Howard “Hap” Casmey, a passionate advocate of equal access to learning who served as Minnesota’s commissioner of education under four governors, died Feb. 14 at his home in Vienna, Va. The former Wayzata resident was 87.
“Hap was an articulate, enthusiastic spokesperson for public education, and because he loved people and worked well with everyone, he was very effective when speaking on behalf of our schools,” said former state Sen. Roger Moe, who, like Casmey, went to Crookston High School
Casmey was born in tiny Euclid, in northwestern Minnesota. His mother died when he was 7, his father while he was in high school, said his wife of 32 years, Sandy.
He graduated from Crookston High School and served as an Army paratrooper in Europe during World War II, she said. “After the war, he went back to Crookston, just assuming he would live his life there,” but a former coach pushed him to go to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., his wife said. He went on to get his master’s degree at the University of North Dakota.
His long career in education began as a teacher, coach and principal in little Plummer, Minn., not far from his hometown. From there he took superintendent jobs in the small districts of Lake Bronson, Herman and Ada before being hired to oversee schools in the west-metro district of Golden Valley.
In 1969, he was named Minnesota’s education commissioner by the state’s Board of Education. He served under four governors — Harold Levander, Wendell Anderson, Albert Quie and Rudy Perpich — until retiring in 1981.
Among his accomplishments: helping bring about “the Minnesota Miracle,” which equalized the formula for funding public education across all districts.
“He had experienced a life where he came out of not much yet made it to the top, and that made a long and lasting impression on him,” Moe said. “He always remembered that he was able to do that because of public education, so he knew that’s what you had to provide for everyone.”
According to Joseph Graba, his assistant commissioner for 2½ years, Casmey was also instrumental in bringing about resource-sharing among outstate K-12 districts, as well as between vocational-technical schools and community colleges.
Casmey also worked hard to better serve handicapped and gifted students, something Minnesota was ahead of the national curve on, Graba and Moe said.
Casmey, said Graba, had “forward vision”: “He was always, always thinking about the future.” For instance, while superintendent in Golden Valley in the 1960s, he launched an environmental sciences center, even though the environmental movement was still in its infancy, said Graba.
After retiring as education commissioner, Casmey channeled his fascination with computers, then an exploding field, into work for several companies focused on educational software development.
He loved to golf, and was a longtime member of Wayzata Community Church.
“He was wonderful to be with, fully present when you were with him, and without a single air about him,” Sandy said. “That was true in our lives, which were entwined, and in his work.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Michael Casmey of Plymouth; two daughters, Kim Casmey of Atlanta and Kristen Curlee of Vienna, and two grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Eva Mae Lee Casmey.
Services were held Saturday in Virginia. Another service will be held July 12 at Wayzata Community Church.
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