If it wasn’t for Stoney Lake, the Big Lake School District might never have hired Steve Westerberg as its superintendent.
Stoney Lake was part of Westerberg’s Life for nearly 35 years before coming to Big Lake five years ago as superintendent.
The lake figures to continue to play a big part in the life of Westerberg now that he has retired.
For nearly 40 years the life-long Iowa educator passed through Big Lake on the way to a family cabin a few miles northeast of Hackensack.
It’s a trip made each summer for nearly four decades. It is a trip made for nearly all of Westerberg’s career in education. It’s a trip that started as a camping trip in an old Winnebago trailer.
But the annual trips from Dennison Iowa where he taught for 21 years and Oelwein, Iowa where for five years he was superintendent, also steered him towards his five years as superintendent of schools in Big Lake.
“After 35 years in Iowa, I wanted one more opportunity. One more challenge,” Westerberg said of how his journey to Big Lake began.
Westerberg’s wife Nancy began watching for those opportunities online.
“She was searching for possibilities,” Steve Westerberg said.
That’s when, five years ago, Nancy Westerberg came across an opening in Big Lake.
Big Lake was attractive to the Westerbergs because Big Lake is a larger district than where Steve had been in Oelwein, and it was just 2 1/2 miles from the lake cabin- not the seven to nine miles the Westerbergs had been driving for years.
“I applied, and the rest is history,” Steve Westerberg said.
“Getting hired in Big Lake was a Godsend both personally and professionally,” Westerberg said.
Westerberg says he wrestled with the idea of retiring, but made that decision last December.
“The time was right. There have been no regrets,” he said.
He felt comfortable with the decision because the school district is in a good spot, he says.
“It’s a good time to hand things off to Tim (incoming superintendent Tim Truebenbach) so he can lead the district forward.
Roofs have been replaced on school buildings, building maintenance is up to date, and parking lots have been repaved.
The infrastructure of the district’s facilities are in good shape, from the swimming pool, to the classrooms and other facilities.
“School finances are also in good shape. Revenue is up and expenses are down,” Westerberg said.
“We’re going to weather the challenges of COVID-19 and will be better off financially than most,” he predicted.
Under Westerberg’s guidance, the district has hired additional staff, and had expanded staff professional development. The district has also added a literary specialist through grants.
“I feel good about the support our staff has. A teacher in Big Lake has a lot of support. They are not on an island,” Westerberg said.
Looking back, Westerberg says him time in Big Lake was a very good experience.
“We had a good run, even though not everything was accomplished the way we wanted,” Westerberg said.
With many goals accomplished, another year or two at the helm of the Big Lake School District wasn’t going lead Westerberg to accomplishing his goals any better, he concluded.
“Besides, I wanted to have some life left in me before I retire,” he said.
There are things to do and time to be spent with his grandchildren, Westerberg said.
While Westergard has no immediate plans for his days in retirement, he looks forward to time for tinkering with some repairs, playing a little golf.
“I’d look to do some traveling, because there are a lot of great places in the United States, and we’ll try to be volunteers in the communities we live in,” he said.
Westergard also plans on fishing on Stoney Lake, where he figures he and Nancy will now be found from Spring into Fall.
The rest of their time will be spent in Forest City, Iowa, where Westerberg will be returning to his roots.
He and Nancy are moving onto the farm where Westerberg grew up.
“With my parents both gone, my siblings and I have spent a lot of time maintaining it. I’m returning to a place that’s very familiar,” Westerberg said.
Westerberg’s last day as the “Super” was officially Tuesday, June 30, but his last day of work was Friday, June 26.
The school district will feel his absence, but he has left it in good hands.
Reach Jeff Hage at email@example.com