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Saying goodbye to world traveling school librarian

By taking just one step into the media center at Rocky Branch Elementary School, a visitor can't help but notice the warm, striking colors on the walls and other parts of its decor.

The soft peach shades, bold magentas, and country blues blend into a peaceful, relaxed and cozy space.

What's even better is that within those walls you'll find an even more colorful person when you speak with the center's library media specialist, Trygve Aarsheim.

Aarsheim has been Rocky Branch's one and only librarian since the school opened in fall 1991. Through his guidance and perseverance, he's managed to create a comfortable media center that draws in young readers like a magnet.

To enhance those inviting colors, Aarsheim has, over the years, collected items that complement the large open spaces of the media center.

There's a painting of a giant life-like rose; there's a very large artistically crafted mobile suspended from the ceiling with abstract shapes and multi-layers that gracefully dance as air currents shift; and there are the realistic-looking stuffed animals that line the top shelves around the room which also sports a sizeable collection of teddy bears.

Aarsheim will retire in a few more weeks, but not without leaving a definite impression on his students and Rocky Branch's teaching staff.

"I had to build the library from scratch," said Aarsheim. "We had so few books that we had to place them face forward so they'd take up space," he said with a smile.

Aarsheim remembers the numbers: "When we first started out we had 5,000 (books) and now, 16 years later, we have close to 14,000..."

Not always a librarian

Though he's spent most of his career as a librarian, Aarsheim has also taught. Before Rocky Branch, he spent nine years teaching at Greenwood Elementary School.

When Rocky Branch opened, Aarsheim had recently completed continuing education courses that made him eligible to be hired as a librarian. But just like all other teachers within the school district who wanted to teach at the newly built school, Aarsheim had to apply for a transfer.

"I had to fill out an application and be interviewed just like everyone else," he said.

One part of his goal was reached. Following an interview Aarsheim learned that he'd be switched to Rocky Branch, but as a third grade teacher -- not library media specialist.

Aarsheim wasn't too surprised. He'd had no experience as a librarian. Soon, however, that changed when he was offered the librarian position after all.

Norwegian beginnings

When asked what made him want to become a teacher, Aarsheim went back to his early Norwegian beginnings. Aarsheim was born to Norwegian missionary parents who, at the time of his birth, had unfortunately landed in a Japanese concentration camp in northwest China. It had been a time of war, but fortunately they left with their lives intact when Aarsheim was just a few months old.

Back in Norway, his mother, who was a teacher, home-schooled the young Trygve.

"I never thought about being a teacher back then," said Aarsheim. "I had the notion that teaching was maybe beyond me."

When it came time for a college education, Aarsheim immigrated to the United States and attended Moorhead State College, now known as Minnesota State University-Moorhead (Minn.)

Of that life-changing event, in the mid-1960s, he says: "(I) arrived in Minneapolis at my sister's doorstep with $25 in my pocket."

To earn tuition money, the multi-lingual Aarsheim began working at a foreign language camp with middle and high school students. He soon learned that teaching wasn't as beyond him as he thought. He found the time working with younger students enjoyable.

And so it came to pass. After earning a teaching degree, Aarsheim found himself teaching in Taipei, in Taiwan; at a Park Rapids (Minn.) middle school; for the Sons of Norway, a fraternal society in Minneapolis; and finally at Greenwood Elementary School in River Falls.

Wonderful Rocky Branch

Aarsheim says he's reaped many benefits since coming to work at Rocky Branch.

He said he's thrilled when he reads "...a story and the children sit attentively and then they spontaneously clap when I'm finished. That tells me that literature and stories are loved."

He said going to work is not a difficult task.

"Rocky Branch is a wonderful place to come to work," said Aarsheim. "Being part of a school from its very beginning and building something from nothing has given me pride in the accomplishments of not only myself, but also the wonderful staff of teachers here."

When he retires he'll miss his many acquaintances at the school.

"I'll miss the adults and children both," Aarsheim said. "I'll miss the work I've done, working with my friends, colleagues and of course, the students."

Looking back, Aarsheim says he hopes he's instilled "...a love of reading..." in all the young students that have come and gone during his 16 years at the school.

"I hope I've taught them that there's no selection (of book) that's not worthwhile."

School bell

Visitors who haven't been to Rocky Branch School in a while will immediately notice a new addition to the outside of the building. It's a bright and shiny school bell that hangs in an opening of the school's main entryway canopy. The bell is surrounded by wrought iron scroll-work, creating a simple, yet elegant look to the whole "accessory."

The bell is a gift from Aarsheim to the school.

"Every school needs a school bell," said Aarsheim about his donation -- a traditional symbol of education.

The bell was rung for the first time by Aarsheim during a "Manners Parade" held May 11 on the school grounds. Aarsheim rang it signaling the start of the occasion.

Coming up

Just because Aarsheim is retiring, doesn't mean he'll give up his love of books.

"I hope to keep connected to libraries and books by doing some volunteer work," he said. That way he can "...keep in tune with books and the newest trends in children's literature."

And he'll also be able to catch up on chores around the house that have been patiently waiting for his attention.

"Living in the country," -- Aarsheim and his wife Vicki live in a more rural part Ellsworth -- "There's lots of projects to do."

Vicki and Trygve now consider themselves empty-nesters, having raised three children -- Marit, Tina and Karl -- and are the proud grandparents of four youngsters, ages 3-11.

Reach Vera Roy-Stoeberl at 426-1046 or vroy@rivertowns.net.