A man who served the Cambridge-Isanti School District for 27 years in various capacities, including secondary school principal, will be honored with a special event in May.
Former students, athletes, staff members and the community are invited to an Open House/Reunion in honor of Conway A. Thompson.
The event will be held Saturday, May 19, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Cambridge Intermediate School Auditorium, with a special program beginning at 3 p.m.
The open house is being coordinated by committee members Lois Tureen, Howard Arneson, George Larson and Bob Salo.
Thompson began with the school district in 1951 as a teacher of world history and business classes, and served in this capacity until 1959.
He became secondary school principal (grades 7-12) in 1959 and remained as principal until his retirement from the district in 1978.
“When I think of Conway’s contributions to education, the following theme comes to mind, ‘We live what we learn … We become what we experience,’” said Salo, who worked with Thompson beginning in 1967. “Conway initiated immeasurable waves of innovative ideas and his legacy connects well to the fundamental truths of ‘best practice’ education that we all share in Cambridge-Isanti public schools today.”
Arneson, who worked in the maintenance department and as a business official in the district, worked with Thompson when he first arrived in Cambridge.
“He was a teacher and as things opened up he became a principal, and he was excellent at that,” Arneson said. “He was always good at the district board meetings, was very conscientious and paid attention to what he was doing. Kids always came first to him.”
Larson felt Thompson was a good educator.
“Conway is an outstanding individual, a great communicator with both his students, parents and peers, and a great golf coach,” Larson said. “He was a well-rounded guy and did well in athletics, in both his high school and college career, and during his time in Cambridge.”
Tureen met Thompson long before he came to Cambridge as he was a friend of her husband, Jerry.
“Conway was a class act, and he remains that today,” Tureen said. “I was hired in 1956 for a teaching/coach position in Cambridge, and Conway had much to do with that. We were often on a golf course, eating pizza after games or going on fun short trips. ‘The guys’ spent much time together. Whether on the golf course, the gym and throughout the community, Conway was a presence, and respected by everyone who crossed his path. What a great friend he is.”
Thompson’s wife Rhea said she and her husband ran into one of Thompson’s teachers at their church in Big Lake.
“When we ran into this teacher at Saron Lutheran Church, the teacher said Conway would not only introduce new programs, but would be down in the trenches with us,” Rhea said. “I think that says a lot.”
Time at Gustavus, Navy
Following his 1941 graduation from Cumberland High School in Cumberland, Wis., Thompson enrolled in Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn.
Right before Christmas of his sophomore year of college, Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in December of 1942.
He headed to San Diego, Calif. for radar naval training, and after graduating from there, he went on to San Francisco, Calif. for more radar training. He played basketball with the U.S. Basketball team at San Francisco. He also sang in the U.S. Naval Choir at Great Lakes Naval Training Center.
Thompson was assigned radar duty aboard the U.S. Escambia in the South Pacific during World War II. After many months aboard the tanker, it ran into high temperatures and hot water. Thompson, who had been burdened with asthma his entire life, started having problems breathing.
He was honorably discharged, and headed back to Gustavus, and completed his history major in 1947. Also in 1947, Thompson earned the Schleuder’s Award for best athlete and scholar at Gustavus.
Following graduation from Gustavus, Thompson taught in Fulda, Minn. until being hired by the Cambridge School District in 1951.
Arriving in Cambridge
Thompson explained he got a call from a professor at Gustavus explaining Cambridge was looking for a new basketball coach.
“I had no idea where Cambridge was, and had never been to Cambridge in my entire life,” Thompson explained. “I basically came up here not really knowing anyone. I met Superintendent G. G. Kottke and I liked what I saw. I also liked the fact it was a Scandinavian community. I signed the contract that day.”
Thompson always looked at the best interests of the students, and the district.
“Conway always had a vision of what the big picture was, and how it would all fit together,” Salo said. “He was always on the cutting edge in the developmental process. His innovative ideas and his legacy is something we can all share and learn from. I’m sure that is something every one of your staff members would agree with.”
Basketball, baseball coach
Besides teaching, Thompson served as the head boys basketball coach from 1951 to 1957.
“I really loved coaching basketball, and had an excellent bunch of players,” Thompson said. “I talked to the previous coach upon my arrival and he said, ‘you should have a good year.’ I inherited a lot of good juniors, and some big players.”
Thompson was selected as a Minnesota State High Boys High School Basketball tournament official from 1964 to 1966, and also served as an officer and president of the Minnesota High School Coaches Association.
Thompson was also the head boys baseball coach from 1951 to 1957. “I played a lot of baseball growing up,” Thompson said. “We had some really good times.”
Thompson is credited for forming the golf team in Cambridge, and was head boys golf coach from 1957 to 1968. He noted the team won 10 consecutive Rum River Championships, and also went to the state tournament twice.
Thompson said he always enjoyed coaching and playing golf.
“My senior year of high school I became interested in golf,” Thompson explained. “I was serving as a caddy for a fellow from Stillwater and he said I should start playing. I talked to my dad about it, and on my birthday, June 3, I came home and there was a package for me. I opened it up and it was one club. I said ‘dad, that’s nice, but I can’t play with one club.’ I talked to my high school coach and he was able to set me up with some irons.”
Time as principal
Thompson served as secondary school principal (grades 7-12) from 1959 to 1978. He served as president of District 16 School Principals.
“I kept getting more and more comfortable in the principal position and enjoyed the students and starting new programs,” Thompson said. “I had good superintendents in Melvin Norstad and Ray Hoheisel.”
While principal, Thompson was able to travel all over the country speaking on his renowned grading system. He served as guest speaker at the National Association of Secondary Schools Principal Convention in Dallas; speaker at the Wisconsin State Chiropractors Convention; and speaker at the Minnesota State Health Convention in Brainerd.
“I personally enjoyed what I was doing, and always strived to do things better,” Thompson said. “I felt I always looked out for the best interest of the students and provided different avenues to improve educational programming. We had some success in some things, and not in others. But we were never afraid to try new things.”