By Per Peterson
It’s difficult to pinpoint what Wilmar Engel was best known for during his time in Tracy, but one thing is for certain: The man affectionately known as Shorty made a profound impact on generations of Tracy residents.
On Sunday, Shorty died of cancer at the age of 82 after a short stay at Prairie Home Hospice in Marshall.
“He was really a good friend of mine for almost 60 years,” said Gary Sandbo, a 1964 graduate of Tracy High School, who was a sophomore when Engel’s tenure began in Tracy. “I didn’t really know him well until after I graduated, but between town baseball and working at the pool, that’s when I really got to know him. I think that really began my friendship with him. Whenever I came back home I would always get together with him. He was always interested in my kids and was really good to my parents.”
Engel came to Tracy in the fall of 1961 with the intention of staying one year, he said at the time of his acceptance of the school district’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020. However, that changed when he realized how much the teachers at the school took on a mentorship role to him. That, combined with many new friends in Tracy, resulted in him making Tracy his permanent home.
Sandbo said while he wasn’t coached by Engel as he was by the likes of Bill Bolin, Gabby Sebastian and Art Marben, he marveled at Engel’s longevity in one school district.
“After teaching, he was almost like a full-time sub until right before the pandemic,” Sandbo said. “What longevity, plus all those trips to Europe — that was a tremendous thing that he put together for the kids for all those years. Just a really, really good friend and somebody who I could always count on. He was so important to the school, and he really became a personal friend.”
Engel attended St. Joseph Seminary in Westmont, IL., from 1954-59, then went on to Mankato State College (now Minnesota State University, Mankato) from 1959-61. He then attended Western Washington State in Bellingham, WA, in the summer of 1965, and also worked at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
Engel’s teaching career in Tracy began upon his arrival in 1961. He taught French until 1999 and worked in the English Department and with ESL programs after that. He finished his teaching career as a substitute until 2020.
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