Dot Seeling wore the pants during transitions.
A teacher and speech coach, Seeling pushed a cart from makeshift classroom to makeshift classroom during construction in the 1970s at the high school in Dawson, Minn. There was no elevator to ease the task, so she negotiated the stairwells to transport her amenities.
“She always seemed disorganized,” said Tami Maus, a former English student. But “somehow, through all of that, she would have coherent, important lesson plans, and she always seemed to just ignore crazy stuff.”
Seeling’s decision to wear pants was a bold step at a time when female teachers were expected to wear a skirt or dress.
“She didn’t do any heavy-handed teaching or preaching,” Maus said. “She was just more a quiet example of what a self-reliant person, male or female, could do.”
Dorothy May Seeling died in November at 93 of natural causes. She grew up in St. Paul and studied at Macalester College. While there, she volunteered to help out in a school in Baltimore, where she met Bayard Rustin, a formative civil rights leader.
She married Ken Seeling in 1946, and they both took teaching jobs in Dawson — he taught math and coached football — while raising four children. Ken Seeling died in 2012.
Dot Seeling’s wanderlust and camp counseling ignited outdoor family visits to Maine and California, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Before Google simplified searches, she lugged along a thick Merriam Webster dictionary, learning and teaching.
Seeling maintained a strong outlook, even when her son Randall died at age 26.
“She never brought it up,” Maus said. “She had to have been dying every day thinking about her son.”
Seeling didn’t unravel during her husband’s final days, either, resilient after their 65-year marriage.
“She just handled it like: this is part of life,” said Mary Dove Helgeson, a former student who later helped nurse Ken. “She was very real about it.”
Seeling’s demeanor lifted Dove Helgeson through the deaths of her own parents.
“She never quit teaching, I guess,” Helgeson said. “It just taught me to be where you are. It will pass.”
Seeling kept in touch with students. She wrote letters before Facebook or texting streamlined chats.
“Once you were a friend of Mom’s, you were always a friend of Mom’s,” said her daughter Laurel. “She was always more interested in the other person, always.”
When former student Jean Lee Hartzog lost her father and sister, Seeling reached out to inspire her.
“She saw something in me that I couldn’t see,” said Hartzog, who described herself as a shy girl.
With Seeling’s encouragement, Hartzog auditioned to play Maria in the school’s production of “The Sound of Music.” She also steered Hartzog toward laughter, including her Dr. Seuss mashup at a state declamation contest. Hartzog ended up majoring in theater and is still active in community performances in the Louisianatown where she lives.
Literature and theater were Seeling’s passions.
Controversial texts like “Catcher in the Rye” and rigorous verses of Shakespeare were cornerstones. Another staple was “To Kill a Mockingbird,” though she didn’t read this year’s “Go Set a Watchman” — it didn’t seem right, Laurel Seeling said.
In addition to her daughter Laurel, Seeling is survived by another daughter, Lynn, and a son, Roger; sisters Jean Godfrey and Carol McCarthy; two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Marquette Av. S., Minneapolis. Another will be held Jan. 9 in Dawson.