Honoring Mr. Marben: Community invited to Labor Day tribute

By Per Peterson

With a new year comes a new Box Car Days festival, and this year, for the 91st annual Labor Day weekend celebration, a special tribute will be offered to the public for one of the public school system’s most iconic educators.

At 9 a.m. on Monday, the late Art Marben, a former principal at Tracy Area High School who died earlier this summer, will be honored with a “Life Memorial” that will include a four-plane fly over (weather permitting) about 9:45 a.m. and a program in the Tracy Area High School gym.

“This is something that’s important to us,” said Jesse James, a former English teacher at TAHS. “So many of us want to get our closure. This is our way to gather together for such a special person.”

Looking back on his own career in Tracy, James — like so many others who worked alongside Marben — realizes how lucky he was to have been associated with the longtime educator.

“I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have someone like Art as my principal because I had never had a principal before,” he said. “I didn’t know how dynamic he was. Such a strong leader. I appreciate the people who came forward to put this together, because I need to be there.”

Former elementary teacher and head football coach Gale Otto agreed that the tribute is something the community is longing for.

“Many people in the community wondered why isn’t something being done in Tracy,” he said. “So a couple of us got together and just decided to try and do something. We contacted the family to make sure it was alright with them. “It will be a nice tribute to Art for his many years of service — not just here in Tracy, but to his country.”

Marben, a stellar baseball player, was hired to teach and coach at Tracy High School in 1953 and became the high school principal in 1966. The longtime and well-respected educator known for his tough love philosophy, retired in 1985 — four years after being named Southwest Minnesota Principal of the Year.

Dan Snobl, who came to Tracy in 1972 and served on the school board for six years during Marben’s tenure, was one of the driving forces behind Marben’s tribute. Like James, Snobl said those who knew Marben need this tribute for closure.

“As we visited with folks and talked back and forth and shared stories of Mr. Marben, it became quite evident to me that people here in Tracy wanted to take some time to honor this man for all the things he did as a community member, educator, a military man and just as a person,” Snobl said.

Snobl said he always appreciated Marben’s style of leading and how he touched so many lives.

“He challenged young people to take a look at their situation and see how they can make it better,” he said. “He was a strong disciplinarian, but at the same time, his thing was to put people back together — we all make mistakes, but how do we become better citizens and move forward? How do we continue to improve?”

There will be two speakers at Monday’s tribute — Gary Sandbo and Cal Ludeman. Since there won’t be time during the tribute for everyone who wants to share a story about Marben, Otto said he would like to offer each guest a note card on which they can write their name, their class and a special memory of Marben (or a “Marbenism”). Otto will then give the cards to the family.

A U.S. Marines Corp. unit is expected to take part in the Marben tribute.  The group is also expected to take part in the Box Car Days parade, marching along side a HumVee military vehicle.  Signs will say, “In Honor of Marine Captain Art Marben — The Marines have arrived.”

• Some active, retired or reserve members of the U.S. Marine Corps plan to wear uniforms for the Art Marben tribute Monday. Marine regulations state that retiree-reservists may  wear the uniform for any event that was appropriate for wearing a uniform while on active duty.

Some restrictions apply for wearing a uniform. Individuals must have served during a time of war and earned a national Defense Medal, and received an honorable discharge. Appropriate events for wearing the uniform include: military funerals, memorial services, weddings, inaugurals, parades on national or state holidays,  and parades or ceremonies of a patriotic character in which active or reserve U.S. military units are taking part.