May 21—CHIPPEWA FALLS — Steve Roesler was overwhelmed with emotion when students and staff at McDonell Central Catholic High School threw him a surprise retirement parade Friday morning.
"It was a compete surprise," Roesler said as he fought back happy tears Friday afternoon. "It's probably the first time I thought, 'this is it.' So, it was a little emotional to walk around. The response, as kids were playing in the band, was genuine."
Roesler, 71, is retiring after 47 years of teaching social studies to grades 9-12, with all those years at McDonell.
"This is my first job. A teacher left in the middle of the year," he said. "I interviewed and got the job. I never thought of leaving."
Roesler recalled his hiring interview with the principal and priest, and how they stressed that this wasn't just a school, it was a community.
"That whole idea resonated to me," he said. "It's unspoken that people have to care about one another. I stress that in coaching; a team is a mini-community."
The teaching of the Catholic faith and those values were important to Roesler.
"It fits with my own philosophy," he said. "The faith is the main reason I'm here. It corresponds with my own beliefs. The kids keep me young and coming back. Every day is different because the kids are different."
Another thing that attracted Roesler to the school was the requirement that parents have to volunteeer in the school, whether in athletics or other events.
"It's a huge commitment that parents make," he said. "It's not just financial, it's time."
A sudden loss
Roesler was part-time for 1 1/2 years before joining the staff full-time in 1976. He also met his future wife, Deb Friermood, that year. They married in 1980, and have two children and five grandchildren..
However, Deb died suddenly from an aneurysm in 2003, and her death stunned the tightknit Catholic community. Deb, 48, was a physical education teacher, and like Steve, was a coach. She had been teaching at school that day, when she suddenly got sick and was taken to an area hospital, where she died the next day.
"The outpouring of support was gratifying and almost overwhelming," Roesler said. "She had touched all their lives, K-12. Everyone knew her. So their support was needed and appreciated."
His daughters received scholarships, and in 2019, the McDonell gym was renamed the Steve and Deb Roesler Gymnasium. One of his daughters, Kari, is a health and phy ed teacher in the MACS system.
When Roesler joined the staff in 1976, he was an assistant football coach. He became head track coach in 1979, and held that position for 37 years. He also has coached volleyball for several years, and still held that position this year.
Known to students as "sir"
Students almost never say, "Mr. Roesler." Instead, they have gotten used to calling him "sir."
Roesler explained that he had foreign exchange students from Egypt, who would always start a sentence by addressing him as "sir." Students in his class found it funny and started saying it to him all the time.
"From that time on, in 1986, that nickname stuck," he said. "When they come up to me now in public and say, 'sir,' it makes McDonell look really good."
McDonell Central Catholic High School held its graduation ceremony for 36 graduates on Friday. Roesler will still have students in class through the end of this week.
"It just felt like the right time," Roesler said of his decision to retire. "It's nothing in particular. I think I still relate well to the kids, and they relate to me."
Roesler graduated high school in 1968 from Holy Cross Seminary in La Crosse, and he graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1972 with a degree in American History and a minor in Latin.
Roesler now lives in Altoona, but he said he will still be highly visible at the school.
"I'll golf a lot in the summer. I run three days a week and walk four," he said. "And I'll come back to sub once in a while, and drive the athletic bus. And I know I'll come back to watch athletic events."
He also doesn't plan to give up coaching. His grandchildren are playing volleyball now, and he figures he will be coach on their teams for the next six years.