Frazee native impacted kids as an FFA advisor, ag and science teacher
By Robert Williams
Doug Schwarzrock has spent many years at Frazee-Vergas High School as both a graduate of the Class of 1979 and a teacher since 1985. He is retiring at the end of this school year.
Schwarzrock left Frazee in 1979 for Fargo to attend North Dakota State University with plans of an Agriculture Education degree. Part of attaining that degree mandated taking composite science courses.
“We had to take a lot of science courses, which at the time I didn’t see the value in,” he said. “I wondered why are they making us do this?”
In the future, those science classes would come in handy as a vital component to remaining at Frazee High.
“I’m glad they did,” said Schwarzrock.
Upon completing his degree, Schwarzrock took an ag teaching job in Enderlin, N.D.
“At that time, in the tail end of the 70’s the job economy was terrible. We were just happy to find a position that was not too far away.”Doug Schwarzrock
A job much closer to home appeared two years later.
“The ag position in Frazee opened up, so I applied for it,” he said. “I think I was home for the Fourth of July and somebody gave me a phone call. I got busy, pulled everything together and applied for it and got the job.”
Schwarzrock began his teaching career at FHS in the 1985-86 school year and was an ag teacher for the next 22 years. Despite two decades on staff, Schwarzrock had the least experience teaching alongside Ken Hammer when the district announced they were cutting an ag teaching position.
Current superintendent Terry Karger was the high school principal at the time and approached Schwarzrock about a change in disciplines.
“Terry pulled me in and said, ‘I see you have quite a few science courses. From what I can tell, you probably wouldn’t need to do that much to become a science teacher.’ He gave me that opportunity and I enrolled at Bemidji State the following summer,” said Schwarzrock.
After two courses and required testing, Schwarzrock made the transformation from ag to science teaching.
“I made it through all of that,” he said. “At first, when it happened, it seemed like ‘what’s happening to me?’ Once I got into it and started with it, I really came to like it and really started enjoying it.”
There were familiarities between the two disciplines, but it was definitely a change.
“I kind of worked my way into earth and life science. Life science isn’t that much different than some of the agriculture classes; there’s still biology and genetics. Earth science was a bit different.”Doug Schwarzrock
Schwarzrock survived a rather ironic twist in his life being forced to take science classes in college that ended up saving his job in Frazee years later. In fact, he adapted and turned it into a big positive.
“It worked out really well and I’m happy it happened,” he said. “Sometimes when a door closes another one opens up really quickly and that was the case here.”
Being pliable and able to adapt to changes in his career mirrored changes over the course of three decades teaching both classes. Technology was the biggest changing factor in both.
“Technology just continually changes and that’s one thing I’ve enjoyed with both agriculture and science,” said Schwarzrock. “It isn’t static. It isn’t the same ol’ thing over and over again. It’s continuously changing and kind of makes you really have to pedal to keep up. As an ag and science teacher, I never quit taking classes. I’ve been continually going to workshops and classes. I’ve really grown to enjoy them. It’s always something new and exciting and it’s kept things fresh.”
Schwarzrock grew up on a small dairy farm 20 miles out of town.
“We just worked really hard on the farm and that was our focus, farm and agriculture and that’s where I thought I was going to end up,” he said.
Schwarzrock was in band and FFA at FHS, but had little time for anything else because of chores around the family farm.
“That was my whole life and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do when I graduated,” he said. “I wasn’t even sure if I was going to go to school.”
A faculty member at FHS changed his perspective and helped steer him toward his career.
“My senior year, we had a student teacher in the ag department that was a Vietnam vet. He was just a really nice guy and I got along with him great. One day, he pulled me aside and said, ‘You should really go to school to be an ag teacher.’ That was a big turning point for me. It just kind of happened, out of the blue, it just happened. I don’t know how to explain it. Things just fell into place.”Doug Schwarzrock
Serendipity played a roundabout role throughout the rest of his career, along with key individuals at FHS and surrounding schools.
“It’s been a positive experience and as I’ve reflected back and I think back to some of the people that helped me get over the next hurdle,” he said. “When I first started, Ken Hammer was a big influence on me. I really relied on him as a mentor.”
Hammer and Schwarzrock, along with the FFA organization, left a special legacy that can be seen around town planting 1.2 million trees around the area.
“That is nice to see as I drive through the community now,” he said. “Over by Eagle Lake, that was one of the earlier jobs we did, that big pine forest out there by highway 10.”
Schwarzrock collaborated east on highway 10 with Perham’s Arnie Rethemeier, who recently passed away in March.
“He was just a huge influence,” said Schwarzrock. “He was a father figure and he knew how to do everything.”
The transition from ag to science presented a test for the teacher.
“It was very scary,” he said. I would say the first year or two were bumpy because I didn’t have the depth. That’s one thing that is really valuable after you’ve been somewhere a while. You build up your repertoire or depth so you’ve got some things to fall back on and you’ve got more experience you can share with the kids.Doug Schwarzrock
“As I moved into science, the science teachers here really helped me and I really have to give a shoutout to Tim Riley, who was here at the time, he shared lessons and helped me out. Chuck and Julie Wake were great, they helped mentor me through some things and shared information and made it a whole lot easier too.”
The decision to retire from teaching and being an FFA advisor for 38 years took some time and the pandemic also added to the timing.
“It took me some hand wringing,” Schwarzrock said. “I enjoy what I do and I’ve spent all these years with the FFA organization and I really love that. I guess I just got to a point where I knew I was eligible and I’ve been eligible for a little while. After COVID, I did not want to leave like that, so I decided I’m going to go one more year and I want a good, normal year before I leave and thank God we had it.”
The pandemic year was tough in the classroom and negated the entire FFA competition schedule.
“That was the most difficult thing of my career,” he said. “We lost all of the fun stuff. We lost all of our labs and our activities and were down to just what we could do online. It’s not the same. FFA was a heartbreaker. In all my years, that was the only time we didn’t have state and national competitions.”
Schwarzrock is looking forward to doing some traveling with his wife Cheryl, who was key to him pursuing what he loves to do.
“She really took care of the homefront, especially with what I do, I’ve been gone a lot,” he said. “She really had to keep things going at home and she did a wonderful job of it.”
The couple has three children, Ryan and Trevor, who work at Titan Machinery and daughter Kayla, who is employed by Pro Resources.
“They’re all doing different things, but all doing something related to technology and agriculture,” Schwarzrock said. “I’m very proud of them.”
While looking forward to trips south after the ice fishing season ends in winter, Schwarzrock is staying in his hometown, where he has impacted generations of families.
“I’m pretty well rooted here,” he said. “I don’t plan on leaving. I love where I live in the Wolf Lake area with 40 acres of forest and a home I like. I’ve enjoyed teaching here. Part of what I’ve enjoyed with some of the kids coming through. I’ve had their parents as students and there is one family where I’ve had the grandparents. I crossed that line. That’s part of it. Knowing who they are and where they came from. It’s a neat thing, the family tradition and history that goes with that.”