ALC’s advocate teacher retires

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 12, 2000

"She has been an outspoken advocate," Area Learning Center (ALC) teacher Pat Langly said of fellow ALC teacher Ruby Klingfus.

Tuesday, December 12, 2000

"She has been an outspoken advocate," Area Learning Center (ALC) teacher Pat Langly said of fellow ALC teacher Ruby Klingfus. "She spoke up and fought for teachers’ rights."

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It was this trait – outspokenness – that defined Klingfus’ tenure as president of the Austin Education Association, work experience coordinator and teacher at Austin High School for the past 24 years.

Klingfus will retire from the Austin High School ALC on Dec. 26, though her last day of teaching will be Dec. 22. Her length of tenure is surprising, since after graduation she was told she would never find a job.

Born in Sargent on a farm, Klingfus graduated from Blooming Prairie High School and obtained a degree in laboratory technology from the University of Minnesota. She went on to work in her field for 15 years, at UCLA, DePaul Hospital in Norfolk, VA and Hormel Foods Corp. Research and Development.

She returned to college when she was 40 to obtain a teaching degree from Mankato State University. She decided that if she could spend at least one year in her chosen profession, she would have felt that she had accomplished what she went to school for. After working for a short time as a math tutor at Riverland Community College, Klingfus was hired by Austin High School.

When she started at the Austin ALC, 4,000 students in Minnesota were in alternative programs, Langly said. Today there are 112,000 students in alternative and area learning centers around the state. Area learning centers run year-round, while alternative programs last for nine months.

The students Klingfus has taught over the years come from all socio-economic levels. What defines them as "at risk" is an overwhelming issue in their lives – such as problems at home, attendance issues or drug and alcohol abuse – that causes them to be unable to continue with mainstream education classes. Some students return to mainstream after a time in the program, while others stay throughout their entire high school experience.

Having a routine and a familiar place to return to each day gives students a sense of belonging, a factor necessary in each student’s success in the ALC program. Supportive parents and mainstream teachers also are vital to each student’s success.

Klingfus has attended weddings, baptisms, anniversaries and graduations, all because of the success stories that started in her room at Austin High School.

A student who had been a consistent behavioral problem in Klingfus’ classroom is the subject of a favorite story. When the student asked to be re-admitted to her room, Klingfus asked the student why he thought they’d get along after all this time. He answered, "Because you’ll make me learn."

That student returned to Klingfus’ classroom after graduation. "He told my students, ‘If I can, you can. It’s your attitude that makes the difference,’" says Klingfus.

Another student came to school one day to give Klingfus the first ride in his new car. "I was the first one, not his girlfriend, his buddies or his parents," she said.

When Kingfus began teaching, her classroom contained 18 students. Currently there are 26 in her class, which has hampered her ability to give each student the time and attention she feels they deserve. There is a waiting list for the program, which means that class size will not decrease in the foreseeable future.

After the new year, Klingfus and her husband plan to move to their house on Buck Lake near Bemidji, where they have spent long weekends during the school year and occasional weeks in the summer. "I plan to sit on the deck and watch the lake as much as I can," she said.

She hopes to spend more time in Ladies’ Aid and the Sons of Norway after retirement. She is excited to take a trip with her family to Norway, and to Alaska with her brothers and sisters in summer 2001. Spending more time with her four sons and their families, including five grandchildren, should fill out her free time, Klingfus said.

"We won’t find someone with the qualifications of Ruby," Langly said. This was confirmed by Kingfus’ assistant, Mike Corcoran: "I’ve learned so much from this lady," he said. Corcoran insists that the greatest factor for success has been the students’ respect for Klingfus: "They know she’ll stand behind what she says."

Klingfus said that the first school principal she worked with, Mr. Nordaune, once told her something that stuck with her and helped her to make it through each day: "Never think that your students aren’t learning. They may not be learning from a book, but they are learning nonetheless."

Klingfus hopes that above everything her students and those who graduate after she is gone will learn to be "self-supportive, independent people, even if they don’t go on to college."

At the conclusion of last night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. James Hess made a special point of acknowledging Klingfus for her years of service. Board members gave Klingfus a standing ovation.

Klingfus will be honored today at the Eagles at 4 p.m. The celebration is open to the public.