Our Neighbors....Bob Cresap

There are few things that bring more personal satisfaction to Cloquet's Bob Cresap than guiding a smoothly planed board through his home sawmill - few things, that is, except for the extraordinary joy of helping shape the lives of a young people.

Bob Cresap of Cloquet plans to spend time in retirement working on his home sawmill and in his woodworking shop where he builds furniture. [Contributed photo]

There are few things that bring more personal satisfaction to Cloquet's Bob Cresap than guiding a smoothly planed board through his home sawmill - few things, that is, except for the extraordinary joy of helping shape the lives of a young people.

As a long-time teacher and founding director of the local College in the Schools program, Cresap has guided the lives of legions of high school students in giving them a head start on their higher education. Perhaps that's because it was exactly what he, himself, valued most as a young person.

Cresap was born just outside Valley City, N.D., where his dad farmed full time on some 200 acres, raising grain and livestock.

"We always had all types of farm animals," he said, "chickens, hogs, cattle and horses. In those days, it was bigger than the average farm, but in today's terms, it would be only a speck."

Cresap was one of a family of three boys and three girls, all of whom were expected to help with farm work on a daily basis.


"I really enjoyed it," he admitted. "We were up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., milked the cows and then went to school - though I can't imagine what we must have smelled like!" he laughed with characteristic good humor.

After Cresap's senior year in high school, he received a $300 stipend from the state of North Dakota to go to teachers' college for a year in exchange for fulfilling an obligation to teach in a rural school for two years.

"I did it because there wasn't any other money," he stated. "I was always good at school and always liked it, but basically, I just loved to teach."

And so, in 1953-54, Cresap spent a year at Valley City State and then began his teaching career.

"The first year I taught, I had eight students in eight different grades," he related. "I'd bring the kids up by my desk and have the lesson right there, and the first-grader would come up and jump on my knee. I've seen her since that time and she says she remembers how I taught her how to read! Think of those kids who were just starting out in the first grade and heard those same lessons for six or seven years, how well they must have known it by then. Those rural kids, believe it or not, would go on to the high schools and they were by far the best students. It was an excellent background for the kids.

"We always had ball teams," Cresap recalled about those small rural schools, "so I was the athletic director as well as the hot lunch supervisor and the custodian. I drove 12 miles to get to the school, and the president of the school board would go down to the school early and light the stove, since we heated with coal, so it was heated up by the time we got there."

He married his sweetheart, Eileen, when he was 20 and she was just 19.

After Cresap fulfilled his two-year teaching obligation, he could then have then gone back to school, but since he was married and he and Eileen had started their family by then, he took a contract at another small, rural school where there were only two teachers - him and his wife, Eileen!


"They were called consolidated schools in North Dakota at the time," he explained, "and they were located out in the country. I taught grades 5-8 and Eileen taught grades 1-4 while taking care of two of our own children as well."

The Cresaps taught two years at that school and then took another contract with a three-room school in a small town, where they once again divvied up the teaching duties.

From 1959 to 1961, Cresap went back to college to finish up his bachelor's degree, earning a double major in math and physics as well as his secondary and elementary education certifications.

Because he had a young family to support, he found he had to make a living besides going to school.

"I sold World Book Encyclopedia on the side, and I absolutely hated it," he confessed. "The boss pounded on me to go with World Book full time, saying I'd make three times as much as I would otherwise, but I told him, 'No way, I want to be a teacher!'"

In 1961, Cresap received a surprise classroom visit from E.B. Churchill, superintendent of Cloquet schools, along with assistant superintendent Ollie Hoyum, who had driven out to Valley City to recruit teachers.

"They had come and talked with the dean and told him they needed someone with both elementary and secondary degrees, or at the very least, elementary experience," explained Cresap. "They went through the files, found mine and pulled it, and they asked the dean to go get me out of class. I fit their bill perfectly, and they said they wanted me to come to Cloquet to be the science and math coordinator for grades K-12."

In the meantime, however, Cloquet chemistry and physics teacher P.K. Peterson announced he was planning to take a sabbatical to complete his master's degree, so Cresap was asked if he would take Peterson's classes for a year and start the other job the following year.


"I said that was fine, came here and found a place for us to live," Cresap related. "I was really busy that first year, teaching physics and chemistry and math. Sometimes I would be up all night at the school getting labs ready."

During that first year, however, Churchill died - and the plan for Cresap's future position died with him. It just so happened there was a science and math vacancy at the high school the following year, so Cresap landed the job, teaching two sections of physics and three of geometry.

"I thoroughly enjoyed teaching those subjects," said Cresap. "Physics and math are a great combination to teach, as math is considered a tool of physics."

After earning his master's degree in math and physics from the University of South Dakota in 1968, Cresap later began teaching night classes at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College as well.

Around that same time, Governor Rudy Perpich threw his support toward a program called PSEO (Post-Secondary Enrollment Options), which provided release time for students to leave the high schools and go to college campuses to take courses.

"I, being a high school teacher," said Cresap, "wasn't all that fond of it because the students would want to leave my class early and then come back late and say, 'What did we miss?' after the rest of the students were already 10 minutes into the class. It wasn't a real easy thing to deal with at the time, even though it was a good thing for the kids to have that kind of opportunity."

After a couple of years, Cresap approached FDLTCC President Jack Briggs and Cloquet School Superintendent Russ Smith and pitched the idea of having his entire class of physics students take the course for college credit through FDLTCC - while remaining right in his high school classroom.

"I figured as long as we had a college right here in town, and I was already teaching there," he reasoned, "we could go ahead and do that."


Smith and Briggs discussed the idea at length and they were very enthusiastic about it, and the new program became known as Vision 2000. As it turned out, the state passed enabling legislation for that very type of program around that same time, so that gave the local district permission to go ahead and do the program, beginning in 1987.The name of the program was later changed to College in the Schools, but the concept remained the same.

After Cresap retired from Cloquet High School in 1991, after 30 years of teaching, Briggs asked him to consider teaching more classes at the college, so Cresap began teaching algebra and physics part time, which lasted until 1995. He also worked as the state science assessment coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Education.

Since Cresap had coordinated the College in the Schools program at CHS since 1987, he agreed to take on a part-time job as director of the fast-growing program at FDLTCC in 1995.

"Other schools were asking to come into the program, which began with Cloquet and expanded to Esko and many others," said Cresap. "Now, any subject that's in FDLTCC's college catalog, the high schools can offer if the teachers are qualified to teach it and the students qualify to take it. We've come a long way from my original 18 students to something like 1,200 now."

To qualify for the class, the students have to pass the placement testing and have a GPA that ranks them in the upper 50 percent of their class as seniors and upper one-third of their class as juniors.

In order to assure the program was run as it was intended, Cresap also instituted a mentoring program, calling on teachers, college professors and retired faculty members to visit participating schools to make certain they were following the require syllabus.

"I'm so proud of our mentors - we had 18 of them going out and visiting classes," said Cresap. "I had excellent people."

What made directing the program possible for Cresap was the fact he coordinated the entire thing from home.


"I did my work for the program right out of my home," he said, "along with the invaluable help of my wife, Eileen, who is the computer person. I give her a lot of credit, because it was all volunteer work on her part."

Long after Cresap decided to quit teaching classes at the college in 1995, he continued working half-time as director of the College in the Schools program, which he found extremely rewarding.

"The major comment I got from parents is that it saves money on college expenses," he said. "In fact, one parent told me it saved their family $60,000. What I'm most proud of, though, is when parents and students say they've gained so much from the program by making them prepare for college, study harder in high school, and learn to study harder so their study habits improve. It also improves the curriculum that the school offers."

FDLTCC was the largest program in the state to participate in the College in the Schools initiative for a number of years and led the way for similar programs to get start.

On Cresap's watch, the FDLTCC-based program had expanded as far as Fulda, near Worthington, to Nicolette, near Mankato. Cresap often put on two workshops a year for the instructors in the 22 participating schools, and when he encountered problems with funding which prohibited him from paying for speakers for those sessions and providing lunch for the teachers, he applied for grant funding through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and received $1,000 for the upcoming year.

At the end of this past school year, however, Cresap decided it was time to retire for good, though a part of him was reluctant to leave the program behind.

"I like the program so well, and it's been good for me," he reflected. "I like to organize and keep my mind active, and I had so much fun with all the contacts I made."

Following retirement, Cresap said he supposes he'll suffer a bit of withdrawal next fall "when everything heats up again," he said, but he's looking forward to spending more time with his wife and family, enjoying their cabin on Grand Lake, and tinkering in his woodworking shop.


"It was a very difficult decision to retire, since I have been with the college and the program since it began in 1987," he said, "but I had to make it and be done with it. I couldn't let it drag on forever."

The Cresaps have two boys and two girls, including Kerry, who lives in Portland, Ore.; son Kim, a teacher and commercial fisherman in Anchorage, Alaska; daughter Candace, who lives in Michigan and is a psychology professor; and son Kelly who lives in Cloquet and runs the Sunnyside Apartments with his wife, Carla, and their four girls.

As Cresap now prepares to head out to his sawmill and workshop on a full-time basis, he can't help but look back and feel a certain sense of pride at what the College in the Schools program has accomplished.

"I believe firmly in the program and the benefits it provides to students, parents, high schools and the college," he mused. "I hope the college continues it."

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