Tracy’s Bulldog

Colleagues, former students reflect on the life of Mr. Marben — one of most popular and well-respected figures to ever grace the halls of Tracy Area High School

By Per Peterson

“That’s the way the pickle squirts!”

Anyone who attended Tracy Area High School between the late 1960s and mid-1980s will likely be able to tell you who delivered that line to unsuspecting students — many who may have had to take a few minutes to understand just what exactly the axiom meant.

The quote was one of many “Marbenisms” exclaimed by former high school principal Art Marben, who died Saturday in Apple Valley at the age of 95.

“Mr. Marben touched the lives of thousands of students and staff during his career,” said Marben’s colleague, former TAHS Supt. Harold Remme. “He believed in doing the right things and doing things right. He selflessly gave of his time and talents to the Tracy school and the Tracy community. I can’t think of anyone I respect more and (I) will cherish the memories we had as co-workers and friends. My memory recalls hundreds of those Marbenisms: If he didn’t like what someone had done, he would refer to that person as a “potlicker.” If he thought a person wasn’t thinking clearly he would say, “His elevator didn’t run to the top.”

It was that kind of charm — to go along with an unparalleled work ethic — that endeared Marben to those who taught under him.

A standout baseball talent who ultimately choose a career in education over one on a baseball diamond, Marben began his teaching and coaching profession in Tracy in 1953. He was named junior high principal here in 1958, and in 1966 succeeded Erland Anderson as high school principal. Marben was named Southwest Minnesota Principal of the Year in 1981.

The Class of 1985 was the last class he presided over as a full-time administrator.

“I called him Mr. Marben; it wasn’t Art or anything else … he was Mr. Marben,” said John Silvernale, a 1961 graduate. “One of my favorite teachers in school. (He) was fair in his dealings with the students, but was also a task master.” 

Marben, who started his career in education as a teacher and coach at his alma mater Lamberton High School after graduating from Augsburg College in 1947, was known as a stickler for discipline with a soft touch. In a retirement story published in the Headlight Herald in May 1985, Marben said one of his main goals as an administrator was maintaining order.

At the same time, however, Marben believed it was up to teachers to understand why a student would act out and not just conclude he’s a trouble-maker. Not doing so, he believed, would be a disservice to the student. And Marben was more than just an administrative figurehead, he was a mentor teachers revered. Former TAHS history and art teacher John Coulter said in the 1970s, many men his age with certain abilities steered themselves toward the corporate world in search of wealth and prosperity on a grand scale; his fellow teachers meanwhile — people like Dale Hatch, Jack Garrett, and Kirk and Jane Landman — looked at teaching as a calling and followed Marben’s lead in the profession.

“Mr. Marben kind of led the way,” Coulter said. “I stayed in teaching because of Mr. Marben. He meant everything to me. He made his staff feel so important. He had a way of building the self esteem of the teacher; it was a real team under Mr. Marben.”

Marben, the man behind the “Bulldog Award,” awarded annually by former student Ron McDaniel to a TAHS senior, was proud of what the school offered its students, once touting it as having the best secondary programs in southwest Minnesota. Former English teacher Ralph Werner once called Marben one of the 10 best principals in the state, saying he was a teacher first and a principal second.

For more on this article and Art Marben, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.