Wilshire Park teacher selected as St. Anthony Villager of the Year

From left, Carl, Alexander, Elizabeth and Mauren Nowlin. Carl Nowlin was selected as the 2015 St. Anthony Villager of the Year.  (submitted photo)
From left, Carl, Alexander, Elizabeth and Mauren Nowlin. Carl Nowlin was selected as the 2015 St. Anthony Villager of the Year. (submitted photo)

ALS diagnosis cuts teaching career short

When St. Anthony native Carl Nowlin left his job teaching at Wilshire Park Elementary School to pursue a career as a corporate lawyer, it wasn't long before he was drawn back to school, only two years.

"The more I went to the office the more I thought I needed to get back to the classroom," says Nowlin, a member of the St. Anthony Village High School class of 1995.

Nowlin left his law practice behind and returned to his teaching roots in 2007.

"That's what I said when I was rehired at Wilshire Park," Nowlin says. "'I like coming home.'"

Nowlin, selected by the St. Anthony Chamber of Commerce as its 2015 Villager of the Year, has once again left Wilshire Park, where until recently he taught third grade — this time for retirement.

The 38-year-old was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in November 2014 after everything else was ruled out.

ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, causes muscle atrophy throughout the body as signal-carrying neurons break down, causing difficulty in speaking, swallowing and breathing. There is no known cure for the disease, which is eventually fatal.

Nowlin's symptoms began in August 2013 with what he calls "terrible leg cramps." He says it wasn't until January 2014 when his legs stopped working during a basketball game that he "stopped being a tough guy and I went and got it checked out."

About a year later, Nowlin says doctors told him, "You should be done [teaching] sooner rather than later." He retired from Wilshire Park on March 5.

School odyssey

A 6'5" undersized center for St. Anthony Village Huskies basketball, Nowlin says, "We played a pretty scrawny team, but we were scrappy." He says he exhausted all the math classes in high school and took some post-secondary classes, which piqued his interest in business law.

Nowlin went to Macalester College; around that time he says he caught the teaching bug. "I saw a flyer for volunteering at a St. Paul elementary school and thought I'd give it a try. It was so much fun working with younger kids."

From there, Nowlin embarked on a school odyssey: Colorado College in Colorado Springs to become a teacher; William Mitchell College of Law, to become a lawyer; Wilshire Park, Eisenhower Elementary in the Hopkins school district, and back to Wilshire Park, mixed in with the college stops.

Nowlin lives in St. Anthony with his wife Mauren and their two children, Alexander, 4, and Elizabeth, 2.

Though he says he had no prior knowledge of the Villager of the Year award, he says it's "definitely a bright spot."

"This community is so supportive, helpful, it's been amazing," Nowlin says, adding, "I'll try to spend the time I have" with family.

A part of that time will be spent keeping Alexander and Elizabeth from running off with what Nowlin calls "tools for Daddy," his means for getting around the house.

"Canes are swords," he says jokingly. "Walkers are cars."

Letters of recommendation

Students and colleagues nominated Nowlin for Villager of the Year. The chamber established the award in 1991, giving it to a St. Anthony resident who has made outstanding contributions to improve the quality of life in the community.

"Mr. Nowlin has taught and inspired students for over 12 years," seventh graders Tori Tholkes and Kaylene Kerber, wrote of Nowlin. "Over the years, he has always had a cheerful attitude and is very welcoming."

"He taught me a lot about math and how to work with tough problems in math and in everyday life," they wrote.

One of Nowlin's colleagues, Wilshire Park third grade teacher Bobbie Jo Tronsgard, wrote, "Carl will always be a teacher, he takes time every day to not only teach his 25 students, he stops students in the hall and is constantly seen teaching them too."

"In fact, he is teaching all of us as teachers, teaching us how to lead our children to be the best children they can be," Tronsgard continued. "Now, he is teaching us grace, love and perseverance as he battles the biggest battle of his life."

Nowlin says he navigated the school hallways this past year on an electric scooter.

He says he'd visit various classrooms, at one point visiting Kindergarteners and talking to them about being well-behaved. When the children were complimented on their behavior, another teacher relayed to Nowlin that one student was adamant that "the one on the car" was told of how they were doing.

"I could be known as that guy," Nowlin says.

Nowlin will be recognized at the St. Anthony Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting on Thursday, April 16. To donate to the "Nowlin Family Fund," go to www.gofundme.com/h9x3fk.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.


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