Ed Ljostad — a longtime Staples High School industrial arts teacher, who also founded and coached the school’s ski team, served on the innovative Staples Governing Board and taught driver’s ed — died August 25 in Madison, Connecticut. He was 89.
A well-rounded man with a wide range of interests, he also owned a shipyard at New York’s City Island Yacht Club. After being hired by Westport in 1965, he commuted between Madison and Westport every day for the rest of his teaching career.
He is survived by his wife Carol, son Gary of Hampton Bays, New York, daughters Laurie Ljostad of New Haven, and Jan Childs of North Haven; 5 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren.
Calling hours are Sunday, September 23 (12 to 2 p.m., Swan Funeral Home, 825 Boston Post Road, Madison).
In 2004 I interviewed Ed Ljostad for my book, Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. He said:
I came to Staples in 1965. I had taught industrial arts at an elementary school in Scarsdale, New York after college, but I didn’t feel I was really “teaching.” I got an opportunity to buy a shipyard, so I did that for 5 years. But I sold it to go back into teaching.
I called New York University and got a list of industrial arts openings. Staples was the first place I visited. I liked the school and the people. I checked out 3 or 4 other places, and realized I liked Staples the best. I signed the papers right then. At that time everyone was looking for teachers, so you really had a choice.
Staples was perfect for me. I liked the facilities, I loved the open campus, and the people were great too. Sig Schreiner, the head of industrial arts, and Werner Friess were really dedicated. Principal Stan Lorenzen impressed me. The place just felt right.
Stan had 2 rules: If you have a class, you must be there; if you don’t have a class, you can’t disturb those who do. He really made Staples what it is.
We had a pretty good program, with woodworking, auto shop, drafting, and Ed Ponte’s metalworking. I thought I’d get the non-college-bound kids who got “sent” to shop, but I got a lot who were interested in engineering, and wanted hands-on experience with tools. We took advantage of lots of state competitions. Werner and I took kids there, and won a lot of medals.
I taught woodworking most of the time. As the school population declined there weren’t enough kids for 4 or 5 industrial arts teachers. Some of them left, and some had to teach more than one subject. If I stayed, I’d have had to teach auto mechanics. I know nothing about that, and I didn’t want to. I loved it, but it was time to go. The change in the climate of the school came after I left [in the mid-’80s].
Industrial arts was absolutely supported when I was there. Parents came all the time to sit in on classes, and the Board of Education and administration were completely behind us. The board had some concerns about us rebuilding the Nike Site – that was a 3- or 4-year project. [NOTE: The Nike Site is now the location of Bedford Middle School.]
The original idea was to use it for an in-depth living situation, with classrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen, for any Staples group to use. It never got there, but [Board of Education member] Herb Lobsenz was really for it. He always came up to see what we were doing.
The Nike Site was completely dilapidated. We spent a year cleaning out junk, and 2 or 3 years rebuilding. We did carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and masonry. We were almost finished when they called an end to it.
My involvement in the Staples Governing Board just sort of happened. It turned out to be a great program for everyone. We really did work together. No one was higher up than the others. We were all equal.
I commuted 50 miles each way from Madison, so I absolutely feel that Staples was a special school. I tell people Staples was as much like a private school as a public school could get.
There were so many reasons. The parents really supported it, and the renovation really helped. The school had been pretty rundown, but after the renovation morale really jumped. Kids were proud. But it wasn’t just the physical plant – we had an exceptional teaching staff. It was a great place to be. If things had remained the same, I’d probably still be there.