From substitute teacher to substitute preacher, Lake Wilson man is a busy retiree

“I don’t consider myself to be very knowledgeable about Scripture. But I’m a Christian and I think I have good morals and a fair amount of common sense."

Carlson family
The family of Mark and Jannette Carlson includes son Trent (from left), daughter-in-law Kailee holding grandson Maddox Mark, Mark, Jannette, and daughter Lissa.
Photo contributed by Mark Carlson

LAKE WILSON — Mark Carlson is perhaps the busiest “retiree” in Murray County.

He is also among the happiest and most well-liked persons in our region.

“Just come down and bring the kids, and we’ll have some fun activities planned,” Holinka said.
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“Kids are still kids. They still want hugs, they still giggle, they still get their feelings hurt. They still tattle, they still want friends.”

Mark’s 34-year classroom career is officially over, but the intrepid instructor remains a full-time real estate agent, lawn care business owner and school bus driver.

Despite a lifelong bout with cerebral palsy that’s affected his gait somewhat, Mark is also a respected and in-demand youth basketball referee and amateur baseball umpire.

Recently at his former employer, Murray County Central, he added the role as substitute teacher.


And, in his spare time, Mark is a substitute preacher.

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To be sure, this 59-year-old is a blessing to his community and all who know him.

“This area has been good to me,” says Mark, who grew up on a farm in the Lake Wilson area. “I feel like the people in this community respect me.”

The former math teacher pauses as if reconciling figures.

“I was kind of an old-school guy and did not use the most up-to-date methods all the time in the classroom,” he says. “I’m sure I could have done a better job. But I feel like I treated every kid as well as I possibly could.”

“It’s very rewarding. I get to see the lightbulb click when kids really understand something,” Harrington said of his students. “I just felt I wanted to make some kind of difference in their lives.”
“I love health care because it really comes down to helping others.”
“The whole community came together, and we were able to contribute thousands of dollars and so much food and love and support, just off one social media post. And everyone is better for it.”
“I don’t consider myself to be very knowledgeable about Scripture. But I’m a Christian and I think I have good morals and a fair amount of common sense."
“The whole community of Worthington helped raise me,” said Kyaw, who moved to Nobles County with his mother in 2011 when she began working at JBS.
“I love being able to be there for someone when it might not be the best hour of their life," said Kane, "and being a friendly face, someone they know, can help calm them down, make things easier.”
“When the wind blows and everybody’s recyclables are out, oh there’s so much,” she said.
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“Give it a try. It’s an opportunity to meet people from different towns in a network outside of your hometown. You’ll meet a lot of wonderful people and it’s just a great thing to be a part of.”

For more than 30 years, Mark has owned a lawn care business. He started it with his nephew Keith. Soon it became a way for his kids, Trent and Lissa, to stay busy in the summer. The first job was the Lake Wilson Lutheran Church cemetery.

“We bid $45 per time,” Mark smiles. “We did that once or twice and they asked us to do the church property in town. Then pretty soon the next-door neighbor to the church asked if we could do his lawn, too.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever really advertised for more work. It’s just sort of found me.”


A few years ago the jobs included four cemeteries, 16 other properties in Lake Wilson, plus a few widow’s farmyards.

“Pretty soon a few more cemetery boards called,” he says with another wide smile. “And I’m not very good at saying no.”

His kids have grown up and have careers of their own. So for a time Mark employed area high school students to do the work.

It was a way to help the youth of the community.

Mark Carlson
Mark Carlson
Photo by Scott Mansch

These days, it’s just Mark and his friend Denny Lickness who do the mowing.

“The nice thing about mowing cemeteries is, if we’re a day or two late nobody gets mad at us,” he says.

Right, pretty quiet out there. Then again …

“It’s so satisfying to see a nicely mowed and trimmed cemetery,” he says. “It’s work that you can see the outcome. And depending on the cemetery, there are people who notice. For example, Holland is a huge cemetery and I don’t know that I’ve ever been there and there hasn’t been someone driving through. Occasionally they’ll stop and say, ‘Thanks for keeping this thing looking so good.’ And that really feels great.”


The business is called TLC Lawncare. Originally the letters stood for his son Trent, daughter Lissa, and their last name of Carlson. Now it could certainly be for “Tender Loving Care.”

What about the trait of never being able to say no?

“I don’t know where that comes from,” he says. “But I enjoy helping people.”

That’s why his long teaching career was so rewarding.

“When you can visit with former students and get the feeling you’ve made a difference, man, that is big,” he says.

Delivering a sermon as a substitute preacher is another huge responsibility. When it’s suggested his eyes sparkle with laughter.

“I have started doing pulpit supply,” he says. “Like the lawn care, it started by accident.”

“It’s a great school, it’s almost like a family. I really connect with these kids here. I just have a lot of love in my heart for these kids.”
“I’ve not had one person talk to me and say ‘Boy, that’s a huge safety concern. We need to spend a bunch of county funds to improve that.’”
“The focus of the course was on oral storytelling and the rich tradition oral storytelling has, specifically in Ireland,” instructor Kent Dahlman shared.

Several years ago Mark’s brother, a member at a Lake Wilson-area Presbyterian church, suggested he’d be good at it. Mark owed his brother a few favors, so finally he agreed.


Pretty soon the Hadley Lutheran Church heard about it. Next thing you know Mark was a sub preacher there. He’s now delivered substitute sermons to at least 12 churches in Murray County.

“And here’s the deal,” says the storyteller supreme, “I don’t consider myself to be very knowledgeable about Scripture. But I’m a Christian and I think I have good morals and a fair amount of common sense. So I combine my life experiences with a little Scripture and common sense and try to come up with a message. I try to add a little humor and keep it relatively short.”

He smiles.

“People seem to like it,” he says.

It’s certainly good for Mark’s soul.

“It is,” he says. “I don’t know that I’m necessarily very good at it, as far as being Biblical, but I feel like I’m providing a needed service. I hope I’m doing something that pleases God.”

It has to be the most significant of his endeavors. Or maybe not.

“I feel like my most important job is within the walls of the school,” Mark says. “I think I affect more lives there than in a church or anywhere else.”


His own life has been affected — but certainly not limited — by a birth defect. Cerebral palsy.

“I don’t think I’ve ever touched my toes straight-legged,” he says softly. “But the only thing it does is causes me to have less flexibility.”

Mark played sports and participated in all gym classes as a youth.

“When I played junior high basketball, I’m sure I wasn’t the worst player on the team, but I know I wasn’t in the top half, either,” he smiles. “My footspeed wasn’t great, but I also wasn’t the slowest guy … We used to do those Presidential Fitness Tests. I was never the last guy to finish.”

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There is no pain associated with the affliction. Physical or mental. That’s because the kids he works with never seem to notice.

“To the best of my knowledge,” he says, eyes glistening a bit, “no kid has ever said anything to me about that.”

He pauses to brush away a tear.

“Nobody’s ever called me a name, and that would be easy for kids to do,” he says. “But they don’t. At least not to my face. No kids here.”


He pauses again for a moment, then says: “In a lot of ways my life has been pretty damn easy. I had really good parents, really good siblings, fabulous wife (Fulda native Jannette) and kids, and a really good school system. I’ve faced rejection very little.”

Emma Schuur is a senior at Murray County Central who has known Mark for years. Though Mark is not in school every day anymore, she says all the students love him.

“100%,” she says with a smile. “We would walk into his room when we were younger and he would say our names backward. That’s how he would greet us.”

Backward? Emma would be “ruuhcs?”

“Yes,” she laughs. “He would memorize our last names backward and say it to us … I would always call him “Noslrac,” because that’s what his was.”

Another smile from Emma.

“And now, if he’s subbing for someone and you see him, the electricity and energy is just so positive,” she says. “He’s always got this great big smile on his face. And it’s just super uplifting.”

Mark Carlson’s is a legacy of easy-going vibes — and hard work. Indeed, one place where Mark can’t usually be found is lying on the couch. And that’s even during the hot summer days.

“Those kind of days, I take it as a challenge,” Mark smiles. “And to stay home and rest, that’s not fulfilling. It feels good to be physically tired. You come home from a hard day’s work and you’re exhausted. And I like that feeling.”

He pauses once more.

“I don’t know that I’m any more deserving of (a newspaper) story than anyone else,” he says. “There’s a lot of people in this community that do the same type of stuff that I do. There’s a lot of people in this community who work as hard or harder than I do. I’m far from the only one.”

Special? Mark might not consider himself that. But he is.

Scott Mansch, who in a crowded Viking tavern has been known to say “Go Pack Go” at times in complete disregard for his health, can be reached at
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