Let’s get started with ‘Prairie Lives’

Editor’s Note: A new column written by Marshall resident Bill Palmer will be featured on the front of the Our Region section in the Independent’s Weekender edition.

My name is Bill Palmer. I am a southwest Minnesota product, born and raised in Marshall, and a proud graduate of the Marshall public school system. College at St. John’s University in Collegeville took me away from the region. That is where I met a smart and talented young woman named Kathy Neil, who was attending the College of St. Benedict. She was willing then to overlook my many shortcomings, preferring to focus on the potential. Apparently there was enough potential there as we remain partners in life to this day. Continuing my education at the University of Minnesota Law School kept me away from the region for a few more years.

Then I served on active duty as an Army Judge Advocate, an officer who is an attorney. This began as a four-year payback for the Army ROTC scholarship that paid for that St. John’s education. A payback, by the way, that Kathy claims to this day I neglected to alert her to until it was too late.

Kathy and I unexpectedly stayed in the Army for a 20-year career when we realized, at first to our surprise, that we enjoyed being a part of the Army team. We enjoyed my colleagues and their families. I found great challenge and satisfaction serving my country and working with many great colleagues, commanders, and supervisors. Kathy found many opportunities to work in music education. We mostly enjoyed the travel and adventure of living in different places. And we found the Army a supportive environment for raising our two girls.

So our four-year plan turned into a 20-year adventure of service as Army gypsies that brought us two wonderful daughters; lots of challenge and satisfaction; some lonely times away from family and friends; and many new, supportive friendships. While walking along that Army path we learned to be adaptable; resilient; open-minded; supportive of colleagues, just as they were supportive of us; resourceful problem-solvers; and focused on the needs of our little family.

Looking for roots after all those years as Army gypsies, we returned to southwest Minnesota after retiring from the Army. Kathy and I both pursued a life as educators; she continuing her career as a music teacher and I beginning one as a social studies teacher. My first order of business was to enroll at Southwest Minnesota State University to complete the coursework for teaching licensure. I discovered there were no short-cuts to licensure in Minnesota. I attended SMSU for two years despite already having a degree in history, a law degree, a graduate law degree, and 20 years of experience operating in a complex world.

The Lakeview High School hiring committee thought my crazy quilt of academic achievement and practical, world experience made me a good risk as a balding, middle-aged teacher of young people. I became a proud member of the Lakeview educational team and community, and began serving in this new, challenging, and satisfying way for what I anticipated would be a 10-year career.

I found at Lakeview the same, strong sense of team and shared commitment to excellence in an important and challenging endeavor that I had found so satisfying in the Army. I enjoyed working with my colleagues and learning with and from one another.

I found trying to be a good teacher, though, to be as consistently challenging as anything I had done as an Army JAG and leader. Young people are, after all, not yet there as fully functioning persons and we cannot expect them to be there. This is because the major task of being a young person, in general, is to figure things out, often by making mistakes and learning from them.

This can be a challenging environment for those, like parents and teachers, whose major task is trying to help them figure things out. But I also found helping students learn and grow to be as consistently satisfying as anything I had done as an Army JAG and leader.

This new service as an educator held me well beyond my anticipated 10-year plan. But this time last year, having one successful retirement transition under my belt already, I decided that 13 years seemed like the right time to retire again. So, I hung up my teaching license last spring.

Since then I’ve been scratching local and regional history itches a lot, working with the Lyon County Historical Society and renewing my oral history practice with local folks. I also taught a GOLD College course on the U.S. war in Vietnam last fall, working with some of our local Vietnam veterans. So I’ve been collecting more stories, reflecting on what they mean, and reflecting on my time in public education.

Some of you may recall my “To The Colors” column I wrote some years ago. This new “Prairie Lives” column will include new “To The Colors” accounts of military service from our region, but it will also explore other aspects of life on the southwest Minnesota prairie and its lessons as lived by our friends, neighbors, and forebears. I will also explore, from time to time, living and working in the world of “Not Yet There” as experienced by folks from our region involved in public education.

Thank you for joining me on this new journey of discovering more about who we are, who we have been, and who we might become.

I welcome your participation in and ideas about this journey as we sally forth. You may reach me at prairieviewpressllc@gmail.com.


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