Janke exiting teaching stage

FAIRMONT – After 31 years teaching at Fairmont Area Schools, Cliff Janke is retiring.

Well, not completely.

“I’m still doing the high school musical this fall, and also the speech team and possibly teach two or three classes at Riverland Community College,” Janke said.

What he won’t be doing any longer is teaching vocal music at Fairmont Junior/Senior High School, and that will leave a void for the student singers … and Janke.

“I’m going to miss the relationships you have with the kids,”he said. “They’re kind, thoughtful. I always look forward to the concert choir, especially the night rehearsals. They’re so relaxed.”

Chaperoning out-of-state choir trips marked a highlight for Janke and his students.

“The kids were so grateful,” he said, explaining that many students have never traveled much. The students also were thrilled to sing at Timberwolves games.

“That’s something you can’t replicate,” Janke said.

One select group of students holds a special place in his heart.

“The special needs students – those have really given me satisfaction,” he said.

One such student approached Janke with a desire to sing as well as her siblings. But she regretfully told him she couldn’t sing. Janke worked with her, coached her and encouraged her. She eventually sang a solo at competition and received an excellent rating.

“Don’t tell me you can’t sing,” he later teased her.

“That was one of my proudest moments, but we’ve been really lucky to have some real talented students,” Janke said.

His vocal and theatrical expertise expanded into the high school musical productions.

“When I came to Fairmont, there was a tradition of good theater, but I had to beat the bushes to find enough guys [to audition],” he said.

The scarcity of male performers decreased over the years, as Fairmont students developed a tradition of outstanding musicals.

“‘Les Miserables’ – that one was probably the top for me. That and ‘Fiddler.’ But when you do it four times you ought to get it right,” Janke said with a laugh, referring to the number of times he directed “Fiddler on the Roof.”

He admits he “was leery about doing ‘Tarzan’ unless he could swing [from a vine], but that was accomplished. Jane as well. We had a blast with that,” he said of last fall’s production.

He wanted about 75 students in the cast, but the script didn’t call for that many characters.

“So I added some. We had a lot of monkeys. We added pygmies, some elephants. I wanted to get as many kids involved as possible. I tried to allow every kid to have some kind of opportunity, but I know some kids were disappointed at times.”

To soften that disappointment, he told students who auditioned that if they didn’t get a part two years in a row, he would find them a role the third time. When students reminded him of this, “They automatically got a part,” he said.

He shared his musical and directing talent throughout the community, with the Grace Lutheran Church choir and Civic Summer Theatre. Although time constraints prompted him to resign his church duties, he still will direct the summer theater this year, and again in 2015.

During his tenure in Fairmont, Janke developed a speech team that some have called “a dynasty,” but he had some help: his wife, Roxy, who joined the Fairmont teaching staff in 1997.

“We’re co-head coaches of the speech team, but Roxy’s more suited to speech,” he said.

While she has a master’s degree in speech, he is more involved with the theatrical angle.

“The nice thing is, we both do it all,” he said.

At least for another year.

Roxy plans to retire at the end of the next school term, Janke said. Then they plan to move to the Twin Cities, where their son, daughter, son-in-law and grandson live.

“Once we move to the Cities, we’ll probably kind of coast,” he said.