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Cougar Valley renames gym to honor Eklund

(From left) Greg Cleven, Steve Anderson, cardboard cutout “afro Eklund,” Glenn Eklund, Julietta Hokanson, Rita Eklund and Chris Visserman celebrate Glenn Eklund’s retirement at a send-off assembly Tuesday.  - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
(From left) Greg Cleven, Steve Anderson, cardboard cutout “afro Eklund,” Glenn Eklund, Julietta Hokanson, Rita Eklund and Chris Visserman celebrate Glenn Eklund’s retirement at a send-off assembly Tuesday.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

A poster of Muhammad Ali, marked with a hand-written phrase, hangs near the entrance of the Cougar Valley Elementary School gymnasium.

“Work to achieve your goals,” the phrase reads.

Glenn Eklund’s words encourage hard work and a “can-do” attitude in the classroom — and gym.

His impact on Cougar Valley is evident, and in recognition of his work, the school renamed the gym “Eklund Gymnasium” at a send-off assembly Tuesday.

And it was all a surprise.

Eklund, currently the physical education teacher at Cougar Valley, will retire after this school year. He has been an educator for 31 years, including 16 at Cougar Valley.

Now, a plaque reading “Eklund Gymnasium” will hang outside the gym walls.

“You just look around this building and you see how he has touched this school,” former Green Mountain Elementary School Principal Greg Cleven said. “He is a teacher, role model and leader.”

Cleven originally hired Eklund to be a classroom teacher at Green Mountain, but soon after, he realized Eklund belonged in a gym.

“He’s always getting a child to give their best,” Cleven said. “I encouraged him to get out and pursue his (physical education) interests.”

That’s how Eklund landed at Cougar Valley.

“I’ve had the greatest job in the world,” Eklund said. “It’s about the kids, so it’s a really hard decision to leave.”

Former Cougar Valley principal Steve Anderson, current principal Chris Visserman, PTA members, staff and students, and Eklund’s wife, Rita, all attended Tuesday’s assembly.

“He really steps up and inspires our kids to be great,” Visserman said. “He holds them to very high standards, but also supports and nurtures them.”

Eklund has a unicycle class before school, organizes pumpkin runs, field day and barn dances, and teaches all the usual elementary sports — kickball, four-square, basketball and soccer.

“He’s a good teacher,” third-grader Cody Spiegel said. “He plays lots of games with us.”

Students who are eager to learn, Eklund said, make teaching both enjoyable and rewarding.

“It’s great to have my name on a plaque, but more importantly, I hope that the kids will carry something away (from my class),” he said.

By encouraging students to analyze their mistakes and be persistent in learning, Eklund said he believes his lessons can be applied outside the classroom.

“I think that sometimes you’re the best at the things you’re not (originally) great at,” he added.

While finding a replacement will be a tall order, Eklund’s motto is solidified at the school.

“If you do your best, you’re always a winner,” third-grader Trevor DeClerk said.

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