Mr. Degenaar observes students creating in the Fab Lab. (Jim Lynch)
Mr. Degenaar observes students creating in the Fab Lab.

Jim Lynch

After 22 Years: A Tribute to Steve Degenaar

March 18, 2016

For the last 17 years, Steve Degenaar has been principal of Apple Valley High School. But he is also so much more than that. 

He is a student of District 196, a teacher, a father, and an incredible role model to us all.  Since 1961, Mr. Degenaar has picked up his book bag every morning and influenced our entire community with his hard work and dedication. This year’s seniors will be the last class of graduates for Mr. Degenaar–he’s retiring at the end of this school year.

After 22 great years at Apple Valley, it’s finally time to tell his story. 

Growing up in District 196

Mr. Degenaar had a humble early beginning; greatness does not always start in great places. He grew up next door to us, in Rosemount.

“Rosemount was a rural, small-town, middle-of-nowhere, so my memories are going out and playing in the farm fields that were across the street from the school,” Mr. Degenaar recalls. “We spent the whole day running around outside.”

School is a tough transition for everyone. One moment we’re playing outside from dawn to dusk, and the next…we’re stuck behind a desk.

“I started kindergarten at Rosemount Elementary in 1961,” Degenaar says. “There were only three schools in District 196. First, Rosemount Middle (which was middle school and high school combined), Rosemount Elementary, and an identical school in Eagan called Northview Elementary.”

55 years ago, the district didn’t even have a full high school! Everyone in Apple Valley, Eagan, and Rosemount went to the same school all 13 years.

Mr. Degenaar says, “I remember kindergarten well:  we had nap time and milk-and-cookie time, but it was full-day every other day. The total class size was in the low 20s. After that, I spent eight years at St. Joe’s Catholic school in Rosemount. I went to eight years of school with the same 23 kids.” For high school, he went to  Rosemount High, graduating in 1974.

In 1976, Apple Valley High School opened. Mr. Degenaar was already in college, but his mom, dad and two brothers were around to see the drama that unfolded around the opening of a whole new school.

“My brother was a senior at Rosemount, and graduated in ‘77. He was involved in what was very traumatic at the time:  having the seniors come to the new school.”

The entire graduating class had to attend the new high school and separate from Rosemount High. “What makes it more interesting,” he says, “my father was on the school board from 1973 to 1978, when this school was being designed. He was part of the decision to split the senior class.”

From a very young age the education system influenced Mr. Degenaar. “My dad was a teacher. He would drag me to the athletic events and I grew up with that lifestyle. I knew in high school I wanted to be a teacher because I had a great experience at Rosemount High.”

Teaching young minds

In college, at Gustavus Adolphus, Mr. Degenaar dived right into polishing his own education to be the best teacher he could be. “I had a degree as a social studies teacher after 1978, and started teaching in a very small, rural, farming community in southern Minnesota called Harmony. I still remember how kids would come to school and park a tractor in the lot. I’d never seen anything like that before.”

After a year in Harmony, he moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he taught 8th grade world geography and coached basketball. In 1980, Scott Highlands Middle School opened and, through some old high school connections, he got the job as an 8th grade geography teacher back in District 196. 

“When I taught at Scott Highlands, there were no walls. I could look out my room and see eight classrooms one way and six the next. My room was ten feet away from the cafeteria, and every day after lunch they would vacuum. The noise was an issue in an open school.”

Teaching is a learning experience, not only for the students. Mr. Degenaar had a lot to handle when first teaching middle schoolers in Iowa but as time went on, he learned to juggle the demands and the joys of the job.

“My funniest experience when teaching was somehow getting roped into coaching soccer. I never played or coached, so I had to buy a book. Luckily I had the A-team kids so they knew what to do. I learned soccer from them.”

He continued to teach and coach at Scott Highlands and, later on, Rosemount High, as he went back to college to get his master and specialist degrees in secondary school administration.

Mr. Degenaar with teachers and community members from Apple Valley.
Steve Degenaar
Mr. Degenaar with teachers and community members from Apple Valley.

He originally planned to teach in the district for 20 years and then get an administrative job, but with a lucky turn of events in 1989, he landed the position of assistant principal at Simley High School. After only 11 years of teaching, he was already on the path to becoming a principal.

Five years later, he applied for the assistant principal position here at Apple Valley, and the rest is history.

Principal at The Apple Valley High School

Mr. Degenaar and Apple Valley community members visit the Fab Lab.

Jim Lynch

Mr. Degenaar and Apple Valley community members visit the Fab Lab.

Gary Embretson was the second principal at AVHS, and the man who helped hire Mr. Degenaar in 1994. Mr. Embretson retired in 1999 and passed the torch to Mr. Degenaar.

“It’s been a great career (as principal),” said Degenaar.  “I loved teaching in the classroom, but the opportunity came knocking. I was the youngest assistant principal, at 32 years old, in Minnesota at the time–it’s been a long career in administration.”

He describes the job as “knowing a little bit about a lot of stuff.” It’s true–in 17 years as principal there probably isn’t anything he hasn’t dealt with.

“All the issues of the school come through my office at some point. Ideas come here and sometimes die here.”

Mr. Degenaar is like our president:  the man never gets a rest!  “It doesn’t matter if I’m at church, a basketball game, or the grocery store,” he says. “One of the biggest reasons I’m retiring is because of the hours–it’s a consistent 65-hour work week. Just like I expected.”

Always staying true to his roots, Mr. Degenaar says, “I didn’t realize at the time, even back as a student in the early 70’s, that District 196 did things better than most school districts. I didn’t know that until college, when I realized how prepared I was for little things like writing research papers. Even when I left the district, I always knew I wanted to get back in the game here. At Simley, it wasn’t the same as being here in 196. After the position of assistant principal opened at Apple Valley I thought I died and went to heaven.”

On top of being a principal and teacher, Mr. Degenaar coached basketball and baseball for a number of years, but ‘Principal’ is still the best. He says, “There are so many rewards that come with the job. The state tournaments, the events in the theatre, our speech and debate team…the list just goes on. We are an exceptional school in an exceptional district.”

His kids Kelsey and Casey.
Steve Degenaar
His kids Kelsey and Casey.

But the journey isn’t ending here for Mr. Degenaar. “I’m going to look for a job this fall; I’m going to work a few more years. It will not be more than 40 hours a week, I can promise you that. I want to spend more time with my family. With my wife, Angie–our 30th wedding anniversary is coming up on June 7th. We have two wonderful kids.  My daughter Kelsey is 26–she’s a graphic artist in Bloomington. And my son Casey is a senior at the U–he’s an English major but now he’s trying to get into law school.”

And he already has some plans for this summer. “My family and I are going to Germany for three weeks, and when we come back I’ll look for a part-time social studies teaching job. It would be really cool to end my career the way it started. It could be 8th grade world geography again.

“Or if not I could drive for Uber.”

His Impact on Us


Steve Degenaar

Steve and Angie

Mr. Degenaar’s impact on the Apple Valley community has been incredible. From students to teachers, he has reached not only our minds, but our hearts.

Junior Claire Doty tells a story about when she auditioned for a part in a Children’s Theatre play: “If I would have got the part I would have missed 30 days of school. My family and I met with Mr. Degenaar to see if it was even possible, and he was so supportive. He knew that I could handle my school work and remain committed to my dreams. He was willing to work it out so that I could still get the credits for graduation.”

Mr. Degenaar takes time for all students and members of the Apple Valley community. He is extremely busy, working basically 24/7, but he can always find time for the students.

Senior Kate Mattison says, “I sat next to him on the plane to New York for our choir trip; he was such a great traveling companion! He said ‘I’m coming on this trip as a chaperone, but I guarantee you will never see me.’ He was right, I didn’t! Mr. Degenaar is so supportive of both the athletics and the arts here at Apple Valley. I see him everywhere: at the state basketball games and at Broadway. He is committed to his students’ lives.”

From arts to academics, the Triple-A philosophy holds a special place in Mr. Degenaar’s heart. He takes time to recognize all excellent members of our community.

Frankie Kelly, also a senior, says, “He’s a responsible leader that always looks to help his students. He is a great role model for the future minds of our community.”

Assistant Principal Michael Bolsoni says, “One of the reasons that I love working at AVHS is because of our principal.  His leadership style is consistent, thoughtful, and open-minded.  He listens to many different perspectives before making a decision, and also analyzes data to solve problems and measure improvement.  I feel very fortunate to have Mr. Degenaar as a colleague and mentor!”

Mr. Degenaar is a mentor to many students and teachers here at Apple Valley wether he knows it or not. Both administrators and teachers alike are thankful for his leadership.

“I have been honored to work with Mr. Degenaar as both a teacher and administrator at Apple Valley High School.  I will always be grateful for his trust in me,” athletic director Pete Buesgens says.  “As a teacher, he allowed me to be creative in designing and implementing classes and curriculum that we believed would benefit students.  As an administrator, he has trusted me to handle situations and implement programs that we knew were good for students and families.  That trust has pushed me to be better because I didn’t want to let him down.  He has been a tremendous role model and leader, and AVHS will miss him.”

Mr. Buesgens said it best:  “AVHS will miss him.” Wherever you go after this, Mr. Degenaar, you will always have a place in our hearts here at Apple Valley.

I encourage you to leave your stories and messages to Mr. Degenaar in the comments!


Finally, here are some fun facts about Mr. Degenaar:

  •    Favorite Board Game: Monopoly
  •    Favorite TV Show: Big Bang Theory
  •    Favorite color: Blue
  •    Favorite store: Any sports stores
  •    Worst job: A summer college job at ‘Contract Beverages.’ “We bottled soda, sometimes it would explode. It was back in the time of returnable bottles, and you wouldn’t imagine the kind of stuff we found in them. From dead mice to moldy pizza, and it all had to be cleaned out by us.”
  •    Favorite Job: Principal at Apple Valley High School
  •    Personality Type: “concrete sequential person”
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  • D

    Diane Geiger-RodriguezJun 3, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Where do I start?

    You have given my children the confidence and support that they needed and wanted during their high school years…we are going to miss you, dearly!

    Diane Geiger-Rodriguez
    Whitney Geiger
    Wyatt Geiger

  • A

    Abraham m alraiApr 5, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    He was a great principal,always said hello to me and very likable, handled every situation well in our school when I was there whether it was closing the doors at lunch time I agreed with that idea, poor grandma getting run over or going to eastview high school and apologizing for the spray paint. He was a nice guy and a good principal wish him the best class act thank you for being a great principal.

  • L

    Laurie MeyerMar 20, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Thanks for the great article. Thank you for all your years of leadership of this great school. I feel blessed to have all three of my daughters graduate under your watch!

  • T

    Theresa KuhnMar 18, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you for writing such a great tribute to amazing person, teacher, and principal. He is one of the most patient, hard-working, and supportive people I know. People feel listened to, and affirmed around him. He is someone who models commitment and dedicated to education. We are lucky to have such a leader. Keep writing those great articles, Talonites!