By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Two educators who have inspired many students and faculty in the Dassel-Cokato school during their tenures will be starting new adventures when the school year ends this year.
Cokato Elementary third grade teacher Mark Dolan and Middle School Principal Gary Johnson will be retiring at the end of this school year.
Both Dolan and Johnson are educators who have contributed greatly to the Dassel-Cokato School District with their tireless efforts to create the best school they can.
“I was there for his first day,” said former student Dean Jenkins, whose son Noah also had Dolan as a teacher last year. “He’s a great guy and a great teacher.”
Dolan has been with the school district for 33 years, both as a third grade and fifth grade teacher.
“The kids love his sense of humor the way he brings stories to life,” said fellow third grade teacher Lori Stangland. “I believe almost every third-grader has had Mark for science, and loved every minute of it.”
Dolan is known at Cokato Elementary for his positive outlook, his sense of humor, and his willingness to serve for the betterment of his profession.
“There is never a doubt that Mr. Dolan teaches all of the curriculum that he is required to teach his third-graders, but as his principal, I’ve witnessed many life skills that he teaches his students, as well,” said Cokato Elementary Principal Lorene Force.
For instance, Dolan teaches his students to be polite and respectful, to greet people with a firm handshake, and to look people in the eye when speaking to them.
“Mark has high expectations, and the kids know it and strive towards them,” Stangland said.
But Dolan also uses his humor and life experiences when teaching his students.
“He’ll do just about anything for the kids, which has included putting on a cheerleader’s uniform and wig to show his school spirit,” Stangland said.
Over the years, Dolan has mentored numerous teachers, including student teachers he has guided as they learn to teach and relate to students.
“Mark was my mentor before we even had a mentor program in place,” Stangland said. “He has always been a great, positive, team player and leader.”
A favorite experience Dolan had as a teacher occurred when he taught at the middle school.
He and a fellow teacher had set up a science and health lab for the following day in which the students would be dissecting pig, goat, and cow lungs.
The night custodian thought the lungs were to be cleaned up, and threw them out in the dumpster.
Dolan and his colleague found themselves digging the lungs out of the dumpster at 10:30 at night and resetting the experiment.
“Everyone at Cokato Elementary will greatly miss Mark, but we are very excited he will get to see more of his family and enjoy many rounds of golf in his future,” Force said.
Dolan plans to spend time with his wife, Julie; children, Sean (Melanie) and Keeley (Dan); and his three grandchildren after retiring.
After the school year is over, Dolan will be working and golfing at Albion Ridges Golf Course until winter.
Then, he and Julie will be traveling to Colorado and Florida, visiting their children and grandchildren.
Johnson has been with the district for 23 years, beginning his career as the high school media specialist in 1987, and becoming the middle school principal five years ago.
“As both a media specialist and as a principal, Gary has provided consistent, mature leadership that has benefitted everyone he has worked with, students and adults alike,” said DC Superintendent Jeff Powers.
“Gary is the type of person who wants to make things happen,” said current high school media specialist Paul Beckermann.
Johnson moved the media center at the high school into the digital age and helped develop a computer network at the school, integrating technology into the classroom.
Some of Johnson’s favorite memories have come from supervising students’ independent study opportunities in what is called the “back room” of the media center.
“That experience allowed me to work with some incredibly unique and gifted students,” Johnson said. “Many of them have gone on to become successful artists, computer programmers, engineers, and even a philosopher.”
Johnson made positive connections with many of students he worked with at DC.
“It was very common to see him helping students with a research project, or, just as importantly, through a tough stretch of their lives,” Beckermann said.
Throughout his career at DC, Johnson also coached several state champion problem solving teams.
“I would like to believe that my greatest accomplishment as an educator was stimulating students to think calmly and logically, be continually curious, treat everyone with kindness and respect, never stop learning, and always have fun,” Johnson said.
Having served on numerous committees and planning groups over the years, Johnson’s leadership continued as the middle school principal and staff development coordinator.
Hanging out with fifth-graders for the past five years has been an enjoyable experience, Johnson said, although they can be challenging.
A few weeks ago, Johnson said he got both a good chuckle, and a reminder it was time to retire.
“An 11-year-old boy who didn’t like what I was telling him, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘What are you going to do about it, old man?’” Johnson recalled.
Johnson was also a mentor for young teachers throughout his career at DC.
“He was one of the first teachers to reach out and help me when I was a first year teacher, and I’ve seen him do it with countless others,” Beckermann said.
After retiring, Johnson said he will be spending more time with his wife, Joyce, who is also retiring from counseling at the Hutchinson Middle School.
“We are curiously waiting to discover what our next adventure will be,” Johnson said.