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District's 'glue' steppingdown after two decades

Ask her friends and coworkers about Monica Spier, and they come up with one common word: sincere.

And it's true. Upon meeting Spier, you often wonder if a person can actually be that, well, nice.

But behind the sweet exterior is a woman who has a great work ethic, those same friends and coworkers will tell you. And for more than 20 years, she has been the "glue" that has held the West Fargo School District office together, working as the administrative assistant to the Superintendent.

Now, after a tumultuous year that has seen the passing of her husband, Joe, the engagement of all three of her children and the departure of her Superintendent of Schools to retirement, Spier is calling it a career.

Well, sort of.

"I'll still be around," she said with a trademark smile. "It's the opportunity for a transition. I can stay on part-time and be of service to the District. I like change. I appreciate a challenge. I think this will be a time for both things."

Spier is a longtime member of the District, as both an employee and a student. She started school in West Fargo in 1967 when her father was transferred to a little community called Harwood. She began her freshman year that fall, and her principal at the high school was a man named Marvin Leidal.

"It was the start of a relationship that lasted for years," she said. "Little did we know. But I was involved in student council and some other activities that had us working closely with the principal. So our paths crossed in the very beginning."

Completing high school, Spier was a model student. She went on to marry Joe, have three children in Julie, Joey and Jessica, and loved (still loves) being a mother.

But she returned to the District she loved in the summer of 1983. Later, her former principal was named the Superintendent. Together, she and Leidal covered the District in good times and in bad, thick and thin, as the community of West Fargo hit its stride and helped propel the District to what it is today.

When Leidal retired in 1999, he credited his right-hand gal.

"She's just outstanding," he said. "I don't know what I would have done, day in and day out, without her."

Chuck Cheney, her friend and coworker the last seven years as the man in charge, said at his retirement that Spier was, indeed, the "glue."

"I just love the people here, I love the District and I think the thing that I had in common with Marvin and Chuck is that we wanted to make a difference in the community. I was so fortunate to work with two dynamic individuals who gave me a tremendous opportunity here," Spier said. "Their styles were so different, but both were just committed to providing a dynamic environment where kids could learn. And it went down to every child, whether it was someone with special needs, or the middle of the road student or the kids involved in advanced classes. They both wanted the best for everyone."

As administrative assistant to the Superintendent, Spier also served as the administrative assistant to the West Fargo School Board. That meant literally hundreds of Monday nights away from Joe, who was battling Multiple Sclerosis, and from her kids, for more than 20 years. It also meant another opportunity for Spier, who looked at the bright side said, noting she was fortunate to know the many incredible people who have made up the West Fargo Board of Ed over the past 23 years.

"It's just a tremendous group when you go down the list," she said. "There have always been seven people that are very committed. All with that common goal to do it for the kids," she said.

In the 1990s, Spier was also active in the athletic scene, as she served as the advisor/coach for the West Fargo cheerleaders. As part of that squad, she led the squad for three-years, and the team was named the all-star squad in 1993, 1994 and 1995. It took home the coveted Spirit Award in 1995.

"It was a chance for my girls to see the difference between 'Monica the Mom' and 'Monica the Coach,'" she said. "I had to kind of warn them. We worked really hard. And it paid off. All of them are still my girls. They send cards and stop in. It's great."

She's also seen changes over the years in her position, from old phone systems to knew, from typewriters with correction tape to high-speed computers with inter-office messaging.

"I don't mind the changes at all. I pushed pretty hard for modern technology, both for here and for the students. Gerry Hagen got to know my voice well," she said.

This past winter, her partner in life, Joe, died after a long battle with MS. Before he died, he had special meetings with his kids, and gave his blessing to each of their relationships. In light of that, Julie will be married this September, Joey this December and Jessica sometime in 2007. All live in the Twin Cities area.

"They kind of blew me away, and I had to ask, 'Did your father know about all this?'" Spier said. "Of course he did. He was just the most courageous man. I was so blessed. I have just been blessed to know all of the people that have impacted my life. I feel like each one of them has been here for a reason."

Spier said she plans to stay in West Fargo, taking care now of her elderly mother and working part-time with the District. She is excited about the new facets that newly instated Superintendent Dana Diesel Wallace brings to West Fargo. And she looks forward to helping her replacement, Sandy Reed, learn the ropes.

Reed, incidentally, is the (now former) secretary for Board president Duane Hanson.

"I think she'll fit right in here," she said. "It's just a great place to work. I hope I made a little bit of a contribution."