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Pequot Lakes Teacher of the Year: Even in retirement, Kvale will surround herself with books

Pat Kvale, 26-year media specialist for the Pequot Lakes School District, was named the 2016 Teacher of the Year on Wednesday, May 11, helping her to retire at the high point of her beloved career.

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Retiring media specialist and Pequot Lakes 2016 Teacher of the Year Pat Kvale considers herself a teacher/librarian, and it all started with one book, Twig. Photo by Travis Grimler

Pat Kvale, 26-year media specialist for the Pequot Lakes School District, was named the 2016 Teacher of the Year on Wednesday, May 11, helping her to retire at the high point of her beloved career.

It all started with "Twig" by Elizabeth Orton Jones.

Her second-grade teacher, Miss Nodolf, read the book aloud and kickstarted Kvale's love of books.

"(At the end of the year) she was telling us who she thought we would all be when we grew up," Kvale said. "When it came time for me I was so surprised. She said, 'Patty, you are going to be a good teacher.' That had never been in my head."

While in school, Kvale worked in libraries shelving books. In college she worked at a book wholesaler, and when she opened her own business in Pequot Lakes, My Scentiments, she sold children's books in the corner.

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Books were always in the picture, but the road to the education field was anything but direct.

She moved around as a child from the Chicago area to Minneapolis and Wisconsin. She graduated from Medina High School and attended Mankato State University for her general education credits before becoming a dental assistant. While she had taken an introduction to education class in Mankato, it was more lucrative to be a dental assistant.

"Then I went with my husband's career," Kvale said. "He was hired by the DNR Forestry Division and we spent five years in Roseau. Then we moved back here in 1980."

She started her business on Country Corner in Pequot Lakes, where Leslie's is located today. She ran My Scentiments from 1982-1990. In 1990, she became a library paraprofessional, but she intended to take her career further.

"We decided about 1999 to pick up my college career and finish it to become a teacher librarian, which is what I consider myself," Kvale said. "I got my librarian licensure from St. Scholastica in Duluth. Then I was able to marry both loves of books and kids. That's the most important thing I can think of as far as my vocation. I feel like I have a calling for that. I just feel so natural in that field of teaching."

Since that time, Kvale has assisted countless students, and oversaw the opening of two new libraries in the Pequot Lakes School District.

"We built two new libraries," Kvale said. "We built Eagle View and I helped design this library. Then we had the new library in the middle of the high school. It's not everyone that gets to work in two new libraries. It's pretty awesome."

Kvale teaches media literacy three days a week and spends the rest of her week between the district's various libraries and book clubs.

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"It's nice to be able to be K-12, but it's hard to be K-12," Kvale said. "You are pulled in lots of directions with three principals, but it is challenging and it is great, because you work with three principals. It's challenging, and it's great because you work with the entire faculty, which is wonderful, and you work with all the kids."

In recognition for her work in the classroom, as well as the work she put in to get into the classroom, Kvale was recognized as the Teacher of the Year, an honor that will mark the beginning of her retirement and the end of a fulfilling career.

"If I can find the right book for the right student and I can see them come to me after they read it and ask me to find another one, if I can instill that love of learning, not just in school but letting them know that when they grow up that's a fun activity ..." Kvale said. "It's a pleasurable experience in life that you can have. It's not just reading for school. You are reading for life. If I can nurture that and help that along a little bit, to me, I've fulfilled what I've been meant to do."

For many years Kvale has been one of the few educators who gets to see her students from the time they start school until they graduate, but this year marks the end of that.

"My fourth-graders just left and this is the first year I haven't been able to say, 'I'll see you next year.' That's been kind of bittersweet," Kvale said.

Kvale will retire May 27, after which she has many plans, which include books. She said after many years of reading young adult literature so she could make recommendations to her students, she is looking forward to focusing on her favorite genre - biography. She plans to add shelves to her home's guest room to make it her own personal library. Travel is also in her plans.

"I've always pictured it to be hard in the fall when you've retired," Kvale said. "You've always been busy. I'm used to for the last 26 years getting ready in the fall and coming back to school and workshops and getting ready for school to start and seeing the school buses. I told my husband the other day, I don't know if I want to see the school buses. I think we will be gone right after Labor Day weekend. We are going to take off after Montana and Yellowstone in our camper. We're going to be by Old Faithful and take a trip."

Kvale said some day she might consider working at a local library or substituting with the school, but not for a while. She wants the new district media specialist to get good and established before she considers substitute teaching, and she has her own books to worry about before she volunteers in any libraries.

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As for the school district, Kvale has left several legacies for the students returning to the Eagle View Elementary School library, including a wall mural and a shelf full of new books that arrived after her students were done borrowing from the library for the year.

Both will be waiting when students return in the fall.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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