For a long time the stereotypical librarian was a mousy, dusty, old maid, always hushing noisy kids, and never doing anything very exciting. Dede Kirkpatrick was never a stereotypical librarian. She rides a motorcycle, has lived all over the world, and once earned an Olympic swimming medal ... for the Philippines.
Kirkpatrick is retiring from the West Central Area School District this year after spending 42 years in education. Born in St. Paul, raised in White Bear Lake, she moved around a lot because her father worked “for the government.”
“We didn’t find out he was a CIA agent until he retired,” she said.
Kirkpatrick graduated from high school in Greece. The Olympic medal came about when the family was living in the Philippines and Dede tried out and won a spot on the national swimming team, earning a medal. She did not join the team, however, because she would have had to give up her American citizenship.
Following graduation from college, Kirkpatrick went into education and became an elementary teacher, teaching first, second, and third grades in Virginia then California. But her husband, a disabled veteran, wasn’t getting the kind of care he needed in California, so the family moved to Minnesota which had a reputation for a great VA system.
“We were both unemployed at the time, so we looked for an inexpensive house and found what we were looking for in Hoffman.”
Three days after moving in, Dede was hired as a substitute teacher for the West Central Schools in Hoffman.
“I put all my experiences to good use, telling stories to students.”
She subbed for seven years, working at Target in Alexandria part time. Then, in 1998, a librarian position opened and Dede was told she could have it if she got her librarian license. She quickly did and has been librarian at West Central Area North and South ever since.
She also has worked for Title 1, reading readiness, English learners, and runs the computer lab.
“They have given me various duties and I do them.”
What she loves best about her job as a librarian is turning kids on to reading, and has found that despite all the electronic media vying for their attention, most kids still enjoy sitting down with a book that grabs their attention and reading.
Of course, she has acquired some tricks. For instance, a close look at the library books at WCA North shows some of them have a star pasted on the spine.
“Those are books I have read myself and the kids know that, so they ask me if I think they would like it.”
Her system has worked, and many WCA students, present and former, credit Kirkpatrick with instilling in them a love of reading.
“Just last year I got a Facebook message from a former student. He said he knew he wasn’t the best student and gave her a lot of trouble, but he wanted to thank her for what she did for him.”
She bemoans the fact that students don’t use the library for research anymore. In fact, their library time is limited to pretty much just checking out books and they do their research on the Internet.
“I tell them that everything you read on the Internet is not true, and you need to verify facts through a published work.”
Kirkpatrick, however, believes in technology. She runs the computer labs in the elementary schools and even owns a Kindle that she uses to read books.
“It’s great when you’re traveling.”
And traveling is something she and her husband Allen hope to be doing a lot more of. They have three kids, Erika, James, and Michael, and six grandkids, ages one year through 14 years, to visit. The couple enjoy hitting the road on their tricycle motorcycle.
Her last day will be June 1, when Kirkpatrick will attend an in-service at the school.“On June 2, we will be on an airplane flying to visit my sister in Texas,” she says, with a gleam in her eyes.