Sarah Ebeling | Managing Editor
Imagine traveling so far, for so long, that by the end of your career, you have basically traveled around the earth 16 times. And those miles traveled came at 60 miles a day, every school day, for 34 years.
Phil Bjorneberg doesn’t have to imagine any of it. The retiring teacher, known to most everyone as Mr. B., has made the trip from Sioux Falls to Parker thousands of times in his career.
But soon, the trips to Parker and back will stop as Bjorneberg is retiring after more than three decades as a teacher and coach.
Parker has been Bjorneberg’s first and only teaching job, something that not a lot of people can say they have done. When he graduated in 1986 from Black Hills State College, he student taught that spring in Spearfish. By July, he had only had one interview and that didn’t result in a position. And so, later that month, when he received a call for an interview in Parker, he jumped at the chance. Bjorneberg was hired and offered the position as head girls track coach, assistant girls basketball coach and high school social studies teacher.
“I also taught government, history and geography in the years and that hasn’t changed, but a few things have been added on,” he recalled.
Bjorneberg said that he was living in Sioux Falls when he got the job in Parker and stayed living with his parents as a way to save some money. It was after he moved into an apartment with a friend that he met Jennifer, who would later become his wife. The couple will celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary this summer.
It was earlier this school year that Bjorneberg said he made the decision to retire. He noted he hadn’t come into the year thinking about it, but fairly early, his thoughts began to change.
“It was never the kids! I was just tired of the little day-to-day things that I didn’t want to do another year,” he said.
Although Bjorneberg said it was always his dream to teach at Washington High School in Sioux Falls, where he had graduated, he quickly began to love Parker and see the positives of a small school setting.
“I got to know both the kids and teachers on a more personal level,” he said smiling. “But I think I stayed in the same place for so long because I lived in Sioux Falls. I know I missed a lot of things not living in the town I teach in, but being able to be in Sioux Falls has been nice to be able to separate work and living in a big city.”
And for him, the drive was never a problem. He said it was always very therapeutic.
Now that the school year is over, Bjorneberg said he will miss the daily interacting with kids, the smiling faces and the core group of teachers he has been friends with for so long, the most. And the track meets.
Track has been a huge part of Bjorneberg’s career and has been a love of his even in high school and college. He noted that he was also in basketball but it was his college track coach and track itself that became more important to him as he got older.
“I really want to thank my high school basketball coach at Washington HS (John Odney) and my college track coach at Black Hills State College (Dave Little) for being my biggest influences…both were amazing coaches and cared about each of their athletes lives outside of sports,” said Bjorneberg.
And as his passion has been evident through the years in Parker, he smiled thinking of some highlights of his career.
He said that Eliza Leloux was his first state champion in the shot put and disc her senior year. Cameron Christian was Bjorneberg’s first state champion in running and Zack Anderson was a five time state champion who won three state championships in the high jump. Athlete Karley Peters won 13 different state championships and Duane Jongeling was a three time state cross country champion. Bjorneberg said that another highlight was his cross country team winning state champs three times in a row.
“Those are a handful of the so many amazing kids that I have coached,” he said.
He noted though, that some of his all-time favorite athletes are the ones that never placed at a state meet.
“But they reached their full potential and worked hard, had fun and did everything I asked of them. They knew they weren’t going to place at a state meet, but they still loved the sport and worked hard,” Bjorneberg said.
He noted that although this year did not go as planned for him and he didn’t get to spend his last days at school teaching and coaching his kids, he doesn’t regret his decision.
“I feel bad for me but I feel really bad for the seniors and all the last memories they lost,” Bjorneberg said.
He noted he has memories to last a lifetime but one sticks with him even today. Years ago, a student told Bjorneberg he wouldn’t have graduated high school had it not been for him.
He said he was years later when this student came back and told him that he had said something positive to him, and those words kept the student from dropping out.
“I didn’t know it at the time and I don’t even know what I said. But to find that out 10 years later is pretty cool because who knows how many things you did like that that were important,” Bjorneberg said smiling.
As things wind down for Bjorneberg and he reminisces about his career, he is also excited looking forward.
A music lover his entire life and a collector of vinyl records, Bjorneberg said he hopes to start selling records online as well as working a couple days a week at a record store in downtown Sioux Falls once the pandemic slows.
He laughed, explaining when he got married, he had over 1000 records, but now, his collection is down to about 400-500.
Sarah Ebeling | Managing Editor