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Building name will honor longtime superintendent

Robert Boeckman helped build the school currently known as Farmington High School. Next year it will be named in his honor.

District 192 School Board members named one of the district's two middle schools after Boeckman Monday night. But Robert Boeckman Middle School was the only suitable name board members saw on a list of suggestions submitted by a naming committee.

Board members voted 5-0 on the one name they approved Monday. But they felt naming one middle school after a person meant they should do the same with the other. Board members said the recommended elementary school names did not reflect the neighborhood enough. They sent both names back to the district's naming committee for more consideration. The committee will open the process up to residents for more suggestions.

But board members called naming the school after Boeckman an easy decision.

Boeckman was Farmington's superintendent from 1969 to 1989, a tenure longer than those of all of his successors combined. When he arrived there were just two buildings in the district -- Farmington Elementary School and the building currently used for the district's kindergarten center and for district offices. Boeckman was responsible for everything from managing the budget to making sure the outdoor hockey rinks were kept clear of snow.

Boeckman was in his first year here when he asked residents for the money to build a new high school. They turned him down.

It was the only unsuccessful bond issue Boeckman ever brought to voters.

"You do learn from your mistakes hopefully," Boeckman said. Boeckman went back to voters the following year and got the money the district needed. Boeckman was also in charge when district opened Akin Road Elementary School in 1986 and bought the land for the Farmington Middle School West building shortly before he retired.

Nancy Bjerke, Boeckman's secretary for 16 years, submitted his name for consideration. She was taking her regular morning walk past the school when the idea came to her.

"I started when that high school was in progress and he was just very involved and very watchful over there," Bjerke said. "He was the construction manager over that project. He was there daily along with everything else he had to do.

"He put his heart and soul into putting it up."

Bjerke mentioned the idea to friends, and before she knew it she had a petition with 95 signatures.

"He was a great boss to work for," she said.


Robert Boeckman left High School to serve in the Navy in World War II and left college near the end of his senior year to serve in Korea. He'd been back from Korea just a few weeks when he got his first teaching job in Phelps, a small town near the Michigan border in northeast Wisconsin. He was an industrial arts teacher and a K-12 gym teacher. He also was the high school basketball coach. The school was small enough that some of his players had to leave the locker room and join the band at halftime.

"I had more titles than I had time," Boeckman said.

Boeckman got into teaching because he thought he had something to offer students. A history teacher, he loved the discussions he had with his students. He moved around a lot early in his career. He spent three years in Phelps, then went to Thief River Falls, Minn., as a teacher and principal. After four years there he went to Eden Valley, Minn. He was superintendent there from 1965 to 1967. He spent three years as superintendent in Arlington, Minn. before settling in Farmington.

"It's such a nice place, why would you want to move," Boeckman said.

Farmington turned out to be a good fit for Boeckman. At the time, Donald McGuire was superintendent in the Lakeville School District. Boeckman and McGuire had been best friends since they were 15 and worked in the same canning factory. They are still close today.

The Lakeville district named a middle school after McGuire in 1982. Boeckman joked that one of the first things he'd do after the school board's vote would be to visit McGuire and let him know they were even.

Boeckman was a hands-on superintendent. He was a regular visitor in the schools and took pride in learning every employee's name. He loved watching students grow from fidgety kindergarteners to high school students sprawled out in their desks.

"I used to snoop in windows, and teachers thought I was looking at them," Boeckman said. "I never was."

The district grew slowly in Boeckman's first 10 years, but growth picked up after that. The district housed students in portable classrooms for several years before enrollment was big enough to justify building Akin Road Elementary.

Bjerke described her former boss as a fiscally responsible leader who helped the district develop in a sensible manner. Boeckman added the district's first special education director and he added a community education department in the early 1980s.

Boeckman still lives in the Akin Road home he and his wife built when they first moved here. They're within walking distance of four schools and Boeckman still keeps up on the district. He doesn't get involved, though. It's a lesson he learned from his predecessor here, a good friend who greeted him on his first day and said he'd never be back in the office.

Boeckman called the school name "a wonderful honor."

"(I'm) prouder than 'H,'" he said. "Very proud. It's a lifelong honor."