The noise in the freshman hallway is constant, a steady rhythm of thumping feet and chattering voices. As students make their way past the prayer chapel and a row of lockers, they turn into a classroom on their right. The second the door is opened, Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” blasts through the room as students settle in: “Do you remember…dancing in September…never was a cloudy day.”
As the song draws to a close, the teacher at the desk greets his students and pulls up a slide show of humorous and encouraging images to begin the class.
For Minnehaha chaplain and sacred studies teacher Dan Bergstrom, September has always been a month of back-to-school excitement, an atmosphere that comes with the start of a new school year. As the Rev. Bergstrom’s last year at Minnehaha draws to a close, his last September teaching passed, the lyrics to the classic song grow bittersweet.
“The day-to-day energy in the building [is what I will miss most about Minnehaha], both from students and colleagues,” said Bergstrom, who is retiring this year. “I’m a people person, so I know I will have to find ways to satisfy that itch a little bit. There’s definitely an energy in a high school building that when it’s not there, I’m assuming I’ll miss it and I think I will.”
In his 33 years at Minnehaha, Bergstrom has been known by many students for his kind personality and welcoming classroom atmosphere.
“Rev. B is one of the sweetest and kindest people you will ever meet,” said sophomore Cynthia Garcia. “He has such a positive attitude every time he is around people and always greets everyone and asks them how their day is. If you’re sitting down doing homework he will still come up to you and greet you and ask you how your day is going. He is just really open to everyone.”
Bergstrom has also been known for his open and embracing approach to spirituality.
“I think that with his freshman class he was always very open,” said Terri Bergstrom, his wife. “He introduced the Bible and let [students] decide on their own how they wanted to interpret it. He was really into how we interpret the Bible so he was pretty open to everybody’s interpretation, whether they were Covenant, whether they were Jewish, whether they were Catholic. He accepted all of those kids and accepted their beliefs and how they practiced their religion. He was respectful of all religions. He let people experiment and let them discover on their own.”
After being with the school for a large portion of his life, Bergstrom decided that it would be a good fit to leave Minnehaha now.
“I was talking with Mrs. [Janet] Johnson from last year and lots of others, and you just kind of get a sense that the time is right [to retire],” he said. “Obviously the other pieces of the puzzle have to fit. Can you financially afford to retire? For me another emotional component was that I lost my brother this last August. That just reminds you of your own mortality and gets you thinking about career, retirement, those kinds of things.”
As chaplain, Bible teacher and simply a member of the Minnehaha community, Bergstrom has had the opportunity to see God moving at MA as time has gone on.
“I can almost put my finger on moments where I felt that the presence of God all of a sudden became very, very real,” he said. “You never know when it’s going to happen, you never can anticipate it, but all of a sudden there is an awareness that the Spirit of God is there and in such a profound way. It happened once when a student simply sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and a hush went over the whole chapel, and just in that simple song you sensed it.”
While Bergstrom has become very much a part of the MA community, his wife, Terri, also worked at Minnehaha for 13 years. Both husband and wife were there as their two boys, Isaac (‘09) and Keenan (‘12), walked through high school at Minnehaha.
“It was fun when our boys were there. We all got in the car and drove down to Minnehaha together. We always went the long way so it was always an ordeal,” Terri Bergstrom said, referring to the 55-minute drive from the their home in Elk River, Minn.
“The kids would sleep on the way to school, they’d eat breakfast, they’d eat snacks on the way home. It was like we lived in our van. I remember Isaac saying one time, the year that he was graduating, that he was looking forward to not walking down the hall and having his parents walking behind him. It was a little hard on them, but it was fun getting to know their friends, and they all had Dan as a teacher. I thought it was fun having the boys there.”
After retirement, Bergstrom hopes to enjoy more of his favorite leisure activities, such as fishing, hiking and camping, and also has plans to continue his involvement in ministry.
“I’m looking at the possibility of hospice chaplaincy, possibly doing some interim work in churches where you preach and help them out until they find a new pastor,” he said. “I’ll do a lot more fishing, and I’ve got lots of projects at home.”
After teaching, counseling and preaching for three decades, Bergstrom hopes that students, faculty and community members alike have been able to see his love for God in more ways than one.
“I think sometimes we learn more about faith and about people from what they do versus what they say, and I hope that’s been true,” he said.
Mark Norlander, French teacher and Bergstrom’s long-standing friend, said that “Rev B” shows his love for God in his day to day actions. He shows his faith “by being a person who listens to people without judging them,” said Norlander.
“He is not a judgemental person, but he is a very loving person and is very accepting of everyone, regardless of their faith or whether they have faith or not. I think he exemplifies Christ’s love in that way.”