IRONTON -- Every Tuesday night during the eight-week Crosby-Ironton teachers' strike, C-I teachers hosted a family night dinner and rally for their families, friends and supporters.
Nearly a week after the teachers' strike was settled and C-I teachers returned to their classrooms, Tuesday's final gathering was a celebration, a time to share hugs and laughter at Gary's Sports Bar and Grill in Ironton.
More than 325 people attended Tuesday's settlement party, with teachers from around the state joining C-I's 87 teachers in celebration of the end of the second-longest teachers' strike in state history.
"I feel so proud of this local, 1325, for its solidarity it has shown," said Judy Schaubach, president of Education Minnesota. "It's become a lighthouse for the state."
"1325, congratulations," Carla Gutzman, a C-I parent and teachers' union supporter, told union members. "I'm so thrilled to be before you celebrating you are back where you belong, in the classrooms with your students. You are amazing people. Don't let anyone tell you different."
Teachers' union members honored several people who have supported them during the strike, including Frank Perpich, a retired White Bear Lake teacher and C-I graduate, who spent every morning and afternoon walking the picket lines with C-I's striking teachers.
Teachers attending Tuesday's party included those from Brainerd, Aitkin, Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus, Pine City, Bloomington, Robbinsdale, Blaine, Stillwater and Rochester. About 25 Brainerd teachers, who serenaded C-I teachers with an original song, presented their C-I colleagues and their families with 300 movie passes to Movies 10 in Baxter. C-I teachers gave them a standing ovation for their support during the strike.
"Brainerd teachers are in a league of their own," said Doug Mayfield, C-I English teacher and chief union negotiator. "They were there first and they were there the most."
"We in Brainerd gained 87 new friends and family members and that's priceless," said John Ward, a Brainerd teacher.
The Bloomington Federation of Teachers, who served the infamous roast beef lunch to C-I striking teachers the day before the strike was settled, causing about 75 percent of them to become violently ill with food poisoning, handed out buttons to C-I teachers Tuesday.
The buttons read, "Bloomington-C-I, We help work things out."
"Our intent was not to kill you," Debbie Dargay, a Bloomington teacher, told C-I teachers with a smile. "Things happen. You guys got over it."
Despite the deep-seated school rivalries between Aitkin and C-I, Aitkin teacher Gary Johnson said the strike has united teachers from both schools. Aitkin teachers even began an Adopt-a-C-I teacher campaign that raised $1,100 for C-I teachers.
"You know how hard this is to do, coming from Aitkin," said Johnson with a good-natured laugh.
Several C-I teachers said it felt good to be back in the classroom. The teachers' strike began Feb. 9 and ended April 6; school resumed for students and teachers Thursday.
"It's different but it's good," said Jackie Nornes, a C-I junior high special education teacher. "The kids are slowly getting back into it. Everything really fell into place, just like before we left."
"Things in my classroom are wonderful," said C-I English teacher Andrea Gaffney. "I'm back with my students. It took about 10 minutes and we were back in the groove."
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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