Van Kooten wouldn't trade CHS teaching career
By Sharon Coy
Blade Staff Writer
A longtime Concordia teacher, A.G."Van" Van Kooten, was one of the nominees in the Education category for the Blade's People in Profile and fittingly so. After all, he spent nearly 40 years enriching the lives of Concordia Junior and Senior High School students who studied American History, U.S. Government, Sociology and Family Living in his classrooms and who in later years benefited from his counseling.
Van Kooten said teaching was his career choice for several reasons. He was impressed with the science, history (which he loved) and typing teachers he had while attending Long Island High School. Also his parents encouraged him to become an educator.
Before joining the U.S. Air Force, he earned a degree from Fort Hays State College and later went to summer school on the G.I. bill. From 1942-1945 he served in the Air Force, where he said he learned to appreciate having learned to type in high school as that enabled him to work in an office.
Van Kooten's first teaching job was in Randall for a year and a half. In 1947 he began his career at Concordia, teaching American History in Junior High School and Government, American History and Sociology in Senior High School.
In his early years he also coached Junior High football, basketball and track for two years. "That was long enough," he said.
The extra duties added $200 to his salary but that apparently wasn't enough to entice him to continue. Not only did he have to coach all three sports, he also had to drive team members to out-of-town events in a small bus which always had to be put back in a garage on highway 9 filled with gas ready for the next person to use.
Van Kooten's starting salary in 1947 was $1,980. He had a summer job adjusting hail losses and he said he earned more
at this than he did for nine months of teaching. He continued to adjust hail losses for 44 years.
Reflecting on his teaching days in Concordia, one thing Van Kooten recalls is the surprise that met him the first day he stepped into his classroom which he still remembers was Room 107.
Following the rules outlined in the big book referred to as the "Teachers' Bible", he had to stand outside the door of his room and supervise the hallways until the bell rang. When he walked into his room it was crammed with 60 students. "Some were even sitting on the registers," he said. An adjustment was soon made for better student distribution.
As for discipline, Van Kooten said he never really had a discipline problem that he couldn't handle himself. "I knew which kids I could kid and which I could get serious with," he said. Remembering one incident where a boy who always sat in the back of the room was acting up and distracting other students, he asked him to move to the front of the room. He said he didn't want to. "I asked him if he liked the seat he was sitting in and he said 'yes.' So I asked him to get up. I moved the seat to the front of the room and told him, 'you said you liked this seat, now sit in it.' " He received no further trouble.
A former student told Van Kooten about finding one of his papers that he had graded some time ago and it was covered with red circles. Apparently numerous papers left his desk in that condition because it was his policy to circle misspelled words in red. . . a habit formed from his junior high days in Phillips County when he won the eighth grade spelling contest.
One duty Van Kooten never quite understood was being asked to fill in for the principal to sign passes when he had to leave. What puzzled him was that he had to leave a classroom unattended to do this. "That seemed strange to me," he said.
As a senior sponsor, one duty Van Kooten enjoyed was accompanying seniors on their sneak trips which took place in May toward the end of school. One year they went by train to Kansas City. Other years they went to Colorado Springs or Rockaway Beach, Mo.
Van Kooten said one purpose for the senior trips was to allow kids who had maybe never been out of Cloud County to see a little bit of the country. This activity ended in 1962 when it was voted out by parents.
In 1965 Van Kooten received a degree in counseling from Emporia State University. He then taught only one class and did counseling. In 1967 he began counseling full time.
Van Kooten retired in 1986 and said he felt honored that year to be the first teacher to be asked to give the commencement address. "I worked hard on it," he said.
"I wouldn't take a million dollars for my career," Van Kooten said. "I had opportunities to transfer, but we had a good school, a good administration. Why would I leave here to go somewhere where I didn't know how things were?"
Van Kooten was asked to substitute teach after his retirement but refused. "I left the school with a good taste in my mouth and I wasn't about to go back and spoil it," he said.
After retirement, Van Kooten formed a singing trio with Dr. Paul Nelson and Dan Gerber becoming the "Van" of Dan, Van and the Man. He sang tenor for the first time in his life and said the three had 14 enjoyable years together singing all around the area.
They knew about 60 songs, always sang a cappella and never used books. They shared their talents at churches, civic clubs, birthdays and anniversaries and sang at many funerals. They never charged. Any donations they received were given to the Concordia First United Methodist Church Choir, where all three are members.
Van Kooten and his wife Lucille met when they were both sophomores at Long Island High School in Phillips County. They were married in 1942 and had 65 years together. Lucille died in 2007.
His daughter, Linda, is an elementary music teacher in Goodland and her husband is a physical therapist. He also has three granddaughters.
CHS graduates who had Van Kooten for a teacher in the 1950s, Darrell and Eleanor Zohn described him as a very good teacher who was liked by all. "We feel privileged to have had him as our teacher," they said. "His music with Dan, Van and the Man was also a joy to everyone. He was an all- around guy." It's probably safe to say he has hundreds of students all around the country who share their sentiments.