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The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Hall of Fame will honor longtime Cannon Falls teacher John Fogarty for his work as a speech and debate coach and a teacher for more than 50 years.

The 2022 Hall of Fame inductee will be one of a dozen educators honored at a dinner April 24. 

Fogarty came to Cannon Falls in 1969. He has taught thousands of students over the years in English, speech, debate and theater. He built the speech and debate programs into a nationally recognized powerhouse..

Fogarty’s arrival at Cannon Falls coincided with the state organizing speech and debate into a competitive activity with state champions crowned each year.

“Before that, it was more festival-like,” he said.

During the years Fogarty has led the speech program, Cannon Falls has amassed 123 medal winners and 14 state champions in speech.

The Minnesota Speech Coaches Association said Fogarty “has had a tremendous positive impact on his students’ lives, as well as the speech community at large.”

In 2010, he was one of 12 national coaches honored by the National Federation of State High School Associations. In 2013, he was honored as the outstanding individual by the Communication Theater Association of Minnesota.

Fogarty has stepped down as head speech coach, handing over the reins to Holly Winget and Cal Vande Hoef. Fogarty continues as an assistant coach in the program.

Fogarty also has built the student newspaper, The Lantern, into a nationally recognized program. The newspaper has been recognized as a national newspaper of distinction.

Two years ago, student Emma Conway was runner-up for Minnesota student journalist of the year. She is now studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That’s what Fogarty likes to talk about most -- not his honors but the accomplishments of the students he has taught over the years.

And many students have gone through his classes.

“I’ve taught grandkids of the first group,” he said, adding he is sure there are some great grandchildren of his students already in the Cannon Falls schools.

“I don’t think kids have changed,” he said. “I think kids are as motivated now as they were then.”

Today, there are fewer discipline problems, he said, although cell phones are an issue that didn’t exist in 1969.

Students today have more options, and teachers have more tools to teach kids. Both are good things that result in better education. Fogarty does lament the loss of some programs that have fallen victim to budget cuts such as the home economics program and the loss of a school librarian.

“We are having a difficult time because of funds,” Fogarty said.

He especially enjoys the after-school programs -- the speech and debate teams and the high school theater productions -- where students attend because they love the activity.

He said Cannon Falls has talented students and supportive parents.

“We are so fortunate to have kids as talented as we have had,” he said. 

Fogarty always wanted to be a teacher as he watched his mom, who taught as he grew up. He enjoyed working with kids and wanted to give something back to the community with his teaching.

“We need to invest in our future, and our kids are our future,” Fogarty said.

He interviewed for a few jobs before he was offered a position in Cannon Falls. His wife landed a spot in Northfield.

His plan was to stay a few years and then move onto a bigger school. That never happened. He found Cannon Falls to be the perfect-size school.

He did leave Cannon Falls when he and his wife went to Taiwan to teach. He returned four years later.

Over the years, he learned much about teaching, advice he passes on to students considering a career in teaching.

  • Love the subject matter you are teaching.

  • Get involved with students in after-school activities.

His No. 1 recommendation: Get involved.

It has not hurt that he has worked with good colleagues and good administrators.

“That makes a huge difference for teachers,” he said about having effective administrators leading the school.

The students Fogarty has taught have gone on to become lawyers, judges and doctors. Many are still in this area. While he shifted to part-time teaching five years ago, he continues to be motivated in shaping students to be successful in life, no matter what they choose to do.

 “I’ve loved every minute of it,” Fogarty said. “I haven’t had a bad day teaching that I can think of.”

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