Rotary Community Service: Herb & Marilyn Pagel
Back in the 1960s, Herb and Marilyn Pagel were newly married with a newborn child. He’d graduated from St. Thomas and she from St. Catherine’s.
“We met at a dance,” said Marilyn. Herb signed a contract to teach English and German in a small town in western Minnesota named Minneota.
“We said we’d stay one or two years,” said Marilyn. Now, over 50 years later, after raising a family of five children with 15 grandchildren — they’re still here.
The 2017 Minneota Rotary Community Service Award winners have spent a lifetime educating, working, assisting others and creating a wholesome home for their family.
In some ways, it’s a common story. Young family moves from the big city (St. Paul) and finds small-town America is a pretty good place to raise their family — and even extend their own lives.
For 34 years, Herb taught English.
When Minneota dropped German as a language and went to Spanish, he directed plays, coached debate, became an EMT for the ambulance service and even started his own photography business.
Marilyn was a stay-at-home mother, got involved in the Minneota Library, where she served on the Board of Directors for over 30 years, helped teach religious education classes and became a member of Joan of Arc of St. Edward Church, played piano and even tried the organ — and worked in the business office at the Marshall Clinic.
“We rented at first, then decided to buy a house and this one (their current home) was being built. So we got a loan.”
Herb did much of the work on the home and his children often said, “They went to sleep listening to me (working on the house).”
One of their fondest moments were the plays Herb directed. “We enjoyed those plays,” said Marilyn.
His favorites included, “The Music Man,” plus “Anne Get Your Gun,” and maybe even, “The Many Lives of Doby Gillis.”
At the same time, he was coaching the debate team. “I had four kids on the team. He recalls two of them, Lois Josephson and Marc Larson, became lawyers. In addition to coaching, he had to drive the bus and chaperone the team.
At that time, coaches doubled as judges at the debate meets. “It was an adventure,” Pagel said.
Meanwhile, Marilyn was big on reading, often read to her children and spent a lot of time at the public library. “I loved to read and it was just natural to go to the library and get involved,” she said.
“It was just like my job away from home.” Just this year, she retired from the board. Today, her daughter Joanie has taken her mother’s love for books and works for the Scott County Library. Her years on the library board were a matter of, “Always looking toward the goal of developing a new library.” When it arrived in the old Big Store Historical Building, “It was a milestone,” Marilyn said. Reading has rubbed off on Herb and he says, “I always have one or two books I’m in the middle of.” Herb was an EMT in the days when they started the ambulance service and they confiscated a Chevy SV Bus and converted it to an ambulance. “It was better than using a hearse,” he laughed. When a big Ford Diesel box was delivered for an ambulance, “We thought that was really something,” said Herb.
He served for 24 years and credits his school administrator Gerald Olson for allowing him to leave school when there was an ambulance call and, “The teachers were good at giving up prep time and stepping into my classroom.”
“After my years on the ambulance, I look back and remember times when we did something important, something positive for someone.”
He recalled helping deliver a baby and cutting the UM (umbilical cord) on a new born girl.
Then, 18 years later, that same girl was in his English class. He taught CCD classes (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) for a number of years and even started a photography business.
He photographed weddings, graduations and even did passport photos. In the church, Marilyn was asked to play the organ. “They thought if I could play piano, I could play organ. They twisted my arm.”
That didn’t last long, but she was always willing to do anything she could at St. Edward Church.
As the years of teaching turned into retirement, Herb began to find other interests. He ushers at funerals at St. Edward Church and both he and Marilyn joined the Minneota Lions until the club was disbanded.
“We had to dissolve the Lions because we couldn’t replace the people who were dying off,” said Herb. He also took his turn on the now defunct Minneota Jaycees and turned his attention to a new interest — “Rendezvous” where he dresses as early Americans, mostly as mountain men.
“I dress the 1820-1940 era, and put on my ‘Gentleman Civilian clothing of the 1770s.’”
“I understand why they had valets (to help them dress). Some of those outfits have 27 buttons and knee high socks. Those are hard to get on.”
He’s been to several rendezvous at Lake Benton and was planning to attend the one this year.
“I go as a mountain man and cook over a fire, bake bread in a Dutch oven and even pies,” he said. Herb makes his own candles and molds bullets. “I remember the grand-kids making candles,” Marilyn related.
“They’ve helped cook over the open fire — making pancakes. The grand kids have also joined in the rendezvous, shooting guns and throwing tomahawks.” While Herb was busy teaching the grandkids the outdoors, Marilyn was teaching them to crochet and knit.
“To me, it’s relaxing and I’ve always loved cooking. But now Herb does a lot of that,” she said. Together they camped for years.
“I like roasting marshmallows over a fire,” Marilyn said. Meanwhile, Herb still enjoys his life as a buck skinner, sleeping in the open and, “really roughing it.”
“When living outside and cooking there, I probably am living at a higher standard than half the people in the world,” he related. Marilyn enjoys going back to St. Paul to visit relatives. But their trips became less frequent as time went on.
“The relatives came out here often.” She found her feelings for the big city became minimal as their love grew for Minneota.
“When our infant son died, the response from the community was overwhelming. It was overpowering the love and concern and they made us feel people here cared,” said Herb.
“That kind of concern and caring, so much love and concern,” cemented the Pagels’ relationship to Minneota.
“We lived for a year in the Twin Cities and didn’t even know our neighbors,” she added. Also giving the Pagels a reason to stay in Minneota was the way the teachers accepted them.
“They had a new teacher picnic and a teacher named Gladis, who had the same name as my mom, said she’d hold my baby while I got my food. It was that kind of thing.”
In recent years, Herb also acted as an election judge at polling places. “I enjoyed it too, because our system of government has a fairness others don’t have. It’s been a good experience and I was proud that we were doing our part to make it fair for everybody.”
When he wasn’t teaching, serving on the ambulance or photographing people, Herb painted homes, inside and out including the old hospital building.
“We did the operating room at night because they needed it the next day,” he recalled. He also did some painting at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Over the years, the Pagels have helped everywhere they could. At the Minneota Centennial, Sen. Joe Josephson asked Herb to come with him to Alexandria to help film a TV interview.
“I asked him, ‘Why me?’ and he said, ‘Because you have a nice beard.’” Herb helped build the Minneota swimming pool, as did many people in Minneota. One thing they never did was, “Get involved in golf,” said Marilyn. “We tried it, but it took too much time,” she said.
“I’d rather spend that time fishing, camping or hunting,” Herb added. They both found they needed time just to be grandparents.
“We adjusted to Minneota. When we go to the cities, we can’t wait to get out of the traffic,” Herb said, describing city life as a “constant roar.”
Neither Herb nor Marilyn can conceive of living outside of Minneota. It became home.
“Minneota has been a good place to raise a family,” Marilyn said.
The Pagel family
•Daughter Sara Boysen, husband Steve and three children live in China, where he’s an engineer.
•Daughter Amy is living at home. She has a son at the University of Minnesota who is also in U.S. Army.
•Daughter Jenny Engels and husband have three kids and live in Prior Lake.
•Daughter Joanie Driemeyer and husband have five girls and live on a farm near New Prague and Jordan.
•Daughter Katie VanHecke is a pharmacist at Hy-Vee in Marshall. She and her husband Glen have three sons and they live on a farm near Minneota.