For years, Bill Liedman has been as much a fixture in Kimball as the water tower — tall, but maybe not that tall.
Liedman, 65, who is retiring as a mathematics instructor at the high school after more than 30 years, grew up locally. His Dad, Carl, was the town barber and a member of the city council. His mother, Annette, was active in the Red Cross. Little Bill had a paper route and attended Kimball Area Schools, graduating from high school in 1965.
“I grew up active,” Liedman said of following his parents’ lead.
It was at KHS that two math instructors — Dick James and Vern Busho — had a dramatic impact on Liedman.
“We really connected,” Liedman says from behind his desk at the high school on a warm spring afternoon. “They related to the kids. We worked hard but had a good time doing it.”
And even though he went straight to St. Cloud State University (then known as St. Cloud State College), he really never left town. He worked summer jobs in Kimball and drove school bus, as he commuted back and forth to classes from his hometown.
Even though Liedman was a good student in high school and really liked math, he had no idea what he would study in college. He remembers the day he enrolled and an advisor asked him if he was going to major in education. Liedman said yes, following his heart as much as his head. Then he was asked what he wanted to major in. He instinctively said “Math.”
Liedman married his wife, Barb, in 1968 and the same year he got drafted to serve in Vietnam, took his physical and failed because of back issues.
Instead of going to war, Liedman graduated from SCS and promptly got a call from Kimball Superintendent Larry Grismer. Kimball was looking for a math instructor and Grismer asked Liedman if he’d be interested in applying. Bill asked Barb if she wanted to stay in Kimball and she said “Yes.” The next day Liedman called Grismer back, set up an interview and was offered the job for $6,300 a year.
“That was more money then I ever made in my life,” Liedman recalls.
So suddenly, in the fall of ’69 — instead of dodging bullets in the jungles of Southeast Asia — Liedman was standing in front of a classroom of students. The seniors that year were eighth graders when Liedman himself was a high school senior. Many of the other students at school knew him as “Bill, the bus driver.”
Over his 30 years of teaching, Liedman has encountered thousands and thousands of students. One student was the granddaughter of a woman who Liedman picked up for school on his bus route. And he’s taught dozens of children of former students whom he helped receive their diplomas. He remembers one particular classroom of 26 students and 20 of them had parents that Liedman taught. He enjoys seeing the similarities between the younger generation and their parents.
“Without a doubt,” he said, “the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.”
One of the differences that has evolved over the years is the makeup of the teaching staff. During his first stint as a teacher, 1969-80, the staff was all local people who socialized together. Today, the staff lives far and wide and commutes to school.
Liedman’s first stint as a teacher ended in part because of a conversation he had with Kenny Bates on the golf course at the Kimball Golf Club. Bates asked Liedman if he was going to teach all of his life. Then he offered Liedman a business opportunity. “You want to buy the bowling alley?” Bates asked.
“I bought the bowling alley on hole number four,” Liedman clearly remembers.
For 13 years Liedman ran the bowling alley. “Those were good family years,” he said. “All three boys worked there. All of them bowled. Two rolled 300 games.”
But business started to wane in the early ‘90s after the government’s dairy buyout program left many young men without jobs. They headed to the Twin Cities for employment and no longer frequented the bowling alley. The late shifts at the lanes started to disintegrate and Liedman saw the writing on the wall and decided to sell.
“I felt like I was jobless,” he said after the alley sold. “I ran a pizza truck for Trade Winds Pizza for a while. I went back to work as a laborer as well.”
And then, just as Grismer once gave him a phone call, Superintendent Paul Wilfahrt asked Liedman if he wanted to come back and teach math part-time. Liedman agreed and worked from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the school ,and then drove to Target in St. Cloud and pulled the 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift three times a week.
By the fall of 1994, he was back in front of students full-time.
Now, the students he was teaching knew him as “Bill from the bowling alley.”
Many called him “Bill,” in school which was OK with Liedman. Eventually those students graduated and he went back to being called “Mr. Liedman.”
Another adjustment Liedman had to make revolved around technology. When he first began instructing students, a slide rule was the tool of choice, and then calculators. Today, it isn’t uncommon for Liedman to use three or four teaching tools simultaneously, including computers with spread sheets, overhead projectors, a white board with multi-colored pens and a smart board.
“In the old days you had a blackboard and when you erased it the material was gone.”
The students embrace the technology. “The kids love it. When I’m up doing things up here they are really with me.
Besides teaching, Liedman has been active as a Scout Master since 1981. And he was a coach for golf, junior high boys basketball and baseball as well as varsity girls basketball. And when asked, he worked as a baseball and softball umpire and a basketball referee.
“I really enjoy being around young people,” Liedman explained of his involvement in the various activities.
And don’t expect those to end now that Liedman won’t be teaching full time anymore.
He does have a “bucket list” of some things he wants to do.
“Fly fishing is on the list,” he said, as is a trip to Europe with Barb. And, of course, he’ll probably even do some substitute teaching.
He definitely isn’t going to leave Kimball.
“I’ve been here my whole life.”
Bill Liedman will retire from teaching math at Kimball Area High School after more than 30 years. A strong part of Kimball for all of his 65 years, he’s not leaving the community he loves. Staff photo by Marguerite Laabs.