson retired in 2007, he said he’d had some wonderfully talented students, and all he had to provide was some guidance.
But co-workers credit Anderson’s dedication for his students’ success.
“He believed in all students, and got the most out of students in music,” said former co-worker Mark Herman. “He always gave 110 percent.”
“He was a very, very dedicated teacher,” said former DC Superintendent Ed Otto. “He really brought out the best in kids.”
Anderson was a leader in the music department, being very involved in writing the curriculum, Otto added.
Near the beginning of his career at DC, Anderson proved his dedication.
During the 1971-72 school year, 50 first-graders were bussed to the Stockholm country school to be taught because there was not enough room for them at the school in Cokato.
Anderson gave up his preparation period so the two first-grade classes in Stockholm could be taught by a certified music teacher, recalls Bev (Klammer) Moye, one of the first grade teachers at that time.
“JoAnn Onnen and I were so blessed to have him as a friend and teaching partner that would truly go the extra mile,” Moye said.
“One of my fondest memories is of Don coming to Stockholm first grade classrooms for our first music lessons,” recalls former student Lissa Michalsky. “To think we were with him for so many years is overwhelming he was so influential to all of us.”
“He believed everybody could sing, and his concerts proved that,” Herman said.
One former student attests to Anderson’s belief that everybody could sing, but admitted she was never very good.
However, Nicci (Long) Decker loved music. “I was enjoying myself. What I remember the most is emotions feelings,” she said. “I had such a strong desire to sing, and Anderson gave me everything he could to help he saw that desire. And when all else failed, he let me take attendance.”
A tradition started by Anderson was allowing DC choir alumni the opportunity to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with his current students.
The band and choir directors invited Anderson back to direct the “Hallelujah Chorus” in 2009, as a special honor for all his years of service to DC.
“To this day, every time I sing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ I see him standing there with a big smile on his face,” recalled former student Kathy Danielson.
Many of Anderson’s students credit him with providing them a genuine love of music.
“He shared this (a genuine love of music) with so many of us, his students, as well as many of their children,” Danielson said. “One didn’t have to be around him long to recognize what music meant to him and how hard he worked to inspire others.”
Students entering Anderson’s classroom were always greeted with a sense of welcoming and security, no matter who they were.
“Anderson provided a safe space for all students before safe spaces were even known to be needed,” said former student Del Jenkins.
That safe space allowed students who would not typically get to know each other become friends.
“I remember feeling so accepted in that space, and not having to worry about anything superficial,” said former student Chrissy (Bodenhamer) Howes. “I just had a good time and made life-long friends.”
“To think how many of us (students) are friends because of him it’s staggeringly beautiful,” said former student Andy Lien.
Anderson’s office became a place for students, who otherwise may have not felt welcome in other areas of the school, to hang out.
“I don’t think we can really call it ‘his office,’ I think we just let him hang out there,” Lien joked.
At Anderson’s funeral Saturday, his former choir students who were able to attend his funeral paid tribute to their teacher and friend, singing “Blessing,” also known as “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You.”
The song was directed by a former student of Anderson’s, and current DC music teacher, Deveny Beaton.