Since he was a young boy, Ted Leagjeld enjoyed journaling. Having a knack for nature and a will to write, he jotted down thoughts and experiences on a daily basis.
His musings between 1947 and 1950 fueled the content of Leagjeld’s latest book, “Prairie Wind Rural School.”
Leagjeld will soon celebrate his 88th birthday and shares, with pride, that he writes every day, still keeps a journal and knows his way very well around his computer.
This man, who owned Driftwood Resort on the west side of Whitefish Lake for the last 50 years, has led an interesting and diversified life, which really began right out of high school and served as the inspiration for his writings.
At age 18, a fresh graduate of Long Prairie High School and looking ahead to his future, Leagjeld was accepted to attend Valley City State University in Valley City, N.D. He was attending summer classes when the college’s dean gathered students together and shared news of a dire situation. The state of North Dakota was experiencing a statewide shortage in rural school teachers and these students, already showing interest in a teaching career, were asked to take what they’d learned in a short time and apply it in the field.
Leagjeld accepted the call and was sent to the small town of Jessie, N.D.
“After one, short summer in college; it didn’t seem like enough education to support you already,” Leagjeld remembered, calling himself a “greenhorn” to the state of North Dakota. But his ambition and spirit led the way as he instructed the one-room schoolhouse of 20 students of various ages, until news came of the eminent closure of the facility. Leagjeld said that building still stands today in Jessie, but the district was eventually consolidated with surrounding districts.
Leagjeld returned to Valley City State University to pick up where he left off. Again, he attended summer classes, as well as held down a job at JC Penney and did odd jobs of gardening and yard work to pay the bills.
Once again, as it did before, opportunity knocked. And, of course, Leagjeld answered.
He was sent to teach at the Lindvold School, a country school about 17 miles south of Valley City. He remained at this school for two years, all the while living in the school. It was during this time that one of Leagjeld’s students nominated him for the “Best Teacher in America” award.
One day, Leagjeld received the call at school that he had been nominated and chosen, and was asked if he could come to Fargo, N.D., to receive his award. But the school board wouldn’t allow it and, instead, his certificate was sent to him in the mail.
As the story goes, Leagjeld returned to college and finally achieved his four-year degree. It was time to escape the winds of the Dakotas and head west for new scenery, so Leagjeld accepted a full-time teaching position in Port Angeles, Wash.
He took on the biggest challenge yet, as he was charged with educating “37 high achiever students.”
“These students all had very high IQs,” he said. “I just had to be smart enough to work with students smarter than me.”
On one of his final days of college at Valley City State University, the school’s president called Leagjeld into his office and offered him a college-level teaching position. However, he had already signed a contract with Port Angeles and was ready for a change of pace.
But, history once again repeated itself, and Leagjeld found himself returning to his alma mater in the summer to teach, where he worked for three years. Later, he earned his Master’s degree from the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
And along the way, Leagjeld has undoubtedly touched countless lives. In fact, one student purchased a brick on the front of the new school being built in Port Angeles in Leagjeld’s honor, inscribed with the words “Ted Leagjeld – Great Teacher.”
“I’ve had contact with several of those kids from my teaching days,” Leagjeld said. “Another student wrote to me and signed it as ‘devoted student.’ I’ve had things like that happen to me since I left teaching.”
In total, Leagjeld dedicated 10 years to the teaching profession from small country schools to college courses.
“Teaching is my passion,” he said.
And through the years, Leagjeld remained loyal to journaling, continually chronicling every step of his journey. Looking back on his years of teaching, Leagjeld dug into the experiences that spanned from 1947 to 1950 and opted to pen a book, later titled “Prairie Wind Rural School.”
“I would write letters to my parents back home in Minnesota, and every letter I ended with ‘the wind is blowing.’ You see, I was a Minnesota boy and in Minnesota, the wind blows; but it’s not as steady like it is out there in North Dakota. In North Dakota, the wind blew all the time,” Leagjeld said.
So you ask what happened with his teaching career? Well, Leagjeld recalls the story of meeting a fellow teacher in Port Angeles who had recently spent time with the American Red Cross in Korea and wanted to come back to the States and work out west. Her name was Suzanne. She and Leagjeld hit it off and later married.
Suzanne’s parents owned a resort on Pelican Lake in Detroit Lakes, where she and her new husband would often visit. Leagjeld said he enjoyed the work and atmosphere of the resort industry, and was offered an opportunity to work in the family business; however, the thought of being the “low man on the totem pole” didn’t suit him.
“I had worked so hard to get where I was,” he said. “If I was going to be a resorter, I wanted to be in charge.”
So Ted and Suzanne started in search of a resort to call their own. That’s when they found Driftwood Resort and raised their family.
“I really loved teaching. And I think there are so many reasons that it happened in my life. I still work with people at the resort and I believe that teaching transferred into working with young people at the resort. It didn’t hurt me a bit,” Leagjeld said.
In addition to journaling on a daily basis, Leagjeld has also found time to write several children’s books, including three that have been published, two of which were illustrated by his bride.
“I have a degree in science and nature and I grew up with a mother who wrote poetry and read to us. I thought a lot about what she told and read, and it just kind of fell into line with what I like about nature,” he said.
“Chip the Beaver: Builder of Minnesota Lakes,” “Laughing Loon: Minnesota Mystery Stone,” and “Voyageur the Moose” are his published works and available for purchase to the public. “Prairie Wind Rural School” is in the printing process and will be available for purchase soon.
(Jenny Holmes is a former reporter for The Brainerd Dispatch and currently operates her own communications business in Nisswa.)