Matt Lundeen admitted what happened May 3 was a complete surprise.

That afternoon in the gym of Redwood Valley schools Lundeen stood before the students of the middle school and high school ready to offer some motivational words about finishing strong.

As he began to talk, Andy Ourada, Redwood Area School District activities director, walked in and interrupted him mid-sentence. Ourada then let Lundeen know he was not there to motivate the students, but was being recognized for his efforts as an educator and coach with an award.

Others joined Lundeen and Ourada, including Leah Garry of the WEM Foundation and Leadership Exchange, who presented Lundeen with what is known as the Outstanding Educator as an Athletic Coach Award. 

Lundeen, who has served as a teacher at Redwood Valley Middle School and coach for the Redwood Valley athletics program since he came to Redwood Falls 21 years ago, is one of six educators being recognized with this award, which honors outstanding accomplishments and contributions to student learning.

Educators like Lundeen are nominated for the award by a student, parent, colleague or community member, and then if they accept the nomination fill out an application. Lundeen said he did that this past fall. His application was then reviewed by a panel which then selects the recipients for the award – one of several awards the WEM Foundation presents to educators.

“This is extremely humbling,” said Lundeen, adding the more he thinks about it the more he realizes even though he is the one being recognized this award is about more than one person. “There has been a ton of people who have allowed me to do what I do and who have put me in a position to make a difference.”

Lundeen said it is the school administration, his fellow teachers and coaches and his family who have all made it possible for him to impact the lives of students in the classroom and on the field.

Those who have worked alongside Lundeen over the years see him as one who has a passion for education and for molding youth into people of character.

According to Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent, “Matt Lundeen is a ‘difference-maker’ and an amazing leader.  He is a dynamic, exciting teacher/coach who demands much from those with whom he works, but also gives much in return. One cannot be around Matt Lundeen without being energized by him.  He doesn’t run from ‘change,’ but rather embraces it. He is a workhorse firmly committed to ‘growth’ and ‘being better tomorrow than he is today.’

"Matt doesn’t look for short-cuts, and the path of least resistance is one he rarely takes. Matt lives his life in a way that sets a great example for all of us – youth and adults alike whether in school or in our community. Matt models the Golden Rule every single day. He truly cares about those with whom he works – kids and adults alike and he intentionally develops meaningful relationships that go on an entire lifetime. Matt Lundeen is special, and I think everyone who comes in contact with him is better for the experience. He is richly deserving of the recognition extended him.”

“Matt is a selfless leader in this district who is always looking to do what is best for kids,” added Ourada. “Matt has touched the lives of so many young men and women over the years.  He always builds kids up and does things the right way.  His energy and passion for what he does shows everyday in his work with kids.”

Amanda Pederson, Redwood Valley Middle School principal, called Lundeen an “amazing guy” and a huge motivational teacher for the students and the staff not only in what he says but what he does.

According to Pederson, “He is always willing to help out, especially in the capacity for motivation and getting our school ‘fired up.’   I am pretty sure daily, if you are in our building, you will here Matt’s famous ‘let’s get fired up everybody!’  He is a big relationship guy and builds strong relationships with his students, athletes, and colleagues. He always finds the good and positive in things and works to help others see them. He leads with his faith in the forefront of all that he does. He is highly respected in the school and community.  “His passion for the game of football is also something that comes to mind when I think of Matt. He finds a way to relate the game to life and life to the game. He is humble and doesn’t take the credit but rather always thanks his colleagues or teams.”

Lundeen believes he has been blessed by the experiences in life that have come his way.

As a student, said Lundeen, he had to work hard, because learning did not come easy, but he said people were placed in his life who helped him overcome those challenges and he is grateful for those who believed in him.

As a teacher and a coach Lundeen now offers that same message to each student and athlete he encounters. He believes in them, and he wants them to know that.

Looking back to his first years at Redwood Valley, Lundeen admitted things did not come easy. He said the first few years he served as head football coach were a challenge, but he believes that experience has helped to shape him into the coach he is today.

All of the opportunities to teach and coach have become a platform for Lundeen to share what he believes to be most important. No, it is not all about winning, nor is it always about getting good grades. Rather, it is about the person these students become for the rest of their lives.

Lundeen will also admit his faith plays a big part in the person he is and the reason he does what he does, adding throughout his life the one thing that has never changed is the one the Bible says is “the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Faith in God is a huge part of Lundeen’s life, and he believes it is God who directed him to Redwood Falls. Lundeen is convinced this is where he is supposed to be.

In addition to receiving the award, Lundeen has been given a gift of $15,000 from the foundation. How those funds will be used is something Lundeen and his family are still considering.

“I want to make sure it is used to make a difference and to represent who we are as a family,” said Lundeen.

Lundeen considers himself to be very fortunate, not because of anything he has done but because of the people who have come into his life over the years and have shaped and molded him into the person who stands before students and athletes today and shares a message he hopes will change their lives. He wants them to be the best person they can be.

“I’m the lucky one,” said Lundeen, not because he won an award or because he has a check for $15,000. It’s because he has the privilege to influence the next generation.