Education

'A voice for students' Cedar Rapids school board member Gary Anhalt dies

Longtime school board member will be 'greatly mourned and missed'

Cedar Rapids Community School District board of education member Gary Anhalt speaks during a board meeting in 2018. (Jim
Cedar Rapids Community School District board of education member Gary Anhalt speaks during a board meeting in 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids school board member Gary Anhalt died Friday at the age of 74, after devoting decades in the classroom and on the school board.

His family said he had been found outside while running his snowblower.

Anhalt worked for the Cedar Rapids Community School District for 40 years and spent 30 years as a classroom teacher of science at the former Eisenhower Elementary School and physical education at Grant Wood.

Anhalt retired from teaching in 2009 before running for school board. He was an at-large board member, first elected in 2009, and reelected in 2013 and 2017, with his term expiring this year.

Anhalt was also a former president of the Cedar Rapids Education Association, the teachers union.

He was the only school board member to vote against closing Polk Elementary, 1500 B Ave. NE, in 2012, when the board had to cut expenses.

Polk, Anhalt said, was “a very effective elementary school, particularly with low-income and minority families.”

As a teacher, Anhalt started the soccer program in the Cedar Rapids schools — first at Washington High School where most of the English Language Learning students used to attend.

“That’s the language they spoke was soccer,” said Tammy Wawro, former president of the Iowa State Teachers Association and close friend of Anhalt’s. “He knew that his voice was always for students.”

Anhalt and his wife, Holly, are godparents to Wawro’s 16-year-old son.

Last month, Anhalt gifted Wawro with a framed picture of the Inauguration Poem “Of the Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gorman, performed on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

He was hoping the students in Wawro’s seventh-grade language arts class at Wilson Middle School could memorize the poem and recite it at a school board meeting.

“He said, ‘We haven’t gotten to see kids at the school board meetings because of Zoom, and you forget why you’re here if you don’t see them. It’s not just policy, it’s kids,’” Wawro said.

The most valuable lesson Anhalt imparted to Wawro was that everyone is important, she said.

Anhalt told Wawro to answer this question each day: Was anyone’s day better because you were in it?

If she couldn’t answer, she had to find someone whose day she could make better, whether it be the school secretary, custodian on the way out of the building or the grocery store clerk.

“He absolutely did that every day,” Wawro said. “Every day was better because he was in it. His heart was too big for his body.”

“Gary was a true gentleman, a lovely person, and he’s being greatly mourned and missed by so many already.” said Marcia Hughes, former public information officer for Cedar Rapids schools.

When Anhalt was president of the Cedar Rapids Education Association, his office was directly next to Hughes’ office for about six years in the early 2000s.

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On the occasional Friday afternoon, Anhalt would pop his head into Hughes’ office or Hughes would look in on Anhalt, and they would share a coffee and “solve all the problems of the world,” Hughes recalled.

“Working so closely gave me a wonderful opportunity to see him in action,” Hughes said. “Gary was passionate about looking out for all children, all students, for public education and for educators.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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