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Friends and family bid Cheney farewell

Retiring Superintendent Chuck Cheney set the tone with a small joke at the outset of Thursday afternoons farewell celebration at Cheney Middle School on Friday.

Thank you all for coming, he said. I have a feeling most of you are here because of my wife.

With that, friends, family and former coworkers showered the 62-year-old Cheney with gifts, while peppering him with a few jabs along the way. Those selected to speak took several trips down memory lane with stories, some humorous, some poignant. All brought a smile to Cheney and his wife, Margarets face.

The people here have made my career such a wonderful thing, Cheney said. This is truly an extraordinary place and an extraordinary organization.

In recognition of Cheneys service, West Fargo School Board Vice President Angela Korsmo said she first met the Cheney family because her son was the same age as one of their three children.

Our kids played together, she said. Later, when I got on the Board, I found out Chuck was much more than a loving father. He was also someone to appreciate for his leadership, his wisdom, his vision, and particularly for his sense of humor. You have left us in wonderful shape, but we will miss you.

Business Manager Mark Lemer took a couple of light jabs at his boss, on behalf of the Leidal Education Center staff. Lemer shared a story of how Cheney referred to his master of numbers as the new Mike Nesemeier for 10 years, and how his driving nearly took out the superintendents of both the West Fargo and Fargo school districts.

In a sense, that ride is a good analogy, Lemer said. Chuck had to make a tough decision, he told us everything would be all right, and we were. He did the same as superintendent here. He steered us in the right direction. And he leaves some big shoes to fill.

Cheney has often been at-odds with the West Fargo Education Association during bi-annual bargaining sessions, as the two sides tried to hammer out a deal for teacher contracts. Mark Berntson, West Fargo High School Band Director and current head of the West Fargo Education Association, which represents the teachers, said that through it all, they remained friends.

Theres no one I would rather disagree with more, he said with a smile. Did I say that right? He could disagree without being disagreeable.

Former Board President Mike Lavelle said Cheney took us into a future that none of us would have believed less than a decade ago. And he ribbed Cheney for the school that now bears his name.

All I got was a parking lot, Lavelle exclaimed, referring to a high school lot jokingly named in his honor.

Former superintendents Augie Keller and Marvin Leidal referred to Cheney as a friend, coworker and dedicated employee.

The most poignant moment came when the Cheney children, Alicia, Jason and John, discussed their fathers career.

He had a plaque on his office wall for a long time that I noticed that said, Children are in more need of role models than of critics, Jason said. He firmly believed that, both at school and at home.

Cheney said that his attachment to the West Fargo School District after 41 years of service is still strong, and that he could have stayed until Leidal dragged him into retirement.

But to finish is joyful, and the years have been equally so, he said. Thank you all very much.