Couple worked at Catholic institution for over 40 years

For over 40 years, Lynn and Doug Peterson have been the familiar face of Holy Family School, Doug teaching and helping around the building and principal Lynn greeting students as they come in for the day and saying goodbye when they leave. Now, though, it is the school’s turn to say goodbye to them as they retire from their career in Catholic education.

“We’re going to let God lead us once again,” Lynn said. “Right now, we’re just cherishing these last precious weeks at HFS and counting the many blessings we’ve been given over the years. We are busy enjoying time with our current staff but also working on preparing and organizing for those who will be hired to fill their roles. If we can assist in any way with the transition, we will be happy to do so, and then we’re just going to enjoy time together.”

The Petersons are confident the next HFS principal is going to be bringing his or her own energy faith and knowledge; to that person, Lynn encourages them to stop and pray before responding, count their blessings every day and enjoy the gift of each and every member of this school community.

“Small little things can sometimes overwhelm you; it’s when you look at the big picture that you can sit back, smile and say, ‘This is good, God is good,’” Peterson said.

Lynn and Doug were both graduates from St. Cloud State University; when they were engaged, Lynn was a substitute teacher in Crosby while Doug was a substitute teacher in Brainerd for the remainder of the school year after graduation. Sister Suzanne Slominski was the HFS principal at the time and was holding job interviews that March. Although Doug was not interested in moving from Brainerd to the small town of Sauk Centre, he came down for an interview. Slominski found out his fiancée was a teacher and invited her to visit and apply as well.

“We drove down the next week,” Doug said. “She had her interview, and as we were about to leave, (Slominski) turned to us and said, ‘If you’re interested in the job, I’d like to have both of you come and work here.’”

Lynn attended a small Catholic elementary school, and the more that she and Doug looked at Sauk Centre’s school and community, the more they were convinced they had found where they were meant to be.

“I loved it from the moment we walked in the door,” Lynn said. “My Catholic school was about the size of the main hallway at Holy Family, but as I came in the door, I knew and said, ‘I want to teach here.’ We visited places in town, looked at the parishes and went over to Our Lady of the Angels Church, and we felt at home here.”

Doug, Lynn and five other new teachers started teaching at HFS in 1980; with her background in art, Lynn also assisted with art and some of its curriculum for the school. When Sister Janine Braun moved to a new school, Doug became the assistant principal under Slominski.

Then, when Slominski moved to a new school, Lynn became the HFS principal in the 1993-94 school year. Lynn and Doug bought supplies the summer before the school year began, and that was when Lynn realized the gravity of her new position.

“Doug was shopping in the next store, and I started to cry,” Lynn said. “All of a sudden, it just hit me that I wasn’t going to have my own homeroom anymore. I had just gone from 23 students to a couple hundred students, but once I realized I would still have that connection with the all my students, it was OK.”

While Lynn was principal for the next 28 years, Doug assisted in a wide variety of roles including teacher, helping with custodial needs and fundraising. He has also been the school’s patrol advisor for 40 years, and he has a boiler license to help out for when the school custodian was not available.

“I’ve basically done most jobs in here but cook,” Doug said.

The Petersons’ son, Justin, also attended HFS, so he had his parents as teachers and as his principal.

“He had to adjust to us in different roles at school,” Doug said. “At school, he usually didn’t call us by name; he would ask questions or respond, but he wouldn’t say ‘Mr. Peterson.’”

For both Doug and Lynn, the main factor that has kept them working at HFS has been the people. Inside the building, there are the friendly, energetic students and the hardworking, amazing and dedicated staff and board. They are also grateful for the support of all the families, priests, parishes, businesses and general community, making everyone’s job that much easier.

“One of the things I really liked about this school was that the word ‘family’ fit really well,” Doug said. “We are a family, and I think that’s kept me here more than anything else.”

All the relationships have also been Lynn’s not-so-secret secret to enjoying her role as principal.

“We’re like one big puzzle; when one piece is missing, it doesn’t come together,” Lynn said. “The success of the school is working together for God’s glory. That happens when we all, ‘Trust God, put it in His hands, and let His will be done.’”

When the Petersons first arrived at HFS, the building needed some updates and the upstairs classrooms still had dividers for walls. As they prepare to retire, they have seen many changes and are leaving a facility that has a modernized interior and up-to-date technological resources.

“The heart, soul and mission of the school has always remained the same,” Lynn said. “When you look at how technology, smartboards and even how curriculum has evolved there’s been a lot of changes, but the heart and purpose of the school never has changed.”

Now, Doug and Lynn are entering their mid-60s, and they are starting to see some generations of students that are farther down the line than the ones they first taught.

“A lot of our former students are now parents of the students of the school, but we even have a few who are now grandparents,” Lynn said. “That’s when you say, ‘Oh my, we really need to retire.’”

With the end of their final school year approaching, the Petersons have not had much time to think about what they are going to do in retirement. Doug especially looks forward to having more time for fishing, golf and visiting relatives, but otherwise, they expect to figure it out as they go.

There will be plenty the Petersons will miss about being in HFS, of course – not only the interpersonal connections with students, staff and the community, but also the joy and peace a school day can bring.

“Sometimes, that sounds like a funny thing to say – peace of the day in the school – but on days you may be struggling to find peace, you walk through the school and hear the students praying, singing and raising their voices to God; there you find peace,” Lynn said. “I will miss seeing the times throughout each day where I see how students are living their faith and applying what they’re learning.”