WILMONT — Even though she retired two years ago, Roxanne Kremer’s love and enthusiasm for educating young people remains contagious.
Kremer, who grew up near Fulda and has lived in Wilmont for 30 years, was in the midst of a long-term substitute teaching assignment earlier this month in Olivia Salentiny’s kindergarten classroom at Worthington’s Prairie Elementary. Salentiny, on maternity leave, was ironically hired to replace Kremer when she retired in 2018.
“Teaching is a passion,” Kremer said in an interview shortly after students had departed for the day. “When people ask me ‘Why do you sub?,’ it’s because I’m very passionate about teaching. I love being able to still come into a classroom with the goal of hooking children into learning and seeing that sparkle in their eyes — seeing the excitement in their learning.”
Following her dream
Kremer, the daughter of Jim and Aletha Gerdes, was raised on a farm just outside of Fulda.
“We worked and did all the different farm chores back then,” she said. “We had pigs, cows, chickens, ducks, geese … it was a real old-time farm. “
She and her brother kept themselves busy at school as well as at home, though not exactly in the same activities.
“Of course there weren’t girls’ athletics at the time, so I was active in band, choir, marching band, concert band and speech, and I was in a musical,” Kremer shared. She was also an officer in the Future Homemakers of America. “You just dived into these other areas because sports wasn’t an option.”
Kremer was one of 90 graduates of the Fulda High School Class of 1974. (The class of 2019, comparatively, had 23 graduates). She then attended Concordia College in Moorhead, earning a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education while pursuing a non-teaching joint history and political science major and a science teaching minor. She did student-teaching in elementary grades before completing her undergraduate studies.
“Back then, you’ve got to keep in mind it was challenging to get a full-time teaching job,” Kremer said. “It was the late ’70s and teaching jobs were hard to come by, so it was good to be well-rounded.”
Kremer was hired as a third-grade teacher in Plummer, just south of Thief River Falls. She had 33 students, but she had a job in education — that was all that mattered.
“I was seven hours away from Fulda, but I had a teaching job and that was my goal.” she said. “I loved teaching — that was my passion, and that was my goal since I was a little girl.”
Plummer was Kremer’s home for only a year. She met her future husband, Jim, back in southwest Minnesota through an acquaintance, and decided she should return as close to the area as possible.
She found work in Magnolia, teaching both second and third grade for one year and third grade in her second year. Her husband then got a new job, and the couple moved to Hanska (near New UIm).
“I did subbing in Hanska and Madelia during that time,” Kremer remembered. “I did long-term subbing in Madelia for a teacher on maternity leave … but the gal I was subbing for came back the next fall.”
Meanwhile, Kremer furthered her education by attending Minnesota State University, Mankato and securing her kindergarten endorsement. She’d previously had a license for first through sixth grade.
“I just wanted to open every door that I could to make myself marketable,” she said,
Still, Kremer didn’t latch onto another full-time teaching position for a few years. Her husband lost his job as a relief hog buyer with Armour’s when the company sold out. In need of additional income, she sold insurance for Bankers Life and Casualty Co., for which she “was on the road and did a lot of cold calling” because “it was just something I had to do.” Then, she stayed home while she and her husband started their family.
The couple’s first child, Andrew, was born in 1985, and a daughter, Abby, followed in 1987. They had been living in Corning, Iowa, but then a new opportunity arose.
“We heard about a gas station that was for sale in Wilmont,” Kremer said. “Jim’s brother was a gas station owner in Iona, and Jim had always said that he wanted to have his own business. He had moved around so much ... and he had worked for so many people and wanted to be his own boss.”
The Kremers bought the Wilmont gas station in March 1990, and owned and operated the business until selling it in 2013.
“Our kids learned a lot from the business — things that you just don’t learn out of a book,” said Kremer, adding that their third child, Steven, was born in 1991.
Kremer did the gas station’s books for three years (“in long-hand … without QuickBooks,” she pointed out, laughing) and did substitute teaching in Adrian, Fulda and Worthington.
She still maintained a desire to teach full-time, and she soon had another chance.
Teaching in Worthington
Kremer recalled subbing frequently for Sandy Ahlberg, Bev Meyer and Beth Westra, who
were team teaching in a multi-age setting at West Elementary in Worthington.
“Bev called me up one day and she goes, ‘I’m going into retirement,” Kremer said. “My first reaction was, I was devastated. I was feeling bad, but then she said, ‘You need to apply for this job.”’
Meyer — who Kremer fondly remembers as saying of her retirement, “I came in with a ditto and out with a fax” — ended her full-time teaching career in 1993, and Kremer was indeed hired to take her place.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Kremer marveled.
Her first few years as a Worthington Independent School District 518 employee were
spent in a multi-age setting, teaching fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at West Elementary
with Sandy Ahlberg and Beth Westra. Then, her last year at West she taught kindergarten
with Connie Tinklenberg before the opening of the new Prairie Elementary building in fall
Kremer went on to tackle that “challenge” for 16 years. She taught in Worthington full-time for 25 years before becoming eligible to retire via the “Rule of 90” (age combined with years of service) in 2018. Among the accolades she received during that service were District 518 Teacher of the Year in 2012, as well as Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year for kindergarten through fifth grade in 2016.
“I also received my master’s degree from SMSU (Southwest Minnesota State University, in Marshall) in 2000,” Kremer added. “Sandy Ahlberg, Judy Heitkamp and I were team teaching at West Elementary in the 4-5-6 multi age setting. The three of us decided to pursue our master’s together, so for one weekend a month for two years we studied, researched and proudly graduated with our master's degree in educational leadership.”
After many years in the classroom and prestigious recognition, Kremer is still rewarded by being a long-term sub — although she noted now that she “came in with a ditto, and now students are using iPads and smart boards.”
“I love coming in and love teaching … and I get a little bit of a paycheck,” she said with a smile.
Retirement, though, allows her the time for such activities as taking care of her granddaughter for three months last year and doing some traveling (she and her husband are soon going on a cruise). Jim, who now drives the Heartland Express bus around Nobles County during afternoons, grew up in Iona and is a U.S. Navy and Vietnam veteran who has long been involved with the Wilmont VFW — as she has, too.
“I’ve been secretary (for the Wilmont VFW) for many years, and it’s a big part of our community with the activities and dances that go on there,” Kremer said.
“I’m also the organist at Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Fulda. I was confirmed and married in that church, and I never dreamed that my kids would come back and get confirmed in that church. I’ve also been heavily involved in many church activities and committees.”
Kremer is particularly thankful for the support she’s received through the years from her husband.
“It’s very important when you’re a teacher to have a supportive spouse,” she said. “We really want to give kudos to our spouses. Jim was just tremendous during my teaching career.”
She’s also happy that her kids are on strong career paths. Andrew now works for Garney
Construction in Texas, Abby is a nurse practitioner with Mayo in Rochester and Steven is
an operational manager with US Autoforce in Sioux Falls.
“It’s because of the good education that they got in District 518,” she said. “That prepared them to continue on and get their college degrees, and now they’re doing very well professionally.”
Finally, Kremer is grateful for the life she and her family have enjoyed in Wilmont.
“The community supported us in our business, and everyone knows each other. My kids loved growing up in Wilmont — it was small enough that everyone was a parent to everyone. It has been a great place to call home.”