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Busy with retirement

By Staff | Apr 15, 2018

Former Blue Earth Area High School band and choir director Mike Ellingsen has channeled his creative skills to become a quilting aficionado. Here, he proudly displays a few finished products at his home.

To say Blue Earth resident Mike Ellingsen has a passion for music would be an understatement.

Throughout the years, the former band and choir director for Blue Earth Area High School has not only composed instrumental and vocal pieces for bands and choirs, he also learned to play various instruments from the brass, woodwind and percussion sections.

From the flute, clarinet, tuba, french horn, trombone and xylophone just to name a few, Ellingsen explains learning a wide variety of instruments allowed him to enhance his skills as a band director.

“Preparing to be a band director, you have to learn how to play almost anything or be able to teach almost anything,” Ellingsen says. “I had experience in both vocal and instrumental music.”

Although he has been retired from teaching for the last seven years, Ellingsen refuses to rest on his laurels. Instead, he spends his golden years vigorously pursuing his passion for music.

Former music teachers Mike and Sue Ellingsen play a piano duet at their home. Even in retirement, the couple’s passion for the performing arts is still as strong as ever.

These days, the former band and choir director divvies up his time with a number of activities that help fuel his passion for creativity. Ellingsen not only directs the senior choir at Trinity Lutheran Church in Blue Earth, he also takes part in the Blue Earth Town and Country Players, a non-profit community theater group.

If those endeavors were not enough to fulfill his creative spirit, Ellingsen also plays a variety of percussion instruments and the french horn for the Fairmont City Band, a group he has been a part of since 1976.

As he explains, Ellingsen enjoys taking on a multitude of projects because his interest in performing arts is still as strong as ever.

“The passion is still there,” Ellingsen says. “I love the preparation and rehearsals before each performance. Getting things ready and making sure the right people are in the right roles is very exciting for me.”

Some of Ellingsen’s family members also share his love for music. While his youngest brother Wayne served as a choir director in Crosby, Ellingsen’s son Andrew is an elementary music teacher in Decorah, Iowa.

As it turns out, Ellingsen’s wife, Sue, also shares a keen interest for music. She began her career as the Blue Earth Area Middle School’s band director in the fall of 1974.

The couple met at a band director’s meeting in downtown Fairmont in 1975, but didn’t start dating until the following year. Ellingsen recalls taking his future wife to a classical music performance at the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul for their first date.

“Let’s put it this way, it wasn’t the most romantic setting in the world,” he quips.

Ellingsen reveals his fascination with music began as early as elementary school. The Two Harbors native says he still recalls the lasting impact his music teachers had on him while he was in the early stages of his development. As a result of these positive learning experiences, Ellingsen wanted to one day pass his musical expertise onto others.

“I always wanted to be a music teacher,” Ellingsen says. “I had wonderful music teachers from elementary school all throughout high school. They were people I looked up to and they loved their jobs.”

A graduate of Two Harbors High School of the Lake Superior School District, the 31-year veteran of Blue Earth Area High School’s music program explains how he took advantage of his school’s modular scheduling program to immerse himself in music during his teenage years.

“Everything from band, to orchestra, choir, and two years of music theory, I took all kinds of courses,” Ellingsen says. “There can be pitfalls if you aren’t totally organized with it, but it was a really good system for me.”

The musical enthusiast credits one former high school teacher in particular, band director John Downs, for molding course of his career. Ellingsen believes Downs served a pivotal role as an early mentor for Ellingsen in what would eventually become his chosen profession.

“I wanted to play the same role for kids that my high school band director played for me,” Ellingsen says. “I know what a difference he made in my life and I wanted to provide that to others. I knew the excitement in rehearsals that came from working on something and finally succeeding at something that seemed insurmountable at first.”

Interestingly enough, quilting happens to be another creative outlet for the ambitious retiree. Ellingsen says he stumbled upon the hobby after his wife took a community education course on quilting and did not take a liking to it.

“She hated every minute of it,” Ellingsen chuckles. “I’ve always liked power tools so when she was done with quilting, I used the equipment to make myself a shirt and a blazer.”

A few years after that, the couple drew inspiration from a quilt they had seen on a magazine cover. Low on funds at the time, they decided to get the fabric and try making the quilt from scratch. From that point forward, Ellingsen says he was hooked on quilting.

The multifaceted musician believes there are some unique parallels between quilting and his former profession. That being the case, Ellingsen’s passion for quilting has helped him produce over 250 quilts throughout the 30 years since he began his side hobby.

“Quilting is like music in the sense where you can be very improvisational, or you can be very planned,” Ellingsen says. “It’s a creative and expressive hobby. I love the color and the math involved, all that kind of stuff appeals to me.”