Roy Magnuson retiring as Como teacher, ready to serve Ramsey County

By Eric Erickson

After 25 years of teaching social studies at Como Park High School, and nearly 40 years of coaching the Cougars in football, wrestling and track, Roy Magnuson is retiring from his full-time position in education.

Magnuson began serving St. Paul and Ramsey County in a new capacity on January 7 as the Public Information Officer for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office.  He was appointed by Sheriff Bob Fletcher.

A lifelong resident of St. Paul, Magnuson grew up on Chelmsford Street, a short walk to St. Anthony Park Elementary, his first St. Paul Public School home away from home.  He attended Murray for grades 7-12, when it was serving as the neighborhood secondary school.  

As a high school senior, Magnuson began coaching at Langford Park – the rec center of his youth.  “Bill O’Malley, who succeeded Langford Park playground legend Bruce Perizzo asked me to coach Wee Pee football in fall of 1971.  He literally was a life changer for me,” Magnuson said.

Magnuson never stopped coaching.  He coached teams in St. Paul Parks and Rec, ran programming, built relationships, and went to college at various stages.  In 1979, in Como Park’s first year as a high school, Magnuson joined the coaching staff of the football team.  He’d do the same for wrestling and track in the early 80s, serving as assistant, co-coach, or head coach ever since.

After earning a history degree from Augsburg College, Magnuson began teaching full-time at Como in 1993, two blocks from the house he and wife Mary Drew purchased.  It is no exaggeration to say that Roy’s work in the classroom touched the lives of thousands, inspiring students, and helping teenagers find their place in the world.  Through thought-provoking instruction, humor, high expectations and unwavering belief, Roy built relationships.  

Chong Thao is a respected and beloved Como English teacher.  At one point in time, she was Mr. Magnuson’s student.  

“During Roy’s tenure at Como Park, he has been a mentor to students and champion of teachers in his efforts to show that, in his words, ‘Como Park is the best kept secret in St. Paul.’ As my former teacher, he taught me that I mattered; as my colleague, Roy taught me that I have a voice, and he has done the same for countless other students and teachers,” Thao said.

Shanene Herbert runs the Twin Cities Healing Justice Program as part of the American Friends Service Committee.  She recalls walking into Mr. Magnuson’s African American Studies class at Como in 1994. 

“While I automatically questioned some things, I would later find an unlikely mentor and role model for starting my own degree in Afro studies and career in education years later.  Through the years we have stayed connected and have talked about our hopes and dreams for the youth in our community,” Herbert said.  

Anthony Rogers was a talented football player and wrestler who graduated from Como in 2001.  Having built a relationship through coaching, Magnuson encouraged Anthony to challenge himself, to think of himself as a student with college potential, and to take the AP U.S. History course he taught.

Anthony graduated from St. Olaf College in 2005, the first in his family to earn a college degree, and works for iQor in Accounts Receivable.  “Roy Magnuson is one of the greatest men that I know.  He always sees you for who you are and can help get anyone to their next level as a person,” Rogers said.  

The reach of Magnuson’s work and the extent of his impact within education circles stands on its own merit.  But above and beyond teaching, coaching, and relationships, Magnuson has a gift for organizing, which he has done for decades in both labor and politics.

“I have been fortunate to be involved with many campaigns of non-traditional candidates.  Like many activists of my generation, the chance to have a relationship with Paul and Sheila Wellstone was maybe the most memorable part of my involvement,” Magnuson said.  

“Life is in many ways about relationships and I have been blessed with so many.  The labor and political activities have been a source of life-long friendships.” 

Getting to know people, encouraging people, connecting people and empowering people are cornerstones of the work Roy Magnuson has done and will continue to do.  Former teacher and St. Paul School Board member John Brodrick has been witness to it all.  

“As a teenager, Roy already exhibited leadership skills.  In his lifetime of service, he has transported those qualities and abilities to all of St. Paul.  In teaching, coaching, politics, unionism and just being a friend, Roy has understood the heart of St. Paul in all of its history and diversity,” Brodrick said.

Talk to a few people in St. Paul and you’ll quickly find someone who knows Roy.  You don’t have to look too hard to see the impact of Roy Magnuson’s career, and the influence he’s had in the community and city where he grew up and invested his energy.  

Now, a new chapter – sharing the message and informing the public about the positive role the sheriff’s office has in Ramsey County and our city.  

“The team that County Sheriff Fletcher has put together is a group of talented individuals who have the maturity to work together for an important goal – redefining the way that law enforcement and public safety is seen and accepted in our society,” Magnuson said.  

As the sheriff’s office provides services, ensures safety, connects resources, and implements programming to support youth and help the people, Roy Magnuson’s ability to create and foster relationships will certainly be an asset.

While his everyday presence at Como Park High School will be sorely missed, Cougars past and present should know that Roy Magnuson is still serving.

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