After slipping out for lunch, we’d make our return through the front doors of our high school. Most of the time, our school principal would greet us, hands behind his back; he’d give us a nod of the head and even address us by name.
His strong presence at 6’2” with jacket and tie immediately quieted us. Maybe one of us would say, “Hi, Mr. Laposky” as we would move quickly to get to our class on time. That was 50 years ago.
There was something about him. Even as a teen, I sensed that he cared about students and our school. Every classmate I have talked to has a story of Mr. Laposky being kind, fair, calm, and taking a personal interest in them. He was a mentor to many and respected by all.
Today, Mr. Laposky is 88 and spends hours mowing around 90 acres on land that his son owns. He retired a number of years ago after dedicating 40 years of his life to education.
While mowing, he listens to music, but occasionally just listens to the engine drone. He may stop for a moment and take in the beauty of northern Minnesota. He may reflect on his journey as a husband, father, educator, administrator, grandfather, and now a great-grandfather. His life has made a difference. Stories of a unique time need to be told.
Russell Laposky grew up on a farm in South Dakota. Born in 1932, he recalls the effects of the Depression. His parents set an example of family, faith and hard work. He remembers listening to the radio as President Roosevelt gave his speech after Pearl Harbor was attacked.
During the war, communities pulled together, and life changed. All the young men left for the war. Rationing, sacrifices, conservation, recycling and patriotism carried the day.
Russell Laposky would graduate from Iroquois High School in 1950. He had intentions to farm, but his destiny got turned. In 1950, along came the Korean War.
After attending Huron College for two years, the U.S. Army requested his assistance. Like most young men at that time, a duty was felt. He would serve in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1955, including in Korea.
Before he headed off with the U.S. Army, Mr. Laposky took a high school friend named Eleanor to a picture show in 1952. This was followed by a few more dates, and he knew who he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
They would correspond during his army years, and were married on March 6, 1955, in Huron, S.D. Mr. Laposky told me how lucky he was to have married Eleanor. They made the decision that she would stay home as they raised their family. Her faith and love were a guiding light for the family, but she also was an outstanding cook.
With the G.I. Bill, Mr. Laposky finished his degree at Huron College and obtained a master’s degree from South Dakota State. His path became education. In his career, he would spend seven years as a teacher and coach, 10 years as a principal, and 23 years as a superintendent.
Mr. Laposky’s first job out of college in 1957 was as a teacher in Sandstone, Minn. He would become the principal and then superintendent of the school before leaving in 1974. He loved education and feels that he was blessed to work in several small, close-knit communities.
In a discussion with two of Mr. Laposky’s sons, Jim and Dave, they both told me they were proud of their dad. Their parents also modeled faith, integrity, respect, and doing a job right. Dave said he used to mow lawns in the summer, and his dad would inspect them to make sure the job was completed above and beyond expectations.
Eleanor passed away in 2017. She is missed. Russell and Eleanor had five children, and now there are 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Most of the family is nearby, and this brings great joy to Mr. Laposky.
My best friend from high school, Jerry Best, remembers a time when he was sent to the principal’s office. They sat there a few minutes, then Mr. Laposky looked at Jerry and said, “I expected better of you.” That moment had an impact on Jerry. He vowed not to disappoint Mr. Laposky again. (By the way, Jerry was co-valedictorian.) Another classmate, Debi, named her second son Russel, after Mr. Laposky.
Although this is Mr. Laposky’s story, it is a tip of the cap to all educators and administrators. If you are in education, don’t be afraid to push a little and tell that student, “I expected better of you.” That student may never forget that day — in a good way. There’s nothing wrong with high expectations.
Mr. Laposky made a difference in many lives. He is adored by a whole bunch of grandkids. Right now, he’s in a zone, listening to that engine, remembering those he loves, and maybe watching a bald eagle soar.
Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at firstname.lastname@example.org.