EDGERTON — In communities such as this, the familiar refrain goes “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”
Gay Lynn Drooger does not have roots in the Netherlands, but for three decades and counting she has meant so very much to her adopted small hometown here in Pipestone County.
“The people here are friendly, they’re warm and they’re always willing to help,” says Gay Lynn, a teacher at Edgerton Public since 1985.
“The students are just good kids. You can tell their parents have raised them — I’m not gonna say Dutch — but in the right way. Just great families.”
She laughs softly.
“They’re just really good kids. The small-town atmosphere is really fantastic,” she says. After graduation from college at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., when she played basketball, tennis and volleyball, Gay Lynn came to Edgerton to teach elementary education.
“I met Mike and didn’t leave,” she says.
It’s all thanks to a game of H-O-R-S-E, the old basketball shooting contest that served as a kind of first-date experience for Gay Lynn and her future husband, Mike Drooger.
“We played by my rules,” she laughs. “No dunking and no 3’s.”
Gay Lynn won, and Mike, an Edgerton native who formerly worked in the family grocery business and has been an advocate for his hometown since he was born, won her over.
The town of Edgerton was the real winner, though.
Mike and Gay Lynn raised three children in Edgerton. Daughter Alyson Gunnik teaches health and physical education in Ellsworth and is a junior varsity basketball coach for Adrian-Ellsworth High. Daughter Lindsey is the leasing manager for an apartment complex located in the Twin Cities near the Minnesota Gophers’ football stadium.
And newlyweds son Luke and his wife Breanna live in Luverne. Luke, a former outstanding athlete at Edgerton High who was a fine baseball pitcher in college and during the summers for the Hadley Buttermakers, teaches math and science classes in Brewster.
Gay Lynn’s teaching career has included health classes along with physical education duties. She’s helped with summer rec programs, both for youths and adults, for more than 35 years. Plus for years she’s operated the town’s Community Ed programs, ranging from supervising defensive driving classes and babysitting clinics to organizing youth sports camps.
It would be a mistake, then, to say Gay Lynn’s mission is only for the youth. She sets up adult tennis and pickleball leagues.
“I enjoy bringing my PE classes to the rest home to demonstrate dances and speed stacking,” she says.
You might say she’s been going at a fast pace her entire life. But that’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of potholes.
Little Gay Lynn Moen was 7 years old in Sisseton, S.D., when her father died suddenly of a heart attack.
“There was six of us there — I have five brothers and sisters and I’m the youngest,” she says. “And then all of a sudden it was just my mom and us.”
She pauses a moment.
“Yes, that was hard,” she says softly.
Three years after that, her mother was injured in a shooting and lost much of her sight. Mrs. Moen owned a small Sisseton cafe at the time.
The family persevered.
“I was determined,” Gay Lynn says. “I tried to help my mom as much as I could. I’d get up at 5 in the morning and go to work with her, help her make pies and get stuff ready. She still worked at the restaurant and was familiar with everything. But she was legally blind.
“I tried to help her always.”
All the heartache was especially traumatic for a religious family such as the Moens.
“Exactly,” Gay Lynn says. “We were pretty devout Christians. ... That was something that got everybody through it. My mom, she wasn’t bitter at all. So we couldn’t be, either.”
Mrs. Moen, you see, had a great attitude.
“All the time,” Gay Lynn says.
That is a trait passed down to her youngest daughter. Gay Lynn has always enjoyed her work.
“What I like the most is seeing the kids active, and seeing them enjoy it,” Gay Lynn says. “In today’s society, where it’s all ‘sit down and be on the computer’ or ‘sit down and play the video game’ I think it’s more important than ever to be active. If I can help them to get outdoors and playing, that’s the most fulfilling thing for me.”
Because of her job, she’s known more than one generation of Edgerton families.
“I know I’ve got a lot of contacts in my phone,” she chuckles. “But yes, it’s a good feeling to know many people here. It’s a good place.”