Agren to be honored Friday for community service
When Gary Agren looked out his front window and saw John Huisman, Ken Queensland and Mike Ellingsen walking up the sidewalk to his front door, he had just one thought.
“What am I in trouble for now?”
Turns out the three were there to give Agren some big news. He had been selected as the 2012 Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce ‘Community Service Award’ recipient.
“I was very surprised and quite humbled,” Agren says. “There are so many people who do so much more than I do.”
There are many who would disagree with him.
Both before and since retiring in 2003 as a Blue Earth Area School teacher and administrator, Agren has stayed very active in the community.
For the past four years, Agren has served as the commander of the American Legion Post in Blue Earth.
Some of his duties kept him involved in determining charitable gambling contributions locally.
He also has been active in the Boys State/Girls State program with the Legion.
And, he has helped with the selection of the top boy and top girl students at BEA, an award that is presented at the Kiwanis Academic Banquet each spring.
Agren has also been very active in his church, Hope United Methodist, which built a new building.
Agren served as the finance chairman of the building committee.
“We are now on the RTM phase of the building fund retire the mortgage,” he says. “I am proud of the fact that out of a $2 million project we now have under $50,000 left to pay off. And that the building turned out to be real nice.”
Agren was a cross country and track coach for 20-plus years and still helps out with those two sports. Plus, he also was a mentor with the Blue Earth Area Mentors (BEAM) program for many years.
He also drives the Faribault County Veterans Services van to the Twin Cities twice a week, and does a lot of substitute teaching both at BEA Schools and at Elmore Academy.
And, just to keep a little more busy, Agren also works part-time at weddings and banquets at Hamilton Hall in Blue Earth.
“My daughter worked there and drafted me into helping out one time six years ago,” he recalls. “She moved out of town, but I stayed on.”
Agren says that he ‘apprenticed’ his job at Hamilton’s by working under Kathy Johnson.
“She taught me what to do there, how to tend bar,” he says. “It is kind of funny. Kathy was in the very first class I ever taught here at Blue Earth in 1972.”
Agren has chosen Johnson to do his introduction at the program at the Chamber Banquet and Annual Meeting this Friday, Jan. 11, at Hamilton Hall where both of them still work part time.
Of course, one thing Agren is very well known for locally are his tours out east.
For 40 years the BEA ninth graders have made a trip to Washington, D.C.
“I have done 25 of those trips,” he says. “This one coming up in 2013 is going to be the last tour for me.”
Plus, he has led seven adult trips to Washington for Community Ed.
“That makes more than 30 trips to our nation’s Capitol,” he says. “That’s probably enough.”
And, he has led numerous trips overseas for Community Ed. This past October he took two buses of folks on a trip to Savannah, Ga. and other areas.
“I like to travel,” he says. “In fact, in September, we are heading to China.”
Over his years at Blue Earth Area, Agren taught seventh and eighth grade geography, eighth grade history, ninth grade social studies, 11th grade social studies, 12th grade government, 10th-12th grade general business and 10th-12th grade current events.
He also was an exchange teacher to England in 1977-1978, and was an ROTC instructor at Mankato State University from 1983-1986.
He ended his career at BEA as dean of students at the Blue Earth Area Junior High School.
How Agren came to be a Blue Earth resident is quite a story in itself. It was almost by accident.
Agren and his wife, Joy, are both graduates of Litchfield High School. He graduated with a BS degree in social studies from St. Cloud State University in 1965, then received a masters degree in geography from Bowling Green State University in the summer of 1966.
“My first teaching job was with the Montgomery County Public Schools in Montgomery County, Maryland,” he recalls. “After just one year I was drafted and spent three years in the Army with an 18-month tour in Germany.”
After the Army, Agren returned to Montgomery County and taught geography for two more years.
“We made the decision to move back to Minnesota, hopefully somewhere near our hometown of Litchfield or else near the Twin Cities,” Agren says. “But, the only job interview I could find was at Blue Earth Public Schools.”
He recalls the trip to Blue Earth as being quite grim and unimpressive.
“It was an extremely hot August day,” he says. “No one was on the streets the town looked deserted. I tell people there was dust and tumbleweeds blowing down the street but they don’t believe me. It was true. It was just like a scene from ‘The Last Picture Show.'”
Since it was his only job offer, Agren took it. He and wife Joy decided they would stay a year or two and then find a better place and move on.
“Now it is 40 years later and we are still here and love it,” he says.
The same can be said for living in their house on Third Street.
“There wasn’t much for sale when we came to town and looked around,” he says. “So we bought our home even though we thought it was way too big and not really what we wanted.”
Turns out it was. They lived there from 1972 until 2010 and loved the house raising their family there.
The Agrens have one son and one daughter.
Bryan, who was three years old when the Agrens moved to Blue Earth, is the manager of the Twin Cities Grill at the Mall of America.
Daughter Megan and husband Russell also live in the south Minneapolis area, where she is employed with the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
Agren says with the banquet on this coming Friday night, he is not sure if both of his children will be able to be in attendance.
Very nearly, Agren himself was almost not able to attend and receive his honor.
“We are flying out the next morning for four weeks in Florida,” he says. “Our kids are meeting us down there for part of the time. We are going to Disney World, then Ft. Meyers, then on a cruise.”
He says he and Joy might have to duck out of the Chamber event early, as they are driving to Minneapolis yet that night, in order to make an early morning flight on Saturday.
If the Chamber Banquet was held on its usual date of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Agren would not have been able to attend.
“I would have hated to have missed it,” he says. “So I am glad it worked out. It really is quite an honor being selected. I have worked with a lot of the past honorees and they are a very prestigious group to become a member of.”