When Rick Ellingworth walks out of his office at Redwood Valley schools this week, it will be the first time in more than four decades that he has not directly been involved in impacting the lives of local students.
Ellingworth, who started in education in 1976 after graduating from Bemidji State University, was hired that year as a teacher and coach in Redwood Falls, and he spent his entire career in the same school district climbing the ladder and serving for 28 years as the Superintendent of Schools.
Education began for Ellingworth in Faribault where he started Kindergarten.
“I fell in love with my teacher, Mrs. Thompson,” said Ellingworth with a smile.
Then his parents bought a farm when he was in the fifth grade. His educational experience continued in Morristown.
The message of the value of education was something Ellingworth heard at home, adding if there was ever a question his parents sided with those at the school.
“My parents and the teaching staff were always on the same page,” he said.
Ellingworth heard that message loud and clear, and it, along with the impact educators and coaches had on his life, led to his future career.
Growing up on a dairy farm, Ellingworth learned a number of valuable lessons which would continue to be an influence on him as a teacher, coach, parent and administrator.
The importance of hard work was instilled in him at an early age, as was personal responsibility.
The lesson of stepping up in times of challenge came to Ellingworth in a less than ideal situation for the family. His dad got sick.
“He got the wrong kind of lupus,” Ellingworth said.
Ellingworth was in ninth grade when his dad passed away, and from that time forward he took on much more of the tasks on the farm working side by side with his mom.
He recalls days when he would get up early in the morning to milk the cows and then haul the milk to the creamery, all before he went to school.
Then after a full day of school and sports practice, Ellingworth would go home and do it all over again.
Ellingworth expressed his appreciation for those teachers who took him under his wing, adding he truly appreciated the relationship he had with his football coach.
“When I look back I experienced a lot of real life at a very young age,” said Ellingworth.
After high school, Ellingworth went off to college where he competed for the Bemidji State football team and earned a degree in business education.
Ellingworth admitted he was not sure for much of his college experience what he was going to do, but in the end he determined to pursue a degree in business focusing on education.
“I liked accounting,” he said, “and I liked to be with people.”
After all, he thought, if the teaching thing would not work out, he would at least have some business knowledge that he could use in some other career.
Ellingworth knew very little about Redwood Falls when he came for his interview with Thomas Lykens, school superintendent, Iver Christopherson, school principal, and Dale Scholl, athletic director.
“It rained all day,” Ellingworth said, adding he recalls being soaking wet during the interview.
Ellingworth was offered a job teaching in the business department, and soon after he and his new wife, Jan, moved to town.
“Redwood Falls was bigger than Morristown,” he said, adding, however, from the day they arrived it felt like home.
Ultimately, Ellingworth was also offered the opportunity to coach the football team.
“I was 25 when I started, and at that time in the Southwest Conference that was unheard of,” Ellingworth said.
Naturally, Ellingworth had big plans for the football team. Those plans did not work out at first, but Ellingworth soon discovered what was needed.
“I was blessed with some great assistant coaches,” he said, adding it was when he swallowed his pride and started delegating some roles to those coaches that the team started seeing success.
Over the years, Ellingworth climbed the leadership ladder in the local school district working as athletic director for a number of years and later serving as junior-high principal.
Then the board took a chance and offered him the job as the school’s superintendent.
At first Ellingworth declined the offer, but in the end he was convinced to give it a try.
Nearly three decades later, Ellingworth has led the district through the good times as well as a number of challenges.
“I feel blessed to have been in this position as long as I was,” Ellingworth said, adding since 1935 there have been four superintendents in the local school district – Reede Gray, Lykens, Gary Swenson and him.
Ellingworth credited the leadership of the school board over the years with any success the school has experienced, adding the board was always on the cutting edge looking out for the best interest of students, the staff and the community.
Ellingworth expressed his appreciation to those who entrusted him with the privilege of leading the district.
“Trust is a gift,” he said.
While Ellingworth is stepping down from his role this week, the local school district will always be part of him.
He is “forever a Cardinal.”