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Margaret (Kraft) Klessig is a shining example of the concept of "lifelong learning." When she graduated from Lakeland College in 1964 with a degree in elementary education, it was 25 years after she initially came to campus, and it capped a long, interesting journey that has always had learning at its core.
The daughter of Austrian immigrants, Margaret came to the United States with her parents in 1923 when she was not quite three. She grew up in Sheboygan, the middle of two sisters, and graduated from Central High School, then came to Lakeland (Mission House at that time) in the fall of 1938.
She attended for just one year, but that was long enough to have been selected as the first May Queen and to have made numerous friends and bonds with her professors. "I especially remember Dr. and Mrs. Bauer who were dear friends of my parents. They were expatriates, like my parents, and Dr. Bauer encouraged me to come to Mission House." Dr. Joseph Bauer was a professor of German and philosophy.
She also remembers fondly her first boyfriend, D. Frank Grether '42, a football player. "I didn't know a thing about football. I don't even know what position he played. But Frank was a wonderful person who loved nature." She remembers the joy of walking through the beauty of those woods. In later years, the woods were named after the great uncle of Margaret's beau. This uncle, also named Frank, had been a professor and ornithologist at Mission House in the early 20th century.
Margaret's life took a number of unexpected twists after 1939. She left Sheboygan to attend the University of Wisconsin School of Nursing in Madison, and two years later she met her future husband, Eddie Klessig, and announced her intention to be married upon completion of her third year. The director of the School of Nursing told her that if she was going to marry, she had to resign from school. She was stunned by this, but did what she was told. She abandoned her formal schooling, married Eddie, and started a new life as the wife of a dairy farmer in Cleveland, Wis.
Margaret kept busy during the next part of her life as a devoted mother, taking care of her large family of eight children. Her third child had Down's Syndrome, and Margaret led efforts in her rural community to advocate for children with special needs; ensuring proper schooling and care for them.
As her children grew, Margaret realized something was missing. She wanted to go back to school. She wanted to know how children learned. Filled with trepidation, she approached Lakeland and was referred to Professor of Education, Dr. Roland Koyen. "He was interested in my situation, and he gave me enormous encouragement." The college accepted many of her credits from her first experience 30 years prior, and she returned to college in her early 40s. "I thought, 'My goodness those kids are smart.' I tried not to say a peep. They tolerated me. I admired all my teachers and learned that sociology is an amazing field of study, and that world literature and drama were utterly fascinating."
After earning her degree, followed by a Masters from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, she fulfilled her dream by embarking on a 19-year teaching career, 15 of those years at Pigeon River Elementary School in Sheboygan working with fifth and sixth graders. "Every child has something to share, something to offer. This is what I so loved about teaching, being able to ignite the spark that is present in every child."
She retired at age 60 to "unscramble her house" and to garden. Near the front door of her Cleveland farmhouse, Margaret keeps a small sign that says, "Dissent Protects Democracy." She describes herself as a "pacifist and a liberal progressive." She speaks eloquently about how all change comes from the ground up, not from the top down. Her lifelong pursuit of knowledge and her enthusiasm for education—whether for parents of special needs children, for her students at Pigeon River, or for herself—make her life an example of that theory in practice. Her return to school as an older adult reminds us that it is never too late to blossom.