Dave Gartner came to Redwood Falls in 1992.
“I was a first-year teacher and had just graduated from Martin Luther College in New Ulm,” said Gartner, who was called to St. John Lutheran School to teach second and third grade and to serve as the school’s athletic director.
Originally from Milwaukee, Wis., Gartner admitted he figured he would be in the small Minnesota town for three years and would then move on to a bigger city setting.
That was 27 years ago.
Over the course of that 27-year teaching career, Gartner has grown as an educator, and he has settled in to the community he considers home.
That is what made his decision to leave so hard.
As of the end of this month, Gartner will be stepping down from his most recent role as St. John School principal, as he has accepted a call to serve as principal at West Lutheran High School in Plymouth.
Over the years, Gartner has received calls to serve in other schools, but the opportunities he was offered never felt right. Things changed when he received this most recent call.
Gartner admitted at first he had no interest in the job, but the longer he fought against it, the less he was sleeping and the more stressful life became. So, he opted to consider the possibility of making the move, and as soon as that decision was made he started feeling less stress and was able to sleep again.
That is when he became convinced the move to West Lutheran was something he was being led to by God. Gartner said the Lord was saying he had other plans for him, adding since accepting the new role the pieces have continued to fall into place demonstrating to him that God is behind all of it.
Gartner said he believes if there was ever a good time to leave St. John this is it.
“St. John is as strong right now as it has ever been,” said Gartner, adding the current faculty is one he would match up against any other, because they not only demonstrate excellence in the classroom as teachers but also show that they are willing to go the extra mile for their students and families.
Gartner added he is also convinced that the right leader is stepping in to the role of principal. Todd Brassow, said Gartner, is going to help take the school to a higher level.
Gartner admitted it will be hard to leave the community, as it has truly taken him and his family in, adding his two sons only know Redwood Falls as home. From the time he and his wife, Michelle, came to Redwood Falls the St. John Lutheran congregation and the community as a whole have helped to make the Gartners feel at home.
“The people welcomed me almost like a son,” said Gartner, who admitted as a 21-year-old many of those initial folks really helped fill in the role of parents and grandparents for him as his were several hours away.
Gartner said to him Redwood Falls never really felt small, because of all the things it offered. As one who likes to be active, the sports programs offered, such as softball, basketball and volleyball, really helped convince him that Redwood Falls was a good place for him and for his family.
He added it was a great place for him to grow as an educator, and he said people like Gordy Vetter and Russ Wilke, both previous St. John School principals, were great mentors for him.
Gartner said he never envisioned himself as a school administrator, but by the time he was called to that role for the local school he was excited to do it. That, he added, is all about God’s plan.
In his new role, Gartner said he will be serving as the principal for a high school, which will be something completely new for him, and he will teach a ninth-grade religion class at the school.
A farewell event for Gartner is being held this coming Sunday (June 23) at St. John Lutheran School. A potluck meal is being held starting at noon. The community is invited to attend.