Much-loved schoolteacher turns 104

By From the Heart | Dianne Towalski | Behind the Lens

Jun 29

The Visitor gets a lot of story ideas from readers. Sometimes we get a great idea but, for whatever reason, we can’t pursue it. Many times space is an issue — which was the case last week when one of our long-time readers, Rita Reker from St. John Cantius Parish in St. Cloud, called to tell us about a fellow parishioner celebrating her 104th birthday. There was no room for the story in the print edition, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Tillie Schaefer and help her celebrate her birthday. And maybe put together a little video (see below).

On Mondays and Fridays she and a group of friends meet at McDonalds after Mass to have breakfast and play cards. On June 24, the group celebrated her birthday with her favorite lemon cake and songs, including one Reker wrote especially for her.

Tillie has been a member of St. John Cantius since marrying her late husband, Art, when she was 24. Friends pick her up to take her to daily Mass, although she said she started a walking workout this past spring to make sure she could walk to Mass if she needed to. “I found out I can walk about a mile without sitting down,” she said. “So I knew I was safe.”

Tillie was a much-loved schoolteacher, beginning her career in the 1930s. She taught in Mayhew Lake, Browerville, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud and St. Benedict High School in St. Joseph. Later in her career she taught special education classes for the St. Cloud school district. She taught many of the children and grandchildren of the friends who gathered for her birthday.

Joyce Dinndorf, one of the many friends on hand to help Tillie celebrate, said that all five of her children had Tillie as a teacher. Her daughter Elizabeth Dinndorf is currently president of Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina. Joyce said Elizabeth keeps Tillie’s picture on her desk and tells her students that she is where she is today because of Tillie.

I asked Tillie what her favorite part of teaching was and she was quick to answer that it was her students. She loved all of her students and was blessed with good parents to work with, too, she said.

Here’s a short video from the celebration.


Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer. She worked for The Visitor as a full-time photographer from 1991 to 2005, before taking a job first as a page designer and then as a multimedia reporter with The Catholic Spirit in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where she worked from 2005 to 2014. She and her husband, Joe, returned to work in the Office of Communications and The Visitor in 2014. They live in Sauk Rapids and have two children. Erin, 24, lives in southwestern Minnesota and works as the watershed coordinator for the Heron Lake Watershed District. Christian, 17, is a senior at Cathedral High School. They are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids. Dianne’s likes: Anything photography related, the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks, SCSU Husky hockey, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota United FC, country music, fashion and good red wine.

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor as well as the paper’s page designer.

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Janet Brinkman June 30, 2016

What a wonderful tribute to Tillie Schaefer. Great video and great job, Dianne!!!

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