Former ISD 623 superintendent remembered

Lloyd Nielsen

Lloyd Nielsen died Nov. 5

Although he left the Roseville school district in 1986, the legacy of Dr. Lloyd Nielsen’s 19-year stint as superintendent remains visible.

Nielsen, 88, passed away last month from complications of Alzheimer’s, and is survived by his three children, one of whom is a teacher in ISD 623 today.

His daughter Laura Berkas is an elementary teacher at Edgerton Elementary in Maplewood. She says she and her brother Peter and sister Mary Clare all attended school while her father was the superintendent from 1967 to 1986, and her own children have attended Roseville schools as well.

One of the most explicit ways Nielsen’s influence is present in the schools today is at Roseville Area High School—the auditorium was named after him in 2004. Now, school drama productions and music concerts take place in the “Lloyd C. Nielsen Performing Arts Center.”

“He was a real arts supporter,” Berkas recalled. “He liked to paint in his free time.”

In addition to art education, Berkas says her father was a “firm believer in a well-rounded education for kids.”

“Some of the things he believed in are going on now ... teachers working with teachers to better student learning.”

Before his time

Current superintendent Dr. John Thein took the district’s reins in 1997, more than a decade after Nielsen departed, but received a great deal of support from him. The two remained in close contact.

“I knew him well. What a fine gentleman,” Thein mused. “He did so many neat things.”

Thein cited the employment of subject specialists as one of the lasting effects of Nielsen’s leadership.

“Years ago, when I was in school, when you went to class, the elementary teacher would teach everything, not just reading, writing and math, but music, [physical education], art and science.”

Now, specialists with knowledge and training in each of those individual subjects work with students throughout the day.

Additionally, Thein said, Nielsen helped make the superintendency a professional career through increased goal-setting, planning and development.

One of the greatest challenges Nielsen faced during his time with the district was a surge—and subsequent decline—in student enrollment. The decline led to tough decisions on budget cuts and school closures.

“There were too many schools and not enough students. It was really hard on him.”

Kept consulting

After parting ways with 623, Nielsen became a consultant, and later, a leading member of several prominent education organizations in the area, such as Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District, a program that offers special needs education and vocational training to students in 13 member districts that may not have the required resources.

“Lloyd was the godfather of that,” Thein said.

Thein listed several other organizations that Nielsen helped create, including the Association of Metropolitan School Districts and Technology in Education Services.

His respect for Nielsen was so great that even in recent years, after serving more than a decade as a superintendent himself, he had trouble referring to Nielsen by his first name and not “Dr. Nielsen.”

Berkas, who has been with the district for 13 years, says she’s heard great things from her father’s former co-workers about his management style.

“I’ve been hearing from a lot of his colleagues and teachers that worked for him that he was a fair, honest person to work with,” Berkas said.

“He was a real mentor and sounding post for me. I have the greatest respect for him,” Thein said.

Nielsen was preceded in death by his wife, Clareanne. He is interred at Roselawn Cemetery and memorials are being sent to the Lloyd C. Nielsen Scholarship Fund. 

Johanna Holub can be reached at or 651-748-7813. Follow her on Twitter @jholubnews.


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