Jo Dressen taught math and English for more nearly 30 years at Browerville High School, but her impact on students went far beyond lessons on conjugating verbs and solving geometric formulas.
While counselor was not part of her job description, Dressen filled that role for scores of students and staff members in the central Minnesota town of about 700 who often turned to her when they simply needed an ear.
“She was the most sincere, genuine listener that I can remember,” said Browerville School District Superintendent Robert Schaefer. “You knew that she cared about you whenever you visited. We lost a dear friend and wonderful person with her passing.”
Dressen, 88, died May 19 of complications from pneumonia at her home in Alexandria, Minn.
Dressen started in Browerville in 1962 and taught sophomore geometry, grammar and literature to junior high students. She was famous for using cribbage to teach math lessons to seventh- and eighth-graders.
“If you didn’t know how to play when you went into her class, you sure did when you went out,” said Dressen’s former neighbor Lynn Ollman, who taught social studies at Browerville until 2001 and now is a substitute teacher.
Ollman said she learned a profound lesson from Dressen: how to forgive and not judge others. Students learned that, too, she said. In a tribute to Dressen in the 1991 yearbook, they wrote: “Mrs. Dressen has always been there for students. Not only does she listen to what you say, but she hears you. She feels more compassion for her students than we ever thought possible.” Many students would gather around her at class reunions, family members said.
Dressen, who also was the school’s cheerleader adviser, inspired her four children to pursue careers in education. Her daughter, Mary Hedstrom, is a teacher in Minnetonka. Her son Ric is superintendent of Edina schools and son Nic is a teacher in Hastings. Another son, Dan, was a junior high principal in Belle Plaine, Minn. He died in 1999.
“Mom enjoyed teaching and she treasured her students,” Nic said. “It was much more than a job.”
Born in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., the high school honor student studied math and science at the former College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minn., where she played center on the women’s basketball team and earned the nickname “Jumping Josie.”
After graduation in 1945, she taught for a year in Shakopee. On the side, she tutored at the University of St. Thomas and helped a man named Jack who was struggling with algebra.
He eventually quit the class, but didn’t tell Dressen for a couple of weeks.
“He liked the tutoring sessions,” Nic said. “She decided not to drop him even though he dropped the class.”
A couple of years later, after she had taught in Lanesboro, Minn., and Chaska, she married Jack and the Dressens settled in Browerville. Jack was principal, coach and athletic director there from 1949 to 1991.
In Browerville, Jo Dressen was active at Christ the King Catholic Church and served on the Catholic school’s board. She was also active in civic affairs, Nic said. She was an avid sports fan and was a big Timberwolves backer, her son said.
Besides her husband, two sons and daughter, Jo Dressen is survived by sisters Johanna Stephan, of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., and Madonna Schmelzle of Manitowoc, Wis., a sister-in law, Debbie Dressen, of Chanhassen, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.