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Faces: Fladung has past of community involvement

Bob and Joanne Fladung both worked in education before their respective retirements. Bob helped to shape policies that keep PR-B teacher license up to date. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Bob Fladung of Pine River is familiar to many, for a variety of reasons thanks to his time in law enforcement, his years in education and even ten years as mayor.

Fladung's interesting past started early. He grew up during his high school years, of all places, inside Itasca State Park.

"I was born and raised in Bemidji and lived there a number of years," Fladung said. "During the time I was in high school we moved to Itasca Park where my father was employed. I also worked there a number of years."

At the time, the park was a little less populous during the winter and he, his sister and parents had the park basically to themselves.

"At that time there was very limited use of the park in the winter months," Fladung said. "We would have snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sledding and all the activities you could possibly want in the wintertime with basically no interference from anybody. The house was about a quarter of a mile from Lake Itasca or a little more than that."

He said he views those years as some of the best of his life. It was during that time that Fladung would be introduced to his chosen career as a teacher. Several teachers inspired him to seek that career.

"I had a couple high school teachers who played into that," Fladung said. "Jim Hubbard was a teacher in Bagley who sort of steered me in the right direction, but probably the one who did it the most was my mother. She was an elementary teacher in the old school system."

To follow in his mother, and five other teacher family members' footsteps, Fladung attended Bemidji State University. During that time he also worked as a deputy with the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office. A friend in college was going to class and moonlighting with the department, so he decided to apply as well. He started two days later during hunting opener of 1968.

"We experienced things the normal population doesn't even have a concept of," Fladung said. "What we had going on was certainly different from what they have today."

He continued to work with the department many years, even continuing after he joined the staff at Pine River-Backus in 1969. Surprisingly, his law enforcement background qualified him for an administrative position only a year later.

"I was put into an administrative job at the district office where I was in charge of the school transportation, federal programs and building, safety and security," Fladung said. "It was just ironic the background I had fit perfectly with building, safety and security and the transportation end of it. I knew the laws and the transportation side of it. It worked well combining both positions."

He worked 13 years in that administrative position, after which he continued teaching with the district. He taught a plethora of different classes, including accounting, record keeping, office procedures, business math, business communications, computer science, computer technology, music and typing. His personal favorites were accounting and typing.

Not satisfied working only in the school district, Fladung was also elected mayor of Pine River for five consecutive terms during which he is proud to have helped write important personnel policies, maintained streets and established funds for street replacement. Fladung's time as mayor ended in 2005, and he retired as a teacher in 2007. His involvement with the school and community continued in other capacities even then.

"The continuing ed committee started in 1972," Fladung said. "I was on the committee from that time through 2017. Basically, when I retired (from teaching) I became the community representative."

In that position he helped to maintain the Pine River-Backus district's staff of qualified teachers through certification. Fladung only left the committee in fall of 2017, though he was technically still a member until the fall of 2018 (the committee was not very active in the meantime).

Committee member Isaak Anderson said Fladung's time on the committee helped to shape its operations for many years. He often served as chair and created most of the paperwork used by the committee in its work. Even as laws changed, his documents were used as templates for future paperwork. Fladung's departure was twofold. The state's licensing requirements changed in a significant way and over time Fladung knew fewer and fewer teachers on the staff.

"The number of people I know and worked with while there is probably less than a dozen at this point compared to the 60-70 who were there," Fladung said. "You kind of lose that connection with the people, so that's one reason I moved on from the committee."