Obituary: Don Wolter inspired students in classroom, on ski trails

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 12, 2013 - 11:08 PM

Robbinsdale Armstrong High School Nordic ski coach Don Wolter won his lone state title in 1980. But during his 33-year tenure in district schools, he introduced thousands of students to the sport and made champions out of many.

It was the same way in the classroom, where the soft-spoken Wolter’s passion was to reach students who were not the most excited to learn German and English. He was a friend to many foreign exchange students, often inviting them to his cabin to make them feel at home away from home, said Jenny Lovitt, who has taught English and theater at Armstrong the past 18 years.

“He took an interest in students,” she said. “I am impressed with how he cared for kids and wanted to be around them.”

Wolter was visiting his son, Michael, in Idaho when he died of a blood clot on May 30. He was 72.

He was born in Morristown, Minn., and earned degrees in English and German at what is now known as Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Fresh off a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to study in Frankfurt, Germany, Wolter started teaching in the Robbinsdale district in 1966. He started at Armstrong when the school opened in 1970. He was the first coach of the school’s girls’ soccer team and an award-winning yearbook adviser.

At the time, he was an accomplished downhill skier, so when the job to coach the school’s ski teams opened, he applied. It turned out to be the job for the Nordic ski team, his son said.

“He had no idea,” Michael said. “The kids taught him how to ski. He fell in love with the sport.”

Wolter worked the halls and invited students to join the girls and boys squads, which numbered in the hundreds each season.

Jeff Dahl had no experience when he joined the team in 1979 but graduated in 1982 as a regional and state champion.

“Don was an outstanding coach, teacher and mentor,” Dahl said. “He took many of us from zero experience to state championship-caliber performances in a short time. He was so positive and made kids feel part of the bigger team.”

Wolter’s teams were perennial state powers and he “was a familiar face, at the state meet,” said friend and current Armstrong Nordic ski coach Steve Hopke.

Many, like Dahl, continued with Nordic skiing into adulthood and regularly participate in prestigious races such as the Birkebeiner in Hayward, Wis. That is a race Wolter has skied 10 times to go along with 16 appearances in the shorter 23-kilometer Kortelopet.

Wolter, who was inducted into the Armstrong Hall of Fame last fall, was known for his compassion, but he had a tough side, too.

“He was a passionate teacher, but he was a stickler for grammar and spelling,” said his wife, Susanne, of Plymouth.

Wolter left Armstrong in 1987 and taught in Germany for seven years on a second Fulbright scholarship until 1994. He returned to Armstrong in 1995 and retired in 2000. He continued to substitute-teach at Armstrong and was in the classroom as recently as last month.

Wolter visited all seven continents and about 70 countries. His love for travel led him to serve as an editor and contributing writer for Friendship Force International’s Twin Cities chapter newsletter, the Ambassador.

Wolter also is survived by a daughter, Sonja, of Boulder, Colo.; a sister, Betty Minnick, of Faribault, Minn., and two grandchildren.

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