Lynne Kovash was orange and black, of that there is no doubt. There was a streak of maroon and gold in the late Moorhead Area Public Schools superintendent, a nod to her beloved University of Minnesota Gophers, but Kovash was a Spud. She might have been, as a matter of fact, among the Spuddiest of all Spuds.
We know this because Kovash graduated from Moorhead High School in 1970 and, after a few stops elsewhere, she and her husband Denny moved back to town to work and raised a family of Spuds. Lynne's first job in the Moorhead school district was as a playground supervisor at Probstfield Elementary. Her last was as superintendent, a position she held for nine years until retiring in 2017 after receiving the devastating diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Kovash died Thursday, Feb. 14 after a two-year battle. A service celebrating her life will be held at 11 a.m., Feb. 23 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m., Feb. 22 in the Christian Life Center at Trinity.
I hope the church will be filled with Spuds (others will be allowed, too) who want to commemorate the life of this wonderful and dedicated educator whose legacy will be seen and felt for decades in Moorhead. Yes, Kovash was successful in helping get buildings built. But think of the kids — thousands of them — who made their way through the school system while she worked in it for than 30 years.
In between her first and last jobs, Kovash was a long-term substitute, a special education teacher, an assistant principal, the supervisor of planning and assessment and an assistant superintendent. She was a quiet but strong leader who knew what work in the trenches of Moorhead's school system was like.
"When she sat down across the table from a para, she knew what that person's job was like. When she sat down with a teacher, she'd done that job and she knew that world," said Brian Cole, a music-orchestra teacher at Horizon Middle School and the district's resident historian. "I think that's why so many of us saw her as a great leader. She knew what we did because she had lived it. We believed she had our backs and we had hers."
But being a Spud is more than going to school in Moorhead or working in the district. Or, like some of us, being a naturalized Spud because you live in the city and send your kids to Asp, Hopkins, Reinertson, Dodds, Horizon, the learning center or the high school. Being a Spud is part attitude, too, a sort of chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that comes from always being overshadowed and looked down upon by Fargo while simultaneously being dismissed and disrespected as a remote prairie outpost by the Twin Cities suburban schools.
Or, as a true Spud calls them, the "cake-eater schools."
As superintendent, Kovash helped foster a healthy pride in the district that being a Spud meant you didn't have to be subordinate to any other school, whether academically, athletically, in the arts or anything else. She loved the arts, supported school musicals and was head cheerleader for speech, debate, orchestra, band and anything else teachers, coaches and supervisors wanted to offer students.
"You cannot overstate how much of a hero she was to the arts in Moorhead schools. Her attitude was that if a school in the Cities like Lakeville or Eden Prairie can do this, if they can compete nationally and internationally in things like theater and speech, then so can Moorhead," said Rebecca Meyer-Larson, coach of Moorhead's award-winning theater and speech programs. "Her door was always open, and she always had time to listen."
Kovash was a sports lover, too. Denny was an athlete, their children played sports and the grandchildren continue to. Football, baseball, hockey, golf, soccer. Lynne had time for them all. She also had that obsession with Gophers sports, including the football program, which undoubtedly led to years of heartbreak.
It was a busy life when you include kids, grandkids, work, sports, the arts, volunteerism and the traveling the Kovashes liked to do. Old yearbooks from Moorhead High foreshadowed that nonstop activity. Kovash, then Lynne Doxey, was a member of Spud Club, Drama Club, the synchronized swimming team, band, Future Teachers of America and Teen Corps, among other things. She was apparently everywhere, doing everything, all the time.
"What she was back then is what she ended up being," Cole said.
She was also a highly educated woman who valued learning, critical thinking and problem solving. Kovash received a bachelor's and master's degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead and her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota. But she never lost sight of kids and families who didn't have the advantages she earned, an important trait for an educator in a district as diverse socio-economically and ethnically as Moorhead.
Again, that's being a Spud.
"The night I will always remember is when she spoke to a group of GED graduates years ago, people who didn't finish high school but got a degree later on. Lynne was a person whose education wasn't always smooth. There were stops and starts on her way to getting her Ph.D. and she shared her story," said Lauri Winterfeldt, Moorhead's director of community education. "She told of how making a commitment to education led to success for her and her family and how it wasn't always easy. It was powerful because you had people who had stops and starts in their life and here was the superintendent of the school district, a highly educated person, standing before them relating her story of stopping and starting. She told them to dream big and they could reach their goals, too. It was very powerful and something I'll never forget."