Liebert bids farewell to teaching, again
By Tara Nelson
After teaching nearly 20 years in Blaine, former Blaine mayor and teacher John Liebert retired from his second teaching career at Timber Ridge alternative school in Blaine Thursday.
“My goal was to have eight kids graduate this year, which would have been a significant number,” he said. “And while not all of them will graduate on Thursday, four of them will and three are completing their senior projects to finish in September.”
Liebert began his teaching career in 1964 working as a principal and teacher at Grace Lutheran elementary school in Fargo, North Dakota. “I was everything there,” he said. “I was coach, youth director in the church, and if the janitor didn’t show, I did that too. The starting salary was $4,500 but it was a great job.”
He was born in Seattle in August, 1941 and moved to Blaine with his parents, Carl and Adele Liebert, at the age of five, when his father was transferred for his job with the Railway Express Agency.
While at Blaine high school, Liebert played varsity football and made such an impression on then coach Phil Claymor, that he asked Liebert’s parents to let him stay in Blaine, offering him a place in his home.
“The football coach had asked my parents if I could stay in Blaine and play football and live at his house but my parents said no,” he said. “So, for my senior year of high school, I went to Concordia boarding school for boys in Portland, Oregon.”
He graduated from
Concordia in 1959 and continued at the school’s
junior college. Two years later, he transferred to Concordia
Teacher’s college in Seward, Nebraska,
where he later met his wife Carole Kruger and graduated
with his Bachelor of Science in teaching in January 1964.
Carole earned her teaching certificate from the same college, and they were married in Pierce, Nebraska later that year. Shortly after, Liebert took a job in Seward, teaching.
He also taught fourth grade in Oaks, North Dakota for two years, as well as football and wrestling. One of his students was Phil Hansen, who ended up playing professional football Buffalo Bills.
The couple moved to Blaine
in 1987, when Liebert decided he wanted a more challenging
career. It would be several months, until Liebert could
get his Washington state teaching certificate needed to work
Meanwhile, Carole got a job at Blaine high school as the school counselor and later, the school secretary. Later that year, Liebert was hired by then superintendent Robert Gilden, where he taught social studies, world issues, geography and economics until 2000.
“What I was probably known best for was taking trips to Washington D.C.,” he said. “Over the course of my teaching career, I took 12 trips and more than 400 students to the capital, and I’ve never let money be a deterrent on a trip. Some of these kids really needed the experience; it’s not just the rich kids who vote, you know.”
To help with costs, Liebert said several community organizations, such as the Blaine chapter of the American Legion, donated hundreds dollars throughout the years.
Liebert said that was part of the reason he ran for Blaine city council in November 1999, serving on the council’s first ward until 2002 when he became mayor pro tem under former mayor Dieter Shugt. Liebert became mayor when Shugt stepped down in July 2003 because of illness.
“I felt like I owed this community some kind of a service for what they had done for so many kids,” he said. “I loved being mayor and serving on the city council because I love this town.”
When he retired from the school district in 2000, he substitute taught, worked for the Close-up Foundation, an organization that provides civic education travel programs in Washington, DC, and worked for H&R Block.
In 1999, former vice principal Tim Haney, an advocate of alternative schools, encouraged Liebert to apply for a contract teaching position at Timber Ridge, an alternative school in Blaine.
Liebert said working for Timber Ridge was another way for him to give back to the community. “It’s been a great blessing,” he said. “For some of our students it gave them a better chance to be successful at completing their high school. I have one student who is 21, has three children and is going to graduate this year,” he said. “On the other hand, I’ve had a girl finish her high school requirements in just under three years.”
Other students, he said, want to make up lost credits to graduate on time, work full-time jobs, or don’t want to get caught up in the drama of public schools.
“It often provides them a less-stressful environment to work under,” he said.
When asked what he will miss about his job, Liebert mentioned his trips to D.C. and the Blaine students that made an annual tradition out of filling his yard with signs just before leaving on their senior trip.
“They would drive around town, gathering every sign that wasn’t nailed down in Blaine – every real estate, every for sale sign – and put them all in my yard,” he said. “It was really funny at first and after awhile, it kind of got to be a pain.”
Still, Liebert said it’s the kids he’ll miss the most. “Every day, somebody has something new to say or do or experience, and that really made my life interesting,” he said. “I do know what I regret the most, and that is that I didn’t keep a journal because I would love to have written a book about my students and all the experiences we shared.”
In addition to staying active on the Blaine City Council, Liebert said he plans on volunteering at the visitor’s bureau, the library and playing “a lot of golf.”