After 42 years teaching at Metcalf Junior High, the beloved Terry Ruhsam is calling it quits.
Before there was an Internet or personal computers, before there was hip-hop or Lady Gaga, there was Terry Ruhsam.
The longtime teacher is retiring this week after working more than 40 years for the Burnsville school district.
What is unusual is that Ruhsam has worked at the same junior high since he was hired in 1970 -- and even worked on the same floor all that time.
"We like to joke that it's like Terry came with the building," said Kelly Ronn, principal at Metcalf Junior High, which opened in the 1960s. "The patriarch of Metcalf is retiring."
Ruhsam was among a dozen teachers hired at the Eagan school as the Vietnam War was in its last stages, and "War" by Edwin Starr was the No. 1 song in the country. As Ruhsam retires this week, "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye is atop the Billboard charts and another war, this one in Iraq, is done.
"The one thing that hasn't changed are the kids," Ruhsam said recently before teaching his final classes at Metcalf. "I think that I will miss the excitement that kids bring in every day, especially at the beginning of the school year."
Ruhsam is retiring this year because his wife, Sharon, recently retired and they have a 1-year-old grandson, Caleb.
During his tenure, Ruhsam has taught thousands of students. In a number of cases he has taught the sons and daughters of former students, and lately has even had a few of their grandkids.
"I'm certainly thankful for his service," said Jim Schmid, a member of the Burnsville school board and a former student of Ruhsam's.
Schmid, the oldest of five children, said all of his siblings also had Ruhsam. In the past 18 years, four of Schmid's five children have been taught by Ruhsam at Metcalf. Only his youngest, who is 10, will miss out.
"He certainly has left a legacy ... and had an impact on my family," Schmid said.
The accidental teacher
Ruhsam has been a coach for a number of the school teams. He is well known around the building as a big fan of sports teams from Wisconsin, where he grew up and went to school before enrolling at Hamline University in St. Paul in 1966 to play on the basketball team.
He thought he was headed for a law degree, but upon graduating in 1970 he did not relish the idea of several more years of college.
He needed a job and said he saw an ad in the paper for teaching openings in Burnsville school district. He applied, and the rest is history -- literally, as he began teaching courses in American history that year and has not stopped.
Last week, as kids were preparing for finals, Ruhsam was going over with dozens of students why the populations of Italy, Russia and Germany came under the sway of dictators in the 1930s.
During his tenure he has taught, discussed and debated everything from the Vietnam War and Watergate to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the killing of Osama bin Laden last year.
"The events change," he said, "but the impact on kids remains the same. A lot of things are different, yes ... but I tell the kids, 'You're living in a very important time in history.'"
He said he has been pleasantly surprised at how kids seem fascinated by the Watergate scandal in 1972 that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
"That has filtered down," Ruhsam said. "Kids are fascinated by that."
He said students, then and now, are intrigued by the cover-up, the dirty tricks, Nixon's abuse of power, the audacity of his belief that he was above the law, and how something as simple as a break-in at the Watergate complex caused such massive ripple effects across the country for years.
'He has a gift'
Schmid and others said the reason students appreciate this and other topics is the passion that Ruhsam brings to the job.
"He has a gift for teaching," said Lucretia Jeffers, who taught social studies next door to Ruhsam. "He's such an excellent example of professionalism. We're happy for him that he's leaving but selfishly sad for all of us."
Ronn, the Metcalf principal, was so moved by Ruhsam's tenure and his impending departure that she wrote him a long poem.
The "Ode to Ruhsam," as she calls it, reads in part:
"Enjoy your time with your family and friends
Do what you want, not what others recommend,
A grandchild you have now to teach
He will learn from a grandpa that's really a treat!
We wish you the best
You will surely be missed
You are Metcalf and
That thought will never be dismissed."
Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281