DULUTH – William Meisner's influential teaching earned the high school English teacher an epynomous character in a former student's 2019 young adult novel.
The book was set in a fictional town based on Carlton, Minn., where Meisner spent decades teaching and directing school plays. "Addie Braver" author and Osceola, Wis., teacher Eric Bergman said he so admired Meisner he wrote him a letter in 1984 begging him not to retire.
An "unflappable" presence, Meisner "had this incredible impact that was multigenerational," said Bergman, whose parents were also students of Meisner's. "He understood what kids were like."
Meisner, 94, died Sept. 1 at Suncrest Assisted Living in Cloquet.
The Cloquet native, who patrolled American waters during World War II with the U.S. Navy, taught for two years in Guam and globe-trotted from the Philippines to London with his wife and infant daughter during an epic 1956 trip, aimed to expand the horizons of his students, his children said.
He arranged dozens of bus trips to Minneapolis, where he'd take students to see plays at the Guthrie Theater or Northrop auditorium. Eventually, those trips grew to include parents of students and other community members, sometimes with a caravan of buses.
"It was life-changing for so many people from small towns with limited means to go to these gorgeous productions," daughter Susan Meisner said. "It was a definite piece of his legacy."
Meisner grew up during the Great Depression, first working at the Cloquet paper mill before enlisting in the Navy in 1944. He later returned to mill work, but was persuaded by a friend to attend the Duluth State Teachers' College. Meisner wound up teaching until his 1984 retirement.
In his self-penned obituary, Meisner said he spent his classroom time "trying to talk young people into doing things better than I could ever do them."
Son Jess Meisner, a retired teacher and Prior Lake resident, said education was equally important at home. Meisner read Norse mythology, Shakespeare and books about the Civil War to his children, even when they were young.
Their father kept track of author, philosopher and presidential quotes he liked on recipe cards, a stack son Ross Meisner has acquired.
"He wanted to share wisdom as he learned it," Ross said, pointing to one Meisner wrote himself: "The most important characteristic for teachers at our school is that they like kids. It's nice if they know a little English, or math or science, but that's not half as important as how they feel about kids."
For years, Meisner was involved in the local Lions Club, ran the timers for football and basketball games and worked a Saturday meat counter shift to save extra money for travel, like the 52-day summer camping trip to Newfoundland he and his wife, Caroline, took with all five kids.
"I don't know how he did it," said Susan, a Cloquet resident. "We still felt like he was home [a lot] sitting at his desk working at his ... coin collection whistling away, or playing with us kids on the living room floor."
The most enduring lesson their father taught his family, Jess said, was the love he showed their mother. The couple spent retirement years split between south Texas and a cabin in Cromwell, Minn., before moving to Suncrest.
Meisner was preceded in death by his wife in 2011. In addition to his daughter, Susan, and sons Jess and Ross, he is survived by two other sons, Bart and Paul; nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. An outdoor memorial picnic will be held Sept. 20 at Oldenburg House in Carlton.
Jana Hollingsworth 218-508-2450