Back in 1997 when I started working at the Redwood Gazette, I was given a tour of the community in an effort to meet some of the local leadership.
Being that my main coverage area was going to be education, one of the first stops was in the district office of the Redwood Area School District. There I met Jerry Meschke and Don Yrjo, the Redwood Valley schools principals. Both of them knew me, because I had been in their classes at one time or another.
I also met the school’s superintendent, a guy named Rick Ellingworth. I had never been in any of his classes, because by the time I was in high school he was already serving as the athletic director, and, since I was not on the football team, I wondered if he even knew me.
When I was in school, Gary Swenson was the superintendent, and he knew me. (Well, he sort of knew me. He always called me Tony.)
So, when we walked into the superintendent’s office, Mr. Ellingworth was seated at his desk. I walked in, and I could tell right away he knew who I was. He even called me by the right name.
I was more than a little surprised that he remembered me, but after working with Rick for more than two decades I now know I had no reason to be.
Rick made it a priority to know people and that always went beyond just knowing their name.
Over the years that I have worked with Rick, I can’t remember very many face-to-face meetings that would end without a conversation about how my family was doing.
For the first several years, I only referred to him as Mr. Ellingworth simply out of respect. (To this day I can’t call Dennis Stoterau anything but Coach, and Virgil Felt will always be Mr. Felt.)
Yet, as time went on the working relationship I had with Mr. Ellingworth changed. I am not sure when I started calling him “Rick.”
As I look back on the time I have been in this job, I can say I have learned a lot from Rick about what it means to do things the right way.
Rick has consistently worked very hard, and the most obvious way I observed that is on those days when I would drive by the school later in the evening and see the light on in his office.
I am not sure if Rick was ever in the Boy Scouts, but even if he wasn’t he lived its motto “be prepared.” I do not remember a conversation with Rick or a meeting he was involved in when he was not ready to answer a question that was posed to him. Board meetings always were efficient, because Rick had done his homework.
Those who know Rick well recognize his passion for what he did. For him it was always about doing right by the students, the staff and the community.
Family was always important. I was always so impressed with the next generation of Ellingworths.
Of course, Mrs. Ellingworth played a big role in that, too.
It has been my privilege to work with Rick over the years.
Thanks for everything you taught me, for making my job easier and for being more than just a great superintendent, but a mentor and friend.