By Molly Nelson
As I was soaking in the beautiful Japanese décor, including the wooden sandals by the door, I was greeted with the big smiles and open arms of two of FDSH’s most loved teachers.
Mrs. Takatsuka, always building up confidence, “we are so glad you are back” (referring to my recent move back to Fort Dodge) and Mr. Takatuska with the kind concern, “How are you liking it?”
My afternoon at their kitchen table, in a house high on a hill, was filled with laughter, a few tears and lots of praise for the Dodger experience.
Mrs. Takatsuka tears up at what she calls the unforgettable part of teaching, the relationships.
“It was the girl who got asked to the prom, who didn’t think she would, she’d come running down the hall to tell me,” she recalled. “And the student who got a full ride college scholarship, who didn’t think it was possible and they’d call me screaming into the phone.”
Mrs. Takatsuka was a mother figure, a counselor and a friend to so many Dodgers. One example of her popularity is how she was nominated year after year by students to impart the lasting words at Senior Dinner Dance.
Her psychology course was legendary, with exercises in telepathy that made us think twice about what we were seeing and hearing. “After my class I hoped that students would look a little deeper, wouldn’t react as quickly and wouldn’t judge others as quickly.”
Mr. Takatsuka still hears about the impact of one particular Social Studies exercise. He had students write down what they would do if they had 24 hours to live. He would have them narrow their larger list down to five, then they were instructed to circle just one. Mr. Takatsuka said the one they circled almost always involved spending time with family and friends.
To conclude the exercise he offered these words of wisdom, “don’t wait until you have 24 hours, spend time with them now, tell them how much they mean now.”
Mr. Takatuska tears up as he recalls the student who told him she was grateful that the list motivated her to
tell her father she loved him because he died just days after that conversation. The exercise prompted another student to call a father she had never met. Mr. Takatsuka even talked to a former student recently, who still carries the list of five in his wallet.
“There are so many kids that I run into now that say, what you and your wife taught us was about life.”
Life started for Alan Takatsuka in Kaanapali on the Hawaiian island of Maui. He met some Iowa kids while working in the pineapple fields there and he a cousin who attended UNI, that combination prompted him to leave Maui for Cedar Falls.
“My friends were so excited to take me outside for my first snow fall,” recalls Mr. Takatsuka.
The journey to Panther country was a much shorter one for Mrs. Takatsuka. She grew up Debby Tibbits in Robins and attended Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School.
Mrs. Takatsuka says the two first met when she was a freshmen and he a senior. She always thought he was cute, but they wouldn’t start dating until a couple of years later. They were married in 1973.
After Mr. Takatsuka got back from Germany while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve, he searched for a job. Fort Dodge called back, so he interviewed.
“We were only going to live here (Fort Dodge) a couple of years,” said Mr. Takatsuka.
A couple turned into 40 and counting.
January 24th, 1982 the Takatsuka family doubled with the birth of Ryan, then 14 minutes later, Kai.
Both are in education now, which is no surprise when you have two parents who are so good at it. I asked them to tell me about the influence their parents had on their chosen careers. Ryan says from a young age he could tell how much students adored his parents.
“As a child, people (former students) would constantly be approaching my parents,” writes Ryan. He tells me he could hear the laughter and see the smiles, but when he got a little older he started listening to what the former students were saying.
“Appreciation, life lessons learned. They talked about stories my parents told and they genuinely felt that my parents cared for them, their education and their future.”
Ryan is in his 7th year teaching at FDSH. He teaches Social Studies, including 3 Psychology courses and several opportunities to touch lives, just like his parents. He even taught in his mom’s old room (Rm. #15) for the first 6 years, until departments realigned.
Kai and his husband, Benjamin Ptacek, live in Minneapolis, MN. Kai is an Academic and Career Coach at the University of Minnesota. Mom says Kai helps people with so much more than school, he helps people walk through life. Watching his parents do that inspired him.
“I could see the satisfaction my parents felt in their work,” writes Kai. “I sensed that there was little else that would give them such a sense of purpose than being educators. Good educators. People who could both challenge and support in equal measure for the betterment of each of their students.”
Mr. Takatsuka describes the last 7 ½ years of retirement as, “relaxing” and Mrs. Takatsuka enjoys doing projects around the house.
They both light up when they talk about grandson, Milo, Ryan’s 21- month-old son with wife and preschool teacher Kayla Takatsuka. Little Milo is now the benefactor of the wisdom and kindness that touched so many at FDSH.
Mr. and Mrs. Takatsuka are quick to point out how much FDSH gave them, but they gave back just as much.
Teachers motivate minds, inspire careers and provide counsel. Discussions in their classrooms can live with us decades after they’ve happened. It’s so much more than teaching.
What a heavy responsibility.
But Alan and Debby Takatsuka aren’t weighed down by it. They are lifted when they speak of it. Their sons were listening. We were listening. Thanks.
36 years at FDSH for Mr. T (1974-2010)
35 years at FDSH Mrs. T (1975-2010)
26 Mr. T’s inseam, he had to learn to shorten his own pants when he moved to Iowa from Hawaii
60 cheeseburgers in Mrs. Takatsuka’s room
50 Different ways people attempt to pronounce Takatsuka
Countless… the number of times Mrs. T has been mistaken for Asian or Hawaiian, she says it even happens in Hawaii!
The Takatsuka’s insisted I take a gift, these boxes of Macadamia nuts covered in chocolate from Hawaii. They said they give them away to everyone who comes to the house and all of the people they encounter; their pharmacist, the workers at the McDonald’s they like to go to, hotel employees and so on. It’s the way they give away the box that leaves such an impression, with such love. The boxes represent kindness, something they’ve show to thousands of FDSH students, like myself.