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Retiring Fargo educator draws praise for dedication

Fifth-grade teacher Don Dronen is retiring
Fifth-grade teacher Don Dronen is retiring in May after 41 years of teaching. Nearly all of those years have been at Lewis & Clark Elementary School in Fargo. At 62 years old, he's Fargo's most senior retiree this year. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Nearly all of Don Dronen's 41 years of teaching fifth-grade have been in one Fargo school.

That means walking out of Lewis & Clark Elementary in just over two months won't be easy for the 62-year-old.

"I don't handle change," he said recently. "I know when I walk out of here it's going to be tough."

So the quiet, soft-spoken teacher is preparing now and hoping for an uneventful exit from Fargo Public Schools as the district's most senior retiree this year.

"It's a big life change," said his son, Scott Dronen, 31, a fourth-grade teacher at West Fargo's L.E. Berger Elementary. "He doesn't like to bring attention to himself."


Family and friends plan to have a quiet, private party to celebrate Dronen's career. However, the small gathering likely won't be reflective of the big impact he's had on the community and the 1,000-plus kids he's taught.

"I'm having kids of kids," he said. "You run into people."

Like Angie Lipp.

She was a student in his class, a colleague when she taught down the hall from Dronen, and more recently, a parent when her son was in his class.

"I think you would find that he has a big following of kids who remember him fondly," said Lipp, 45, now a teacher at Fargo's Kennedy Elementary and Discovery Middle School.

"I have never heard a bad word said about the man," she added. "He just kind of brought out things in the kids that I'm not sure the kids always knew they had in them. I admire that."

While Dronen may shy away from the attention, Lipp said they just want to thank him for making a difference.

It's that appreciation Dronen said will be the biggest gift he'll walk away with from teaching.


"You can't put a price tag on that," he said.

Raised by two teachers, he started student teaching at Lewis & Clark Elementary in 1969. He didn't stray far from the profession or the school. In fact, for 39 of his 41-year career, he's been in a fifth-grade classroom at Lewis & Clark.

Now, come May, Dronen and his wife, who's also retired, plan to relax on their lake home near Detroit Lakes, Minn., and spend more time with their five grandchildren and three children - two of whom are teachers.

"I won't have a hard time finding things to do," Dronen said.

In fact, retirement leaves more time for ice fishing, watching Vikings games, training for his fourth halfmarathon, deer and duck hunting, carving wooden decoys and painting.

Until then, Dronen is relishing his final school days at Lewis & Clark.

"I've had a lot of fun," he said. "I've worked with lifelong friends."

He's also made a lifelong impact on the hundreds of students he's taught.


"I just have a great deal of respect for Mr. Dronen," Lipp said. "He will be missed as a co-worker and as a friend."

Number of teacher retirees up in Fargo, West Fargo

Marjory Hochgraber is one of 22 Fargo School District staff retiring this year. That's up slightly from the 16 teacher retirees last year.

However, the Hawthorne Elementary Title I and Reading Recovery teacher said she thinks the economy is still making some teachers hesitant to retire.

In West Fargo, the number of teacher retirees is also up.

So far, the district has received notification from 11 teachers about retiring compared to the seven teacher retirees last year, Human Resources Director Robin Hill said.

In Moorhead, the school district has six teacher retirees so far this year - half the number of last year's 12 teacher retirees, spokeswoman Pam Gibb said.

For Hochgraber, after 40 years in the Fargo School District, it's time for her to move on, she said, even though she still loves her job.


"There's so much joy I get out of my job," she said, tearing up. "The reward is seeing the kids read. When you see them excited and proud, that's No. 1."

However, the 62-year-old isn't exactly calling it quits from work. She said she may explore teaching at the college level or another position in education.

"I enjoy it a lot," she said. "I don't know where those years went."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515

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