Editor's Note: With the first ever St. Louis Park High School All-Year Reunion approaching on Saturday, we're helping kick things off with a week's worth of stories. Today, we feature former Park teacher Joel Anderson. Yesterday, we , which is putting on the event. Later this week, look for more interviews with former Park teachers, as well as a history of the high school.
When an eighth-grade class came to Joel Anderson with an interest in entering a contest to possibly win a trip to Washington, D.C., he challenged them to think outside the box.
The contest called for submitting an essay saying why the group wanted to go. Anderson saw it as an opportunity to be creative.
"I asked them, 'If you were a judge, how would you look at this?'” he said. "We didn’t want an ordinary entry."
So, the group created an oversized postcard for their essay, and penned and sang a song to the tune of "Kokomo" that promoted their entry. The creativity paid off, as the group won the trip.
“It was wonderful. It’s something, I think, those kids would remember to this day," Anderson said. "Because they did it.”
It was that kind of creative spirit that Anderson brought to St. Louis Park classrooms for 36 years.
He got his start at the , teaching Spanish, geography and ninth-grade civics for 18 years. But it was when he became the district's counselor and advocate for gifted and talented students that his creativity really showed.
“It was an incredible experience,” Anderson said.
While in this role, Anderson took over the district's Odyssey of the Mind teams. The competition requires teams to employ creative problem-solving while facing a variety of challenges. Anderson said several of his teams made the international finals over the years.
“The best thing was, they learned a creative problem-solving process and did it so well," he said. “I loved what it gave those young people.”
After retiring from St. Louis Park schools in 2000, Anderson has strived to keep his mind—and body—sharp. He takes yoga classes, and teaches them as well, including while traveling to Mexico every winter.
“The key in life, I think, is lifetime learning and fitness," Anderson said. “The older you get, the more important it gets.”
Even with his own 55-year high school reunion at Minneapolis North approaching next year, Anderson is showing no signs of slowing down.
“Life is good," he said. "I love it.”