Memories of Richard “Dick” Anderson

BY RANDY DOCKENDORF
randy.dockendorf@yankton.net

The Nov. 28 death of long-time Yankton educator Richard C. Anderson, age 72, generated a tremendous response from former students, fellow teachers and journalism colleagues.

The outpouring of emotion became so great that the Press & Dakotan received far more contributions than could be included in its tribute story that ran in the Nov. 30 issue.

The P&D continues to receive emails and letters to the editor more than a week after Anderson’s death.

The initial emails received for the story are run below, as an online version. The emails were subject to editing.

The Press & Dakotan extends its appreciation to those who shared their stories about Anderson, who worked many years at the P&D during summers and on weekends during the school year.

Anderson spent his entire 46-year teaching career in the Yankton School until retiring in 2008. He continued to exert a tremendous impact, even after leaving the classroom.

Anderson was known for his red pen and heavily edited English assignments. But he was also known for his sense of humor and tremendous love for his students.

He also became known as one of the leading journalism teachers in South Dakota, impacting not only YHS graduates — including those who work for some of the nation’s top publications — but generations of students across South Dakota.

Anderson started as advisor for the “Woksape,” the YHS student newspaper. Under his leadership, between 1963 and 2008, the Woksape earned 36 All-State awards from the South Dakota High School Press Association, with a 19-year unbroken streak of All-State newspapers from 1973 to 1991.

During the same time, well over 100 YHS students were named as All-State Journalists and Photographers

For 30 years, Dick taught at the High School Press Association’s summer workshops in Brookings. He was recognized with the High School Press Association’s Founders’ Award in 1986 and again in 2005. In the 50-year history of the Founders’ Award, Anderson is the only person to have won that award twice.

In 2004, Dick received the Distinguished Service Award from the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

Anderson also worked as an adjunct professor at Yankton College and at Mount Marty College, serving as advisor for the MMC student newspaper, “The Moderator.”

The following are the reader contributions received in the P&D newsroom, providing memories and reflections about Anderson’s life.

JOSH HOFFNER, YHS graduate and The Associated Press staff member in Arizona

Most journalists had to wait until college, and in some cases until their professional careers, to truly learn the craft of writing and reporting. But not students at YHS. They became immersed in professional journalism at a young age, all thanks to Dick Anderson.

Sure, your papers would end up bathed in red ink by the time he was done with them. You might end up working until 3 a.m. on a school night, laying out and designing the Woksape to make sure that every comma was properly placed, every headline was perfect and every pica on the page was lined up. And you could easily be staring down the barrel of an “F” if you had lapses in accuracy or started misspelling names.

But you were learning how to become a professional journalist at a young age — and entered the college ranks vastly ahead of your counterparts who didn’t have the luxury of having Mr. Anderson as a mentor and instructor.

I became an editor on the national desk in New York City for The Associated Press a mere six years after I was a student in Mr. Anderson’s journalism class. I went on to become New York City editor and was sent to the scene of breaking news stories all over the country — mass shootings, bridge collapses, oil spills, wildfires, political scandals, plane crashes.

I owe a great measure of my success to the journalistic foundations established in Mr. Anderson’s journalism class and under his Woksape leadership.

At the same time I was in New York, fellow YHS graduate Michael Amon was working in NYC as well. He was at the Wall Street Journal and Newsday, and before that, at the Washington Post. I always thought that was remarkable: Tiny Yankton, S.D., producing two journalists for the biggest news companies in the world in New York City. The odds of this seemed to be extraordinary. I mean, what is it about a town of 13,000 people that is producing all of these successful journalists?

The answer, of course, is Dick Anderson. It shows what kind of influence he had on us — and countless other students who came out of YHS and achieved success thanks to his tutelage.

He will surely be missed.

ALLISON STRUCK, Sioux Falls, 2006 YHS graduate
I first met Mr. Anderson my freshman year of high school when I started writing for the student newspaper, the Woksape. I eventually served as one of the editors of the paper and took two classes from him in high school: Journalism and AP English.

He was an incredible teacher, and no one helped improve my writing skills more than he did. He was the best.

He was patient and fair. When I was a senior, I missed class to attend a journalism conference with him, and he still had me do six pages of daily writing.

He hammered it into our heads to write in active voice, and he taught us NEASWAP-Never End A Sentence With A Preposition. When I see “over” used instead of “more than,” or “affect” and “effect” used incorrectly, I am reminded of Mr. Anderson.

I think I will always picture him sitting at his desk, pen in one hand, coffee mug in the other, grading papers. Piles and piles of papers.

Mr. Anderson was one of a kind. He arrived at school around 7 a.m. and did not leave until long after the last bell had rung.

When we put together the Woksape on Tuesday nights, sometimes we did not finish until midnight. He would walk us down to the school entrance and make sure we got to our cars safely.

There are few teachers who put as much time and energy into ensuring their students’ success. I was one of several Yankton High School graduates who won the Al Neuharth Excellence in Journalism Scholarship, and that honor reflects the kind of teacher he was.
I had the opportunity to learn from him outside the classroom, too.

I would stop at the “Pantry” (the Andersons’ downtown store) on Saturday mornings to visit with him. As soon as I walked into the store, he would make me an Italian soda, and we would talk about politics, current events and books.

After I went to college, I’d continue to stop by the “Pantry” on weekends when I came home. It was during this time that I began to see a few new and familiar faces at the store — Mr. Anderson’s friends who became mine. On any given Saturday, there might be eight of us sitting around the tables. He knew how to bring people together, and I hope I treat others with the kindness and respect he showed all of us.

During the summer, I would help him and (his wife) Louise (at the “Pantry”) during Crazy Days. It became our yearly tradition. 

Mr. Anderson had a heart of gold. I came back and visited him in the classroom, at the “Pantry,” and in the hospital not because he expected it, but because he was one of my greatest supporters and always made time to listen.

It is difficult for me to put into words just how greatly Mr. Anderson’s friendship influenced my life. 

My heart and head ache because of the devastating loss, but I am grateful for 11 years of wonderful memories.

Mitch Albom had Tuesdays with Morrie, and I had Saturdays with Mr. Anderson. He was my teacher, mentor, newspaper advisor and, most importantly, friend.

He always gave me a hard time about not taking an interest in cooking, and he would just shake his head when I told him I was fine using the microwave. If I could talk to him, I would say, “Well, Mr. Anderson, I made green bean casserole in the oven a few days ago … and it turned out!”

DAVE CARLSON, YHS graduate
I thought “Grammar” class would be a joke. I’d been pretty serious about writing since I was a kid, and I thought I’d sleepwalk through class and get an A+.

I still remember my first day with Mr. Anderson, the first time I met him. I was swiftly and unforgettably put in my place. He was coolly dismissive but hilarious at the same time.
Somehow he managed to grab everyone’s attention and hold it, indelibly burning our grammar faux pas into the most permanent parts of our brains. He made bad grammar seem a little sad. By the time we completed his short class, we had an edge that would serve us profoundly for the rest of our lives. 

I’ll always remember the joy he found in service, the sparkle in his eye when he was working his magic. Mr. Anderson dedicated a remarkable amount of his time to his students, in and out of class, with no expectation of recognition.

It’s a testament to his genius that I’m terrified he’s somewhere reading this and shaking his head at the sloppy execution.

TOM FRIEDENBACH, age 22, YHS graduate who taught English last year in Harbin, China, and is studying Mandarin this year in Nanjing, China.

Mr. Anderson got me to read more than any other teacher at YHS and almost as much as any college professor.

Reading novels has been my most rewarding and enjoyable hobby since high school, and I can say without doubt or exaggeration that it would not have been so without him. I would not be reading War and Peace right now, nor would I have read so many of the things that have so much informed who I am today.

This is a very great loss for YHS and the countless students whose lives Mr. Anderson impacted. Please pass on my support and sympathy.

Do you remember what I read before novels class? Nothing as far as I can tell. Very few, if any, classes in high school had such a lasting effect as Mr. Anderson’s. He’ll be missed.

BOB BEARD, YHS English teacher
I had the genuine honor of teaching next door to Dick Anderson at YHS for the last 10 years of his remarkable educational career.

In essence, Dick was both a scholar and a gentleman. He served as meaningful mentor to me, and his daily teaching was a constant reminder of how far a little “tender, loving care” could go with all students.

Whether Dick was teaching Business and Vocational English or Advanced Placement Literature, he modeled and practiced the public school philosophy that all children deserve a strong linguistic and cultural background.

As many of Dick’s colleagues and students know, his favorite novel was O. E. Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. For me, the quote from Genesis vi:4  says everything about Dick: 

“There were giants in the earth those days; and also, after that,  when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men,  and they bore children to them, the same mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Sadly, the Yankton community has lost one of its “giants in the earth,” a good man of distinctive renown.                                                                            

JUDY TERESHINSKI, YHS Spanish teacher
Mr. Anderson, which was the name I called him even as a colleague, was a “true teacher.”
He began teaching while I was in high school and, unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to have him as a classroom teacher. I did have the wonderful opportunity to teach WITH him.  We would discuss the use of the subjunctive, verb conjugations, adverb constructions, diagramming, short stories and more.

Of course, he would teach the grammar, read the literature, correct the stories, edit the articles for the Woksape (student newspaper) with such fervor and excitement, and always have a smile or complimentary word of encouragement for his students, after marking the paper with corrections!

He would always have a pen or pencil with him and always write in beautiful cursive! He could write more comments on one paper than anyone I have ever seen. He was one dedicated, passionate, and professional man!  I will miss Mr. Anderson.

WAYNE KINDLE, YHS Principal
Mr. Anderson will be remembered for his compassion, warmth and generosity towards his students as well as his colleagues.

He always provided extra time and opportunity for students who may have struggled.  Teaching was his passion, and YHS is honored to have had this tremendous teacher touch so many lives.

ANNIE LANNING, YHS graduate
Mr. Anderson was not the easy teacher, nor was he the fun one. He was, however, the good teacher, very likely the best.

It is difficult to articulate his influence without slipping into a blithering tribute akin to “To Sir With Love.” Mr. Anderson would consider that trite, one of the greatest sins he described in journalism class; therefore, I will attempt to be as straightforward as he taught me to be.
I was lucky enough to have Mr. Anderson as a teacher, mentor, and friend through both high school and college. I still hear his voice and smell the coffee and nicotine on his breath when I question myself about where to place a hyphen.

When I am working on an article, it is Mr. Anderson’s voice telling me that the passive voice is weak. I even hear him chiding me for using a cliché, stating that there is no need to be cute.

Mr. Anderson taught me to welcome the editor’s red pen as a means of becoming a better writer. He fostered in me a passion for proper language that earned me the title “Grammar Nazi” from more than one friend over the years.

But Mr. Anderson was so much more than a love of good grammar and thorough proofreading. He was “that” teacher for me and for countless other students.

Mr. Anderson was the first teacher who didn’t let me slide by with minimal effort. As the youngest student in his journalism class nearly 20 years ago, I figured he would show a little leniency in grading my writing. I was also the only student in the class on the Woksape staff, and I knew I could write well.

Needless to say, I was shocked and somewhat crushed when my first article came back dripping red ink, emblazoned with an ‘F’ and the words “You can do better.”

Mr. Anderson never let me slide. I never earned higher than a ‘D’ on a first draft in that class, and (I) often did three or more drafts before producing something worthy of an ‘A.’

Admittedly, the ‘A’-worthy version still showed its fair share of red ink.

Even in my youthful arrogance, I knew that learning the process of producing a quality piece of writing was bigger than any letter grade. I worked harder in that journalism class than I had ever worked in a previous class, and likely as hard as I worked in any college class.

As a teacher and a writer, I can now see that Mr. Anderson’s lesson for me was far greater than learning to put forth effort in my writing. He knew I had untapped potential as a writer and that I needed to be pushed to use it.

Mr. Anderson saw me as more than just another student, and he made sure I knew it. He taught me that there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching, writing, or living — a lesson I hope my students also take from me.

Please pardon me, Mr. Anderson, because I am going to allow myself a momentary lapse into trite territory.

People always say they wish they could have had the chance to tell their loved ones how much they meant to them before they left this earthly plane. In your last great lesson to me, I had that opportunity the other day. Given a few precious moments with you, I knew I had so much to say.

But when the opportunity came all I could say was “thank you.”

Thank you, Mr. Anderson, for seeing me.

JACOB STEWART, Minneapolis, 1999 YHS graduate

Mr. Anderson’s infamous red pen is all over my life. I’m sure he’d find plenty to edit this email already.  🙂

I spent most mornings before first period in his room watching “The Today Show” and chatting with him about current events.

As Woksape (student newspaper) editor, he graciously offered me the opportunity to write a weekly column. My columns were always controversial (challenging school authority, expressing disgust of hallway public displays of affection, etc.) and resulted in several “chats” with the principal.

I’m certain Mr. Anderson took heat for those columns, but he never once edited them for content or told me to cool off.

I will always remember the gigantic stack of papers he took home every night and will always wonder how many hours he spent grading and how many red pens he went through. He could have easily lessened his nightly work load by spending less time during the day engaging students and more time “grading,” but that wasn’t in his DNA. He gave us 100 percent of his attention, 100 percent of the day.

He was more than simply the best journalism, grammar and literature teacher I’ve ever had. His lessons extended far beyond the classroom. He exemplified the importance of work ethic, free thought, self expression, passion and finding joy in what you do. I can still hear his laugh, picture his smile, see his pen in his mouth and smell his coffee cup rings on my red-inked papers.

My sympathies and thoughts are with his family, the community and everyone he touched. It’s truly a loss too hard to put into words … even though I know he’d want us to try.

BOB WINTER, retired YHS teacher & activities director
As you well know from working with him at the paper he was the best.

It was my pleasure to work with Dick Anderson as a teacher and administrator for 45 years. He was the consummate professional.

Dick loved his students and teaching. The language arts curriculum was largely developed under his guidance. He was an amazing man, forever correcting papers with a red pen and helping students learn to write.

While he enjoyed all aspects of the English department, of which he was the head, journalism was his “baby.” The student newspaper, the Woksape, is a credit to his hard work with students. Every year, this student newspaper won top SDHSAA state honors.

One of my fondest memories is visiting with Dick about former students. He was absolutely amazing at remembering names of former students. He did not forget them, and I am sure they will always remember him.

Dick Anderson clearly was one of the top instructors of all time in the Yankton School District. He was a wonderful man loved by all. He will not be forgotten or ever replaced.

SANDY HOFFNER, YHS English Teacher
For many of us, Dick was our mentor. He made me want to be the best teacher I could be. His body of knowledge about writing, literature, and grammar inspired me to become better.

His ability to take a teachable moment, expand it and sustain it for an entire class period was legendary. To watch Dick teach was to watch an artist at work. 

Dick thought Strunk and White were the end-all, and his use of the red pen was legendary. No one could correct an essay faster than he could. Dick loved literature and even talked about books during our last visit just days before his death.  He said the three novels that he thought everyone should read were Giants in the Earth, Lord Grizzly and My Antonia.

DORIS GIAGO, Brookings, South Dakota State University journalism professor and South Dakota High School Press Association executive director

Dick Anderson was the ultimate teacher, never missing an opportunity to instruct students whether in class or out of class. And students loved him.

In all the years that I worked with him in High School Press, he never seemed to tire nor was he ever negative. In working with students both at SDSU and Yankton, he brought out the best in them. Dick was dedicated to his students, and that was evident in the large number of requests he got for letters of recommendation and invitations to graduation parties.

In addition to working with Dick at our Summer Publications Institute, each February we took All-State journalists to Pierre for “A Day With the Legislature.” He made those trips so educational, and students enjoyed learning from him about the state’s legislative process.

And of course, it was fun to hang out with him at the Capitol because he knew so many people and was up-to-date on all the issues.

Some of his former students attended SDSU, and they were quick to point out that Mr. Anderson was their high School English teacher. They spoke of him fondly and remembered him with respect.

Just about any place you go in this state, you will into one of Dick’s former students. He inspired them to be the best.

RACHEL (BATTIN) MC GUIRE, YHS Class of 1999
I keep thinking how ironic it is that I seem to be at a loss for words and can’t seem to compose the right thoughts to express how I felt about the teacher who taught me how to write. I’m sure Mr. Anderson would think that’s hysterical. 

He was, to put it simply, one of the best teachers I’ve had.

He introduced me to a world of literature that I would never have explored on my own. He turned me into a reader, which is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.

He made me laugh — at myself, at my mistakes (most of which were highlighted with ridiculous smiley faces, red ink and drips of coffee) and at how very sweet and funny life can be.

He taught me that saying it simply was often the best way. He gave 100 percent, 100 percent of the time — what a rare and wonderful gift.

I keep thinking about how lucky I am to have been a part of his legacy. I’m  terribly sad for those who didn’t get the same opportunity.

I hope that the memory of Mr. Anderson will inspire YHS to keep the English department alive and well by sharing the same energy and enthusiasm that Mr A. shared (along with the Fischers, Terry Winter, Bob Beard, Paul Harens, Leo Kallis and many others did/do) with all those who enter the classroom doors. 

Thanks Mr. Anderson. I hope that I gave you even a tiny piece of the joy that you gave to me. 

BARB COLLIGNON, Dubois, Wyo.
I first met Mr. Anderson when I was a 9th grader at the old junior high on Walnut Street.
After I gave my “Quality of Mercy…”  speech for freshman English, I knew I was his most important student. As it turned out, all of his other students thought they were the most important to him. That is how he made his students feel.

The most important thing to him was getting his students to read, write and think to the very best of their ability. Later, I decided I wanted to be like Mr. Anderson and got to do my student teaching with him. After that, I taught English right across the hall from Mr. Anderson.

I knew I was his favorite colleague. I would go across the hall into his room after a long, hard debate weekend and tell him I could not do this anymore. He would laugh and tell me that I could, that I was tough, and he made it all seem better.

As it turned out, all of his other colleagues thought that they were his favorite, even the other debate coach. That is how he made all of us feel.

It took me several years and a lot of corrections from him to start calling him Dick, but he will always be Mr. Anderson to me.

“I miss you, Mr. Anderson, old teacher, old colleague and friend.”  

TERI MANDEL, YHS English/Journalism Teacher
Dick Anderson has left a legacy at Yankton High School and in the Yankton community. His dedication to journalism and appreciation for quality communication is to be respected.
He lives on in the many students’ lives he touched — they have taken and are using his appreciation for communication around the globe.

Those of us fortunate enough to have experienced his friendship and his instruction will be forever grateful and will seek to continue his legacy in his honor.

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One thought on “Memories of Richard “Dick” Anderson

  1. I hope he knows I turned out just fine. He always tried to push me on to a better path – I had a very rough time as a sophomore and he offered only support and taught me to never underestimate my strength..

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