By Barbie Porter
The love of God and the Bible that Vergie Ziegler carries with her every day has impacted many lives during her years of teaching release time at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Frazee.
“There was a need and the pastor said I would be good at it, so I started teaching,” Ziegler recalled. “My husband Marlin joined me in teaching until he passed six years ago.”
Ziegler taught mostly third and fourth grade, and immensely enjoyed getting to know the children and seeing excitement in the lessons they learned. Even as she moved to the Assisted Living at Frazee Care Center she continued to teach. Then COVID-19 hit and the lessons stopped. Ziegler was confined to her quarters for the most part, and while family and friends call or visit through the window, she said it is a tough time for everyone there.
Ziegler, who is in her 90s, said her spirits were lifted when a former student took the time to write her a letter. It was Alexis Tappe on the other end of the ink.
The 2013 Frazee High School graduate who recently earned her teaching license and exercise science degree said her church was looking for people to be pen pals with residents at the care center. She quickly agreed and began writing Ziegler.
“I had release time with her, and I always felt so lucky to have had that experience,” Tappe said. “She is always upbeat, optimistic and welcoming. And when she taught, it grabbed your attention.”
The daughter of Lynne Tappe and Dale Tappe is one of many with fond memories of Ziegler.
Ashley (Bachmann) Lynne recalled how Ziegler and her husband were caring and led with gentle hands and open ears.
“Her love for God is wonderful, and her husband had the same passion for it,” she said. “They led us in the right direction with a life based in the church.”
As the Frazee High School 2013 graduate became an adult she remained in contact with Ziegler, often stopping to chat before or after church service.
“She always made it a point to reach out,” the daughter of Jason and Nancy Bachmann said. “She would ask about school, sports, life – she wanted to know how I was and it didn’t matter how old I got. I was never the typical making conversation, it was always genuine.”
Having that connection gave Lynne a stronger sense of community, and a reassurance that people cared. Ziegler’s passion for teaching also inspired Lynne to pursue a career in the field. The Menagha High School math teacher started her fourth year in the fall. She tries to use the same relationship building skills she experienced with Ziegler.
“I want my students to look back and say similar things about me,” said the New York Mills resident. “And it wasn’t just being a teacher that she impacted; I saw what a leader she is in the community and it made me want to be one, too.”
Hanna Klienfelter had a similar experience learning the lessons of the Bible from Ziegler.
“I always looked forward to going to class,” she said. “They were a grandma and grandpa figure to me, and always had a big hug waiting.”
Klienfelter is now a release time teacher at the church. While she teaches a different class than Ziegler, the hugs are still always there when they see each other.
“She taught me to serve from the heart,” Klienfelter said. “She taught me to help out no matter where God puts you. I wanted to share that lesson with kids, too.”
Because of COVID-19, the release time has been put on hold. Klienfelter said she misses the kids, and her mentor.
“We keep connected, but I miss seeing them,” she said.