Southeast District ACE Award

Sue Franke


By Sue Franke

In 1995, I became the new 7-12 Choir director in Cannon Falls, MN. It is a small community of over 4000 people about half way between Rochester and St Paul. Prior to that I taught 13 years in Iowa. After I took the job, an Iowa colleague came up to me and said, “I hear you took a job in Cannon Falls, MN.” I replied proudly, “Yes I did.” He had the look of really…..why? Yes, I had taken a pay cut and it was a much smaller school, 125 students versus 400. I simply stated that I really didn’t care what the program was like, but I sure liked the location. He said well the kids seemed nice but he had given them a three at contest. I thought to myself, here we go. I also thought about my quality of life. I knew I would enjoy being close to the Twin Cities. I had just biked my first RAGBRAI across Iowa, Stanton Airport (I had my pilots license) was only 6 miles away, Welch Village was near as well as a couple of golf courses. It seemed like a great fit.

It didn’t take long before I realized that there were many needs at the school. Maybe I should have cared about more than just location, location; but coming from Iowa and being the oldest of 12 farm kids, I knew that if I built it, they would come. If I put in the work, kids would get involved in the choir program. Right off the bat, I was told by a 7th grader that I wasn’t teaching correctly. We sing with tapes and we don’t do solfege. I smiled. We are now Facebook friends!

On closer examination of my equipment, the upright piano needed to be retired. I had a small PV sound system with four blue microphones, robes with broken zippers that weren’t the school colors and piles of music everywhere. I got to work. In three months I had mirrors on the walls, a 1950 Kawai used grand piano, and 100 new robes. I must have been possessed. Over time I bought posture chairs, six per year with capital outlay until I had 70, and then that went away due to declining budgets. In the meantime, the CFEA was growing.

After a couple of years, it was time to put in a new request. The sound system funding came easy, because people realized what we had was under par. They wanted to hear their kids perform. The Yamaha Clavinova was a different story. The CFEA would pay for half and the school picked up the other half. In time I bought another Clavinoa with a USB since floppy disks were discontinued. Again the CFEA Foundation said that they would pay for half, but I had to find the rest of the funding which took about a week after making requests in the community. After 14 years on the job, I was asked, if the sky was the limit, what would I like to have for the music department? I said a new concert piano, Steinway B. My wish was granted. Eventually I received new risers and shells through other fundraising efforts. In 2009 they added a field house to the school plus a 500 seat auditorium. It was exciting because now I didn’t have to beg the physical education department to use the gym.

As small schools go, funding for the auditorium was there, but things like the lights and other accessories were put in at a minimum. People would comment and I would say yes we need more lights. Word travels fast in a small community. The fire department donated $2500 to start the project. The Henkel Corporation approached me with a check for $11,500. After receiving money I decided to put in a request to the foundation. I felt I had a better chance of getting my request OK’d if I had already secured funding from outer sources. The CFEA came through with $20,000 of the $30,000 requested. The head maintenance man was so happy to hear about the donations. $34,000 to fix some of the lighting problems was a gift from heaven. He thanked me for getting it done. I retired June 7th after 40 years of teaching. Upon retiring, my goal was to leave my program in a better place than when I started.

My advice to younger directors who have program needs:

  • Don’t take no for an answer.
  • ACDA is awesome, get involved, network, and keep learning
  • Get out of your comfort zone.
  • Bigger isn’t necessarily better. There are needy kids everywhere.
  • Live in the community that you teach in. If you invest, they will invest in you.
  • Be visible.
  • Find the organizations in your community that donate.
  • Be down to earth.
  • Adapt to changes. PSEO, grad rule, Professional learning communities, online classes AP classes, sports and other activities, declining enrollment, principals, superintendents, athletic directors, school boards are all things all of us are dealing with. These things are fluid.
  • Be patient.

In closing I want to thank the CFEA, but I also want to publicly thank the Cannon Falls community for their support throughout my tenure. I have been one lucky girl to land in this community.

At my final concert, many alumni showed up, unbeknownst to me, and surprised me with a couple of pieces. As they ascended to the stage, my family heard someone remark behind them. That’s LOVE!