Improving minds: 1 mask at a timeKeith (Bucky) Thompson, 61, made history fun when he taught at Hagen Junior High School for 38 years. His impact on the lives of students is difficult to measure. “In 38 years of teaching, thousands of kids have gone through his classroom,” said Kristal Fields, who taught with Thompson for 12 years. “He treated the kids with respect and dignity. The kids knew they could count on him, that he’d be there for him.” Thompson wanted to keep teaching, but was forced into retirement because of cancer, his wife Debby said.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Keith (Bucky) Thompson, 61, made history fun when he taught at Hagen Junior High School for 38 years.
His impact on the lives of students is difficult to measure.
“In 38 years of teaching, thousands of kids have gone through his classroom,” said Kristal Fields, who taught with Thompson for 12 years. “He treated the kids with respect and dignity. The kids knew they could count on him, that he’d be there for him.”
Thompson wanted to keep teaching, but was forced into retirement because of cancer, his wife Debby said.
Their family is arriving this week for Christmas. The family includes four children — Rock (Jenny) Thompson and their two children, Tevan and Kale of Dickinson; Brick (Stacie) Thompson of Indianapolis, Ind.; Brook and Brandy Thompson, both of Minneapolis.
Being on medical leave this academic year, Thompson’s teaching career was celebrated during a recognition party recently hosted by his colleagues at Hagen.
“Our whole family, all the kids and his 95-year-old father were there,” said Debby, who also taught at Hagen for 15 years.
Thompson taught eighth-grade U.S. history and seventh-grade geography — frequently using costumes and masks of historical characters and imaginary heroes.
“He was known for using reenactments in his classroom and would often dress as a character while teaching a lesson,” Debby said. “He made a costume as Mr. Bill, when teaching how a bill becomes law. He collected the presidents’ masks and wore them when appropriate for a lesson. He also had students role-play the Constitutional Convention and write their own constitution.”
For the party, Hagen faculty dressed in red, white and blue and wore ties that Thompson had purchased for lessons. Scott Obrigewitch and Dirk Smutzler were credited with the skit that featured the costumes. The women at Hagen presented him with a quilt displaying the T-shirts he acquired from his travels. Hagen’s retired teachers returned to sing “Proud to be an American.”
Thompson’s family prepared a slide show of his life as a son, student, husband, father, grandfather, teacher and coach.
He grew up in Ambrose and attended a one-room country school.
“He really enjoyed this because he could learn from all the subjects that were taught by the teacher at each grade level,” Debby said. “He would salvage all the books and workbooks that were thrown away at the end of each school year.”
Thompson was a frequent visitor at the town library, checking out as many books as were allowed, she said.
“He always encouraged students to read by assigning books and having them give oral book reports,” she added.
Thompson graduated from Dickinson State College and was a Savage athlete. DSU later named him an Alumni Scholar in History.
He coached many years in the football, wrestling and track programs.
“When he coached wrestling, it was on the stage at Hagen and he would have spotters to make sure the wrestlers didn’t fall off the stage,” Debby said.
He started a girls’ basketball program and a chess club at Hagen.
He organized field trips to the Knife River Indian Villages during the study of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He reinforced North Dakota government with visits to the State Capitol.
He initiated a Citizenship Day Assembly, which has become a yearly tradition at Hagen.
“We did many assemblies together and brainstormed and collaborated on lessons,” Debby said.
Summers, he applied for National Endowment for the Humanities grants to travel to historic sites. He always included Debby on the trips.
“His favorite unit was the Civil War, and he would always travel out of his way to visit a Civil War battlefield,” she said. “The last place we went was to San Antonio, Texas.”
A career highlight was being chosen a Horace Mann Abraham Lincoln Presidential Scholar and learning more about Lincoln in Springfield, Ill.
Thompson was chosen as North Dakota History Teacher of the Year. The award came with a library of books and a trip to New York City for a C-Span workshop. Locally, he was named by the Veterans of Foreign Wars as District Teacher of the Year and Dickinson Teacher of the Year in 2001.
“One of his favorite quotes is from Abraham Lincoln —‘Whatever you are, be a good one,’” Debby said. “He always strove to do his best at whatever task was before him. He encouraged his students and children to do the same every day.”
Principal Perry Braunagel presented Thompson with a gold bell at the party.
“Staff and friends got together to recognize Bucky’s achievements in the district,” he said.
Braunagel, who also coached wrestling and football with Thompson, added, “He devoted his life to education and the kids.”
Obrigewitch, who came to the party as Indiana Jones, taught 13 years with Thompson in the social studies department.
“For Bucky, teaching was a calling,” he said. “He never had a negative word about the profession — he was a true professional.”
Obrigewitch remembers the days he did role-playing in the classroom.
“He’d dress the part — he made the lesson new, fun and exciting,” Obrigewitch added. “He was not only a history teacher, he was a historian.”
Obrigewitch also referenced the many student teachers that he mentored.
“He was the type of teacher any new teacher could look up to,” Obrigewitch said.
Fields first met Thompson as a student in his seventh-grade geography class in 1981.
“He was a very enthusiastic, passionate individual,” she said. “You looked forward to the class. He had different ways for you to study and remember.”
She credits Thompson and retired teacher Frank Lewis for inspiring her to pursue social studies.
“The fact that I landed a job at Hagen, teaching opposite Bucky doesn’t happen in many people’s lives,” she said.
Teacher at home
“He was a teacher at home too,” Debby said. “He wanted to know what you were doing and he was always helping the kids.”
Debby expressed her appreciation to their Hagen family and the community for support.
“I can’t believe how many people have reached out — former students who have children in school,” she said. “We’ve gotten many cards and notes — that’s a testament to him.”
Thompson is being cared for at home by family and home-health professionals. He was unable to speak to The Press.