Forty years ago, Ronald Reagan was a newly elected president, the Rubik’s cube was a novel sensation, the Pac-man video game was released, NASA launched the space shuttle program, and… in what turns out to be another historical moment, Mr. Paul Wickre assumed his first teaching job.
Today, all of those world events and cultural phenomena are in the history books. They stand out in our collective and individual memories as having monumental impact on the age.
And Mr. Wickre?
He certainly stands out, too––yes, for monumental impact. After 40 years of faithful service to what is now several generations of children, Mr. Wickre has just completed the last days of his storied career––a history of effort and enthusiasm worthy of the books and, certainly, of the admiration of us all.
A small-town Iowa boy, Paul Wickre left his childhood home after high school for the big city of St. Paul, Minnesota, where he pursued an Elementary Education degree with a concentration in Art History from Concordia University. As a child, he loved athletics and thought he would like to coach, he says. “Believe it or not,” Mr. Wickre explains, “one of the reasons I went into teaching is that I had some bad teachers, and I knew I could do better.” This motivation, coupled with his desire to coach, is ultimately what directed him to education, a discipline-turned-calling for this lifetime educator.
After graduating from Concordia, Mr. Wickre took his first teaching job at Immanuel Lutheran (SILO) in Lewiston in grades 6-8. “My first teaching contract was for $5700,” he remembers. While we all know Mr. Wickre to be a man who forgets no detail, from those earliest years of teaching, particular memories stand out in his mind: a copy machine that used purple ink––“does anyone remember that?”––and a boys’ basketball team that did not have uniforms. “My mom and I made uniforms [for the team] over Christmas vacation,” he marvels.
And most memorable from those early years? Ah, well, that’s easy––and especially sweet. After his first four years of teaching at SILO, Mr. Wickre took a teaching position at Mt. Calvary in Richfield. Shortly after his start there, he recounts, he met a cute teacher on a softball field at a grade school game one day––“her team against mine,” he adds. That teacher was the lovely Miss Carol Tointon, someone we now know as “Mrs. Wickre.” Pastor David Fredrickson, who serves RCLS as a Food Services helper, was witness to that initial meeting:
I remember the day at Rose of Sharon Lutheran School when Miss Tointon (standing at a classroom window) noticed this good-looking softball coach (aka Mr. Wickre) from Mt. Calvary down on the softball diamond. We teachers jokingly challenged Miss T to go down and introduce herself. To our surprise she did, and, well, the rest is Mr. & Mrs. Wickre's love story!
Indeed, Mr. Wickre married that lovely Miss Tointon, and he continued to teach at Mt. Calvary for 22 years before they moved on to teach at Immanuel Plainview for another four years. In these decades, the Wickres raised their two daughters, Rachel and Hannah. It was only after they became empty nesters that the Wickres moved to Rochester, where Paul has taught in 4th grade for the last 10 years. Now, as his teaching days come to a close, he considers these important years of his life. Consider some of his memories and motivations, in his own words.
Over the course of your career, how has teaching changed?
We used to have to teach all subjects; there were no specials or prep periods. All special areas (music, art, choir, P.E., drama, coaching, foreign language, etc.) were covered by the classroom teachers. At Mt. Calvary, for example, I was the athletic director and I coached all sports (soccer, cross country, volleyball, girls' and boys' basketball, wrestling, co-ed softball) and was the grade 5-8 choir director, Spring Musical director, and even bus driver.
What do you most like to teach? Why?
Religion and History. For Religion, that's an easy answer. It's the most important class of the day. The students need to learn about Jesus every day. As for History, I believe we learn from the past and can apply it to current day. Nowadays, it seems history is not stressed as much [in some learning contexts], which is too bad. Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
What role does the Gospel and/or your own faith play in your teaching?
The students need the proper balance of Law and Gospel–– [how they might act wisely] and what God has done for them through Jesus. Teaching these things to my students helps keep me in check, too.
What memory do you hope your students take with them after a year in your
The students will tell you that the memory they take is my story telling. I like teaching using stories and parallels (didn't Jesus do that?). But I hope that they remember what was stressed every day in class. We are saved by grace, through faith, not by the works of the law.
(Mr. Wickre faithfully talked and walked that message every day in his classroom, most notably from the text he used each day to teach Bible stories. See that text––Advanced Bible History, published 1938––tattered and marked with helpful notes as it was, in his hands in the lead picture of this article.)
What fond memory do you carry about your career?
I’ve had a lot of students and athletes over the years. I love it that some of them are 50 years old and still call me ‘Mr. Wickre' when they see me.
What about these last weeks of your teaching career—Remote Learning. How has that been?
Weird, like it wasn't really happening. Even with technology and videos, there's just no substitute for the classroom experience.
It admittedly has been a strange ending in this last year of Mr. Wickre’s long career as he has marked the “lasts” of so many things he has loved about teaching. The last first day of school. The last spelling bee. The last track meet. The last day of school. Some of these lasts were memorable because they were usual, others because they were unexpectedly unusual, but they did mark the conclusion to a faithful ministry, nonetheless.
So, then, what’s next for this educator?
“I don’t really have any hobbies, so people tell me I’ll get bored or go crazy,” he jokes, before he admits that he’ll likely end up on campus again as a substitute teacher. Besides that, the Wickres’ daughters, both preschool teachers, like their mom, and their families––including their lovely granddaughter, Harper––live nearby, so he’ll certainly hope to spend time with them, as well.
In an age when it is typical for an American laborer to change careers more than once, Mr. Wickre’s faithfulness to generations of children in Christian education is especially remarkable. Forty years. His is the story of thousands of lessons, report cards, games, events, prayers, and students. Thousands of hours of influence, grace, and kindness.
And, yes…thousands of stories. Stories about childhood. Stories about world history. Stories about Jesus.
That is not just monumental impact. It’s an eternal one.
We regret that we were unable to hold a proper retirement celebration this spring for this beloved teacher. Rest assured that we will do so just as soon as we are able to safely invite the community to celebrate Mr. Wickre together. In the meantime, we've collected a few messages from current and former students in the video below, and we encourage you to send him a note of thanks or congratulations––via the RCLS Facebook page or school office. He would love to hear from you!
No story of Mr. Wickre's impact is complete without the enduring image of this teacher on track and field day, at the starting line, where he started races time after time, year after year. What an encouraging presence he was in that spot. Happy retirement, Mr. Wickre! May the Lord bless you and keep you.