Fort Atkinson residents today were remembering, with great fondness, retired high school principal Glenn R. Lepley, who passed away Saturday, March 3.
Lepley, who retired in 1989 after overseeing Fort Atkinson High School for 25 years, died at Angels Grace Hospice in Oconomowoc. He was 87 years old.
A Richland Center native who graduated from the Viola High School, Lepley married Barbara Peterson in December 1951.
The following year, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and social studies from La Crosse State College, now the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he earned a varsity letter in track. He taught English, social studies and physical education in Kendall from 1952-54, and then served in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps until July 1956.
Lepley accepted a geography and history teaching position at Evansville High School in 1956. He served as assistant high school principal there from 1958-61, and earned a master’s degree in administration from the University of Wisconsin in 1961. He then served as Evansville’s principal from 1962 until July 1964, when he moved to Fort Atkinson to work in a larger school system.
At the time, Fort Atkinson was switching from four- to three-year senior and junior high schools in accordance with the national trend. In 1990, the high school returned to grades 9-12 and J.F. Luther Junior High became a middle school with grades 6-8.
Lepley saw some 5,625 students go through the portals of Fort Atkinson High school during his quarter-century in the principal’s office.
During an interview upon his retirement, he said that he saw many changes in education through those years, including those of a physical nature. The most memorable was in 1982-83, when the senior high underwent a $4.8 million renovation featuring the removal of the 1911 structure, new construction on the north and south ends and the revamping of the existing building. Today, the building serves as the middle school.
Lepley said in 1989 that the job itself changed since he first was hired in 1964, as well. It became more administrative, with the principal becoming involved in evaluation, curriculum and schedule building. That lessened his contact with students, which he said he missed.
In addition to the high school renovations, Lepley said he was proud of the scholarship program, which through his guidance grew in aid for graduates to continue their education. And he cited the quality of the staff.
“Fort Atkinson has been blessed with fine teachers who have dedicated their lives to education,” he said. “And support people, from the assistant principal to the secretaries to the custodians: it is a team effort. There are a lot of people involved in making it possible for us to open the doors in the morning.”
Lepley was a member of the Fort Atkinson Lions Club for more than a half-century, serving as its president from 1971-72, as well as in many other offices through the years.
He was active in a myriad of Lions projects, including cutting timber in below-zero weather to build the Rock River Park stockade replica; the Lions’ smelt fry and corn and chicken roast; assembling the Lions Club’s anniversary history booklet; and maintaining the city’s welcome signs, among other activities.
In 1989, the club bestowed upon Lepley the Melvin Jones Fellowship award, Lions Club International’s highest form of recognition. It is named in tribute to the founder of Lions Club International, a Chicago insurance agent named Melvin Jones who organized a group of area businessmen with the objective to expand their horizons and promote the betterment of their communities and the world at large.
Lepley also was extremely involved in humanitarian efforts for Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, through the local arm of the Wisconsin-Nicaragua Partners of the Americas Program, which started here in 1968.
In 1972, the community sent a used fire truck, hospital beds, large incubators and school supplies to Puerto Cabezas. In September that year, Sterne Robinson, 19, visited Fort Atkinson from Puerto Cabezas, his four-week trip funded in part by the Fort Atkinson High School Student Council.
In April of 1973, businesspersons Hugh and Doris Highsmith, then-City Manager Robert Martin and Lepley visited Puerto Cabezas to find out firsthand what Fort Atkinson could do for its “sister city” in Nicaragua, which just weeks before had been hit extremely hard by an earthquake.
In 1976, Kay Lisby, a 6-year-old Miskito Indian girl, was brought to America for life-saving surgery to repair a congenital heart illness. In September 1984, Escuela Fort Atkinson was opened for the Miskito Indian students in a nearby village.
The partnership experienced a hiatus due to political unrest in Nicaragua, although Fort Atkinson responded in 1979, helping provide relief after the revolution that ended the 43-year dictatorship of the Somoza family.
Formal ties were re-established in 1991. In 2004, a group was formed called the Fort Atkinson Puerto Cabezas Partnership Committee that took up the torch.
An informational meeting sponsored by the Fort Atkinson Branch of the American Association of University Women featured Lepley and others talking about their experiences with the partnership.
During that gathering, Lepley recalled that in 1970, Fort Atkinson became the first city in Wisconsin to receive city council approval of a formal partnership with the Central American nation.
“I think if you mention ‘Fort Atkinson’ on the east coast (of Nicaragua), these people thought Fort Atkinson was the capital of Wisconsin,” Lepley shared.
Fort Atkinson since has helped the coastal community after Hurricanes Felix and Mitch, and has collected supplies for the school, Learning Center and library.
Gerald McGowan, a longtime principal of Purdy Elementary School who became district administrator in 1984, described Lepley as a “consummate professional.”
“Glenn always was concerned with doing the best job for kids and expected the best out of them,” McGowan said. “He had very high standards and expected others to live up to them.
“I would say he was an excellent leader and led by example,” he added. “I think he held high expectations for everything, including dress. He was always in a coat and tie, and expected kids to look good in school.”
Lepley also was active in pursuing scholarships for students and graduates, McGowan said, adding that “it was during his tenure that our scholarship offerings really started to increase significantly.”
Moreover, he said, Lepley was instrumental in the effort to renovate and expand the former Fort Atkinson High School — currently the Fort Atkinson Middle School — during the planning phase, referendum and construction in 1982-83.
“Glenn was involved in getting rid of the 1911 structure and adding a whole new wing,” McGowan noted.
Students and staff, he said, moved into the new wing at the start of the 1983-84 school year.
Shortly thereafter, in September 1984, the newly renovated facility sustained damage from a fire.
“We hadn’t even taken possession fully from the contractor for that (renovated school yet),” McGowan recalled, adding he just had become district administrator at the time. “The fire ruined all (property and structure) adjacent to the varsity locker rooms and we lost football equipment.”
Lepley, he said, helped assemble a team of staff to assist in the recovery effort.
“There was a massive cleanup from smoke damage throughout the building,” McGowan said. “He (Glenn) provided leadership for all of that.”
The retired superintendent described Lepley as “very congenial, and an excellent administrator who helped build a very cohesive administrative team with all of the principals within the district.”
He said Lepley and his family owned a piece of property near Viola, on the Kickapoo River, where he could go to rest and recreate.
“He liked going out there and camping, and many administrators would go visit with him for the weekend and enjoy that,” McGowan shared. “Sadly, all of his contemporaries now are gone.”
Above all, he said, Lepley always was a positive and outgoing individual.
“He always wanted the district, and particularly the high school, to look good in performance from its students,” McGowan said. “He had very high standards and expected people to live up to them. He set the bar high and did so by example.
“Glenn also was willing to help people to better themselves,” he added. “He was very positive and proud of Fort Atkinson, and proud of the high school and its students.”
Dick Wanie, retired middle and high school biology and natural resources teacher, agreed, saying that Lepley just simply was an all-around great person, both as a boss and a friend.
“He was a good guy to work for — a good man,” Wanie emphasized. “Although he was still the boss, we were friends. You could always just stop and talk with him in the hallways about your kids, etc. It was never ‘He’s the boss, you’re the worker.’
“As a worker in a school system like that, it was a pleasure to have such a good leader and friend like him,” he added. “It was a pleasure to work for him over the years.”
And, he said, Lepley always “carried himself well.”
“Some people do that — they dress well,” Wanie observed.
Every chance he could, he said, Lepley liked to get away from it all.
His roots were in his hometown of Viola in western Wisconsin, where he owned a few acres of land and had a mobile home on the side of a hill.
“One of his favorite things was to visit that area — he just liked to be over there,” Wanie said. “Even though he didn’t hunt or fish, he’d cut the grass. He built a rail fence and planted some trees. He liked to putz. And Glenn liked the people in that town, and would stop and talk to them.”
Moreover, he said, Lepley liked to play Euchre.
“He had a Euchre tournament at Soup’s On (restaurant in Fort Atkinson) every year for many years,” Wanie noted, saying that former students of his would come and play. “Everybody loved Glenn Lepley.
“He was just a regular guy who liked to talk to people,” Wanie stressed.
And, he said, Lepley loved the Lions Club, and was “a true Lion.”
“He, along with a group of people like (the late) Al Haukom and (the late) Gus Klatt, formed the core of the Lions Club for many years,” Wanie recalled. “They always took care of the entrance signs to Fort Atkinson.”
Above all, students all really liked Lepley, he said.
“You never heard a bad word said about him,” Wanie stated. “My kids liked him.
“He was just a good guy,” he continued. “That was the Glenn Lepley I knew. He was a down-to-earth guy. He always made you feel good.”
Don Gruber, former high school athletic director, basketball coach and physical education teacher, also had only good things to say about Lepley.
“He was definitely a great high school principal,” Gruber commented. “He was a person interested in all of the activities that went on at the school.
“I don’t think Glenn ever missed a home sporting event unless there was a meeting he had to be at,” he added. “He was always present.”
And the students, he said, really appreciated that Lepley took a genuine interest in their academic and co-curricular activities at the high school.
The former phy-ed teacher said both Lepley and assistant principal Ed Winiarski made a great administrative team.
“They got along well, and did a great job of mingling with the students and carrying on the affairs of the high school administration,” Gruber pointed out.
And while he got along great with students and staff, he said, Lepley still was the boss.
“He did have a great rapport with the staff and students, but you still knew he was principal,” Gruber stated. “We respected the decisions he made regarding budget and staffing, and so forth.”
One of the fondest memories of Lepley the former coach has was when the Fort Atkinson High School boys’ basketball team made it to the state tournament in 1981.
“Glenn was congratulatory to the players and coaching staff,” Gruber remembered. “He did everything to make the (tournament) experience a memorable one for all the players and coaches.”
Above all, he said, Lepley was “a good friend and an excellent administrator.
“It’s too bad we lost a really good person,” Gruber concluded.
Lorraine Tekeley, Lepley’s administrative secretary for about 24 years before retiring in 1991, also truly enjoyed her tenure with him.
“He was a very kind and understanding person,” Tekeley recalled. “I don’t ever remember hearing him raising his voice at any time.
“It was wonderful,” she added. “Everybody (at the high school) was nice. We had a lot of fun together, and enjoyed hearing jokes.”
She said she thinks all the teachers really understood Lepley’s leadership style that helped make day-to-day situations run smoothly and defuse any tensions.
“All the teachers enjoyed him,” Tekeley said. “He was very friendly and cooperative — not demanding.”
The former secretary said Lepley knew how to “run the ship, more or less.”
“Everybody understood him,” Tekeley noted. “If there was something he felt was wrong, he was right there to make sure everything was correct. He was a kind person and very observant of what was going on.”
Lepley also made a point of stopping into all of the classrooms at one time or another, she said.
“He was in and out of the office quite a bit,” Tekeley recalled. “Sometimes he’d stop by and say, ‘I’ll be back at 2 o’clock,’ or whatever. So, he made the rounds to different classrooms. He was very active that way.”
A sports lover, Lepley also attended nearly all of the high school athletic games and competitions.
“He was very supportive of the entire sports staff,” Tekeley pointed out.
Jane Winiarski, whose husband, Ed, served as assistant principal under Lepley after coming to the district in 1958, spoke not only about her husband’s, but also her own, association with Lepley throughout the years.
Ed initially served as basketball coach and taught physical education, she said, and then became athletic director and full-time assistant principal under Lepley, retiring in 1995.
“They worked together for lots of years,” Jane remembered. “I worked as a home economics teacher under Lepley for one year, so I knew him a bit professionally, too.”
She said Lepley worked hard as an administrator.
“His professional goal was to make Fort Atkinson High School the best possible,” Winiarski emphasized. “His goal was to provide the best education and the best facility. He wanted to bring out the best in students, too.”
Both Ed and Glenn, she said, made a good team, bonding over the same goals, even though Ed was more the athletic type and Glenn the academic.
“They used their individual strengths in how they worked with students,” Winiarski recalled. “They had the same goal of providing the best possible for our students.”
And the Lepleys and Winiarskis, she said, were close friends as couples.
“They (Lepleys) never stopped talking school,” Winiarski shared. “Our lives kind of wound around every (school) activity and situation.
“We worked together and played together,” she added. “We camped (together) as a family. His children babysat for my children. Barb, who passed away several years ago, was one of my dearest friends.”
Winiarski said she spent a lot of time during Barb’s illness visiting the Lepleys and driving Glenn around.
“It was a very close relationship, especially with those guys (Ed and Glenn) so committed to the school and its activities,” she stated. “It’s a lifestyle. They never, ever did too much.”
Added to school activities, she said, both Lepley and her husband were active and devoted Lions, with both having served as president.
“They worked a lot with the (Lions) club,” Winiarski said. “They believed in giving back to the community.”
She said their entire school administrative team was intertwined in community activities, committees and even church.
“It wasn’t just go (to school) from 6 in the morning until 5 at night,” Winiarski said. “It was seven days a week, 24 hours (a day)! They (Glenn and Ed) did it out of love.
“And speaking for Ed,” she said, “there wasn’t a day he didn’t want to go to school or to work. He checked the doors at school better than at home.”
Winiarski said the community of Fort Atkinson over the years has provided the Lepleys and her family with a wonderful life of service and giving back.
“It’s a wonderful circle (of friends), and it’s heartfelt,” she said. “At this stage of the game, you just appreciate it and are so honored to really have that feeling. Not everybody does.”
Gale Puerner, a fellow Lion, said he and Lepley were quite close, sharing the chairmanship of Lions Park, located across from the Fireside Dinner Theatre.
“That was our main deal,” Puerner said. “Glenn kept me on the ball. He’d say, ‘You know, we need to go work at the park.’ We tended weeds and fixed things on the signs, etc. We’d spend hours working together keeping the park looking nice, and then taking on other projects.”
In fact, he said, Lepley, who served on the Lions Club Nominating Committee, kind of was his mentor.
“After I was there (in Lions) a year-and-a-half, he asked me to be lion tamer,” Puerner, a product development engineer for area companies for over 40 years, recalled. “He got me on the board. And when I get involved, I get involved.”
Puerner also was nominated and elected to the Lions Membership Committee, charged with designing a new brochure for the club, a task spearheaded by Lepley.
And Lepley himself was involved in his share of Lions activities, as well, he indicated.
“Glenn was always on top of everything,” Puerner related. “No matter what it was — whether it was his responsibility or not — he always was involved, and treated everybody equally and tried to make the Lions better.”
Both Lepley and Puerner spent a lot of time working together on different projects like the Lions eyeglasses collection boxes.
“I made 18 Lions eyeglass (drop-off) boxes,” Puerner said, adding that Lepley would go around town seeking approval to place the eyeglass boxes at establishments such as banks, grocery stores and funeral homes. “He was involved in that.”
Also, years ago, he said, Lions Club members placed waste containers on some streets in the city, such as at the municipal building.
“Six years ago, they (containers) were in bad shape, so we took them over to Glenn’s house and he painted those,” Puerner noted. “We then put them back out on the street.”
The fellow Lion said Lepley received his 50-year Lions pin not long ago for that milestone of service.
And, Puerner said, Lepley always was receptive to his own suggestions for new Lions projects.
“Glenn was good to work with,” Puerner said. “He was very easy-going. If you suggested something, he’d go along with it.
“I had lot of respect for him, not only for the Lions, but also as a person,” he added. “We’re sure going to miss him! He was always involved.”
Lepley never missed a Lions Club meeting if he could make it, he said, and attended all the open board meetings.
“Glenn would encourage me to think about this, or said we should talk about that,” Puerner said. “He’d plant the seed and see if I thought it was a good idea. He knew I’d fertilize and water that seed to make it grow.”
Some Lions members, he said, would refer to Lepley as “Mr. Lions” because the club was such a passion of his.
Meanwhile, David Chickering, the Lepleys’ neighbor in Baraboo, where the Fort Atkinson couple had a cottage near Devil’s Lake as well as Viola, said that he knew Lepley had not been doing well, and that it had been a long decline over the last several years.
“He’ll be missed,” Chickering said.
“For probably 20, 30 years, he had a cottage next to our house. He was a wonderful neighbor, and a really upright, upstanding guy,” the Baraboo man said, describing how the Lepleys’ cottage would serve as a gathering place for the entire family for years.
“They were wonderful people,” Chickering said.
“So many times, he and his wife would bring over fresh strawberries or an apple pie.
“He was also just a whirlwind of energy,” Chickering added. “He took really good care of his property. He’d be out there with the push mower, and then he’d trim everything, and pretty soon he’d be painting a little spot on the fence.”
Chickering said Lepley was not one to complain, even when he wasn’t feeling all that well. Struggling to recover after knee surgery, the Fort Atkinson man would say, “It’s a trial, but I’m glad to be able to keep going.”
Chickering and Lepley shared a background in track and in education.
A retired science teacher, Chickering said that he knew that Lepley was known in the field as a fantastic educator, athlete and principal.
“He was held in high esteem by his peers across the state,” Chickering said.
The Baraboo neighbor also credited Lepley with a sense of civic responsibility. At one time, their road, Old Lake Road, had a regular speed limit for a rural road.
Lepley, concerned about the safety of walkers and bikers, as well as his own grandchildren, went to the town board to request a change to a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit.
“As a result of his efforts, walkers, bikers and children playing alongside the increasingly populated road are safer today,” Chickering said.
Lepley was a member of the American Legion Post 447 in Viola, Masonic Lodge 84 in Viroqua, and Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson.
Lepley is survived by his four children and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara, in May 2014.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson. Friends may call from 12:30 p.m. until the time of service. A memorial at Fort Atkinson High School will be established in Lepley’s name.
The Nitardy Funeral Home in Fort Atkinson is assisting the family.