By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN In 1978, Tom Snell got an offer to teach industrial arts at Holy Trinity High School in Winsted. He had never been to the community before, and didn’t know anyone in town.
Now, it’s a different story. Snell has made all kinds of connections in Winsted, and often sees former students who are employed locally.
“You can just about go through every business in town and you’ll find somebody,” Snell commented.
When Snell accepted the job 40 years ago, he assumed he’d move on after a couple years. He ended up being happy with the position, though, and stayed with it long-term.
Snell started easing into retirement two years ago by cutting back to part-time hours. He officially retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year, and a celebration in his honor took place July 1. (The reception also honored fellow retiring teacher Marv Ebensperger.)
Snell is originally from Superior, WI. His family moved a few times during his childhood, and he went to high school in the Coon Rapids area.
Snell’s mother was an elementary and junior high school teacher, which Snell said probably influenced his own career choice. While his mother taught all subjects, Snell was drawn to “hands-on” classes.
“If it’s something I could build, or something I could take apart, that’s what I would do,” he said.
After high school graduation, Snell served in the military from 1969 to 1973.
“I was a security specialist,” Snell said, adding that he was stationed in Germany and England.
Once he got back home, Snell went to college. He married his wife, Gwen, in 1977, and accepted the job at Holy Trinity a year later. He described his first year of teaching as a “whirlwind.”
The best part was being able to teach practical skills. Students built sheds and garages in the early days, and even built a house once.
“At the beginning of the year, I find out what students are interested in, and create a program for each students’ interests,” Snell said. Years later, students have come back to tell Snell how much his classes have helped them in their careers.
In addition to industrial arts, Snell also taught some film photography classes. Snell was involved in students’ lives as a coach, too. He spent 15 years coaching various levels of volleyball, and about eight years leading junior high boys’ basketball.
Although he won’t be at Holy Trinity when school starts this fall, Snell is not worried about finding enough to do. Whether it’s fishing on the lake, restoring his 1968 MGB, or spending time with his three kids and five grandkids, Snell said “I’m definitely going to keep busy.”
He’s also considering opening a side business that he can run on his own schedule, such as restoring flooring for boats.
When asked if he had any advice for new teachers, Snell shared some words of wisdom: “Take it slow. Listen to your peers and your students, and go from there. Take a big breath.”