Making a mark on Minnehaha:
Beloved middle school history teacher, Wallace Borner, retires after 39 years of educating students at Minnehaha Academy.
“[Mr. Borner] had a big red beard,” said Judy Cummings, a Minnehaha parent whose husband and daughters also had Wallace Borner as a teacher. “He let us call him ‘Wally’ (he was a brand new teacher at Minnehaha). That only lasted one year and from there on out he was Mr. Borner to future classes. I also learned to bowl from Mr. Borner. I also seem to remember the plaid pants that were ‘oh so hip’ in the ‘70s.”
While Borner may have retired his bowling shoes (as well as his position at Minnehaha, beginning next year), he has still been active in the Minnehaha community over the years.
In addition to being the Minnehaha middle school history teacher for 39 years (starting in 1974), Borner has also been a middle school basketball coach, soccer coach, served on the Centennial Long-Range Planning Committee, and led the summer program SOAR Into Middle School.
Borner is also a member of the Shepherd’s Foundation, a group affiliated with the Ukrainian-American Partnership.
Borner has gone on six trips to the Ukraine with the Shepherd’s Foundation, where they teach Ukrainian students English and about the Bible. He also still plays basketball and volleyball on adult teams (which practice a few times a week), and is in his church’s choir.
Borner has chosen to retire during Minnehaha’s Centennial year, and has taught multiple generations of many Minnehaha families.
“He’s an energetic speaker,” said junior Erin LeVahn. “He spoke loudly like he was very excited about what he was teaching. He worked really hard to come up with certain activities on his own, and they were fun usually. He was really passionate about what he did.”
Borner not only taught Erin, but also her father, Dan LeVahn.
“It has been fun to have my kids in classes taught by Mr. Borner and those taught by other long time Minnehaha teachers as well,” said Dan. “It is because of teachers like Mr. Borner, who strive to point students to Christ, that in large part makes Minnehaha what it is today and what it will continue to be in the future.”
Borner is an integral part of the Minnehaha tradition, and has seen nearly 40 years’ worth of students pass through his classrooms, as well as the changes and continuities they bring with them.
“The technology has definitely been a change,” said Borner. “I believe [the students] are less attentive because there’s this constant bombardment. With an iPad, kids always want to look at it. But it’s so fun if I or any student has a question, we can look it up [right away].”
While the resources available to middle schoolers have changed, some characteristics stay the same.
“Middle school kids have always been really active and a little bouncy,” said Borner, “and I love it. I just love teaching middle school. That aspect of the kids has stayed the same over the years. They’re just cheerful with a lot of energy and fun, and often very inquisitive.”
One of Borner’s favorite ways to tap into middle school energy is through music.
“I consider my classroom the other music room,” said Borner. “I used to have my record player in the room and played a variety of music. Now I use Pandora or YouTube videos. I sing the Cartoon Song every year at the seventh grade retreat and I am most famous in seventh grade for ‘Proud Mary.’ We sing it during our river project unit.”
Borner also made sure to integrate faith into his love of teaching and music.
“In the classroom, I play contemporary Christian music because I think a lot of students don’t know it exists.”
“Mr. Borner has always been intentional about his teaching,” said Dan. “He is just as concerned with why he is teaching, which is for students to learn how to serve Christ, as he is with what is being taught.”
Dan Cummings, whose wife Judy and daughters, Fiona and Meara, also had Borner as a teacher, had similar memories.
“Mr. Borner was interested in the complete student, not just the subject being taught,” said Dan Cummings. “He really did care about the student’s spiritual health and development and I think he sees teaching very much as a ministry and not just a job. I remember being challenged by him to do better – I was used to coasting by with good grades and he didn’t let me get by with that. He gave me my very first C grade. So key characteristics would be [that he was] loving, caring, challenging, honest. “
Borner himself has collected many memories over the years, but one that sticks out to him was not just a moment, but a season.
“I had a basketball team of 20 girls, and we were undefeated,” said Borner, “and every girl played in every game. I don’t know how we accomplished that, but it was an amazing thing.”
This standout girls’ team was just one of many sub-communities that Borner has been a part of at Minnehaha, but there is one group that he will miss most.
“The teachers,” said Borner. “The team approach we have. Not just my seventh grade team, but certainly that core. We meet together every week to pray together, and we’re consulting each other all the time. There’s just a strong relationship there. That’s what I’m going to miss the most.”
Minnehaha Academy has made its mark on the life of Wally Borner, as he has made a mark on everyone who has been touched by his commitment to educating Minnehaha’s young minds.
Following retirement, Borner hopes to continue to attend Minnehaha sporting and fine arts events. Even though Borner is leaving Minnehaha, his legacy will remain.
“There are three things I would like my students to remember about me,” said Borner. “I knew the stuff I taught, I enjoyed my students, and I have a strong faith in Jesus Christ and in the Bible as God’s word to us.”