Remembering Ed Ljostad

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. 

Ed Ljostad

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.

Ed Ljostad in 1970.

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.

17 responses to “Remembering Ed Ljostad

  1. Thanks for posting, D … He actually did my driving lessons! He was a very nice guy!

  2. I loved that guy. I had no idea of his background/history..Now I love him even more..So sad. RIP Ed…

  3. Vanessa Bradford

    To this day I tell the story of how our drivers ed teacher had us drive on I 95 during rush hour from Westport to Bridgeport and back. And he did it from Madison every day! Well done Ed!!!

  4. When my family moved to Salem Lane in Westport in 1969, Ed Ljostad built book shelves in our den. I’m sure they are still being enjoyed by Nancy Saipe and her family who now own the house.

  5. He was such a great drivers ed teacher. Taught me how to judge my speed without an odometer.

  6. He was just one of those Wonderful Guys , who I just Loved as a Teacher .. I too didn’t have any idea of his background Dave E . May you Rip Ed

  7. Mr Ljostad was both my homeroom teacher when I first got to BJHS (I think he was at BJHS for a while) and also my drivers ed teacher. He was such a terrific guy—relaxed, unflappable, normal. I so clearly remember my first adventure driving with him. We got
    Into the car, and he said “ok, let’s go.” Now, I suspect many staples kids had parents who had basically already taught them to drive (or at least stuck them behind the wheel and let them try), but I had no such parents—it was literally the first time I’d been behind the wheel, and had no idea what I was doing. Mr. Ljostad didn’t seem to care though, and despite my hesitancy began to grade papers in the passenger seat, paying little to no attention to me. In retrospect this may have been a strategy to help new drivers relax, but in my case the strategy failed—taking a right turn out of the parking lot onto north avenue, I quickly lost control of the car and ran into a mailbox, albeit at a very low speed. Mr Ljostad looked up in surprise and said, “what are you doing?” I said, I told you I didn’t know how to drive,” and after a few seconds looking at one another he burst out laughing. I’ve always wondered how the mailbox got repaired…

    I did eventually get my license. Mr. Ljostad, Godspeed, and thanks for the memories.

  8. Mr. Ljostad was also a big supporter of the swimming and diving team. He was probably the faculty member who attended more meets than any other, and also many more than some parents!

    He was a good man who will be missed. RIP.

  9. He was my Driver’s Ed instructor and was very patient (and a very nice guy). I vaguely remember his telling me that he grew up or spent at least part of his childhood on City Island—and our having interesting chats about that unique part of New York City.

  10. MIchael J Krein

    Amen Danny Vener, I believe Ed never picked up a stopwatch in all the years because he once told me he wouldn’t be able to talk to, congrate and prasie the swimmer after the swim. He was a jewel to the Staples Swimming Teams. RIP myu dear friend. Krein

  11. Mr. Ljostad was my homeroom teacher during my senior year at Staples. (It was quite a group — Marilyn Briggs (later Chambers) sat directly in front of me in alphabetical order.) Mr. Ljostad wrote a different inspirational message on the chalkboard every day. I remember one: “Humility is a funny thing: the moment you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.” A kind, gentle, and very caring man.

  12. Bill Boyd... Staples 66

    I’m sorry I didn’t know him. Those were great years with a great faculty…Marue English..Dave Harrison..Joe Folino..Elliot
    Kraut..Mr Hough. Spanish with Mr Franauer (?)….to name a few. We were so lucky!

  13. In 1985, the Staples Key Club was established. That year at the New England District Convention, the club received several awards. It was through the efforts of Principal Marve Jaffe who acknowledged the achievements of the club and engaged Ed to construct a showcase which stood in the hall of the Administration Building for many years. The Key Club was appreciative of his workmanship, a fine example of his skills, and installed a plaque recognizing him for his fine craftsmanship.

  14. Mr. Ljostad and Mr. Werner Friess (also in the “1 Building”) were two of the best teachers I ever had.

  15. By far the best Wood Shop Teacher ever! Could not wait for another day with Mr. Ljostad

  16. Bruce Young ('77)

    Oh, the memories. Thank you, Dan, for the post.
    One of many excellent teacher-instructors I had at SHS. It never occurred to me to ask him how many miles he must have covered in his years as Drivers Ed — wasn’t that his nickname for a while? — teacher. He must have driven the equivalent of to Mars and back. Twice. But he did cross my mind a few times over the years. My cross-country drives. Those “what would Ed say?” moments one occasionally has behind the wheel. In my mind, he’d never have flipped-off all those idiot drivers, or backed into a tree and smashed a rear turnlight cover, or any of the dozen other dumb things I went on to do. His plan for me as a novice driver who’d grow into a “mature” driver was pure and simple.
    Rest in peace, Mr. Ljostad — Ed, if I may — you earned it.

  17. Richard Sauvageau

    Ed and I taught at the same time at Staples. We were on opposite sides of the campus but knew each other. One time, I needed some simple carpentry work done and brought the board to Ed’s shop. Once I explained what I needed, he called one of his students, a girls that I had in my math class and she did the requested work. One year, when the math team won the state championship, the principal Marv Jaffe asked what I wanted. I said I wanted a display case to show off our trophies. That summer Ed build the case. Wonder if it’s still there? Ed was a great guy, I feel privileged to have known him.
    Dick Sauvageau