Cover photo for David Gangsei's Obituary
David Gangsei Profile Photo
1931 David 2021

David Gangsei

June 12, 1931 — December 10, 2021

David S. Gangsei, 90, of Pequot Lakes passed away peacefully on 10 December 2021 at his home overlooking East Twin Lake, with his loved ones by his side.

David was born on June 12, 1931 in Sacramento, California, to Nels and Thelma Gangsei of Forest City, Iowa. The family moved to Minnesota when David was a teenager. He attended Northfield High School where he excelled in academics and sports (football and basketball) and went on to graduate from St. Olaf College with a Bachelor of Arts in 1953. During summer breaks at St. Olaf, David served as a Seaman in the Merchant Marine, operating out of Duluth and sailing the Great Lakes. Following graduation from St. Olaf, David was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, assigned to Quantico, Virginia and Cherry Point, North Carolina. He served during the Korean War as an intelligence officer assigned to a Marine Aviation unit as an imagery interpreter.

Upon completion of his military service, David married his college sweetheart, Helen (Hagen) Gangsei (Morris, Minnesota) on July 17, 1955. They enjoyed 66 years of marriage and adventure together, traveling the world and raising their two children, Ted and Heidi.

Initially, David sought out divinity studies to become a Lutheran pastor like his father, Nels, but discovered his true passion was in the field of education. In 1958, he received his Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree from Harvard University, kicking off a career in education that would ultimately span six decades and four continents. Thirty-two of those years were spent with the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) system, supporting US Military and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bases abroad. During his time with DODDS, David served as a history teacher, then as an assistant Principal, and then Principal at fourteen American schools in: Poitiers, France; Nürnburg, Germany; Heilbronn; Pforzheim; Bad Herzfeld; Brussels, Belgium; Istanbul, Turkey; Garmisch, Germany; Karlsruhe; Karamursel, Turkey; Livorno, Italy (twice); Oslo, Norway and Greenham Commons, United Kingdom. During his time overseas, David also received his Doctorate Degree in Education from the University of Southern California in 1975. He retired from DODDS in 1992.

Following his so-called “retirement,” David was not one to stand still. He then embarked on a second career in education back in his home state, teaching and holding the position of Principal at five Minnesota schools, including: Woodland Middle School, Duluth, Crosby-Ironton, Baudette and Pine River. He followed that with a stint overseas as the Principal at the International School Nido de Aguilas (School of the Eagles) in Santiago, Chile. When he returned once again to Minnesota, he didn’t even consider slowing down. Instead, he began substitute teaching at the same high school in Northfield that he graduated from in 1949, which he continued to do until the Covid pandemic hit.

In 2007 David was invited by the Superintendent of American Schools - Mediterranean Region to preside over the commencement ceremony of the last graduating class of Livorno American High School (LAHS) (Tuscany). The ceremony was held at the Basilica di San Piertro Apostolo. A 12th Century church built near Pisa where St. Peter is rumored to have landed.

David’s teaching philosophy was about making education a lifelong adventure. He used his own wanderlust to form his method of teaching. His focus was to make education a “bountiful and joyous experience.” He said that students leaving “warm and friendly schools where quality work is the norm for everyone, every day, have the life of adventure before them.” Before the first bell of the day, you knew exactly where to find Doctor G.—in the hallways, greeting students by name on their way to their first class! Well-loved by his students and peers, David earned many awards and accolades, including being selected by the students of Northfield High School to be their graduation commencement speaker – while he was a substitute teacher. Not a bad way to finish six decades of teaching.

When not teaching, David and his beloved wife Helen shared a passion for history, frequently traveling to art museums, historical sights, battlefields, and other ancient places. Though often, they didn’t have to travel far at all, because history was right in their backyard. While living in Tuscany, David enjoyed a view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa from his school and was within a one-hour drive of the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance.

David completed twenty-five marathons including the Greek Marathon in Athens. History was underfoot wherever he ran. For David, it wasn’t just about completing the marathon, it was about turning every run into a history lesson. David continued running marathons well into his seventies. He was, quite literally, a true renaissance/marathon man, who will be greatly missed.

David was preceded in death by his parents Nels and Thelma Gangsei, his brothers Lyle and Philip Gangsei and his sister Erma. He is survived by his best friend and wife of 66 years, Helen, his daughter Heidi Luebke (David) of Eagle River, Wisconsin, his son Ted (Jan) of Fairfax Station, Virginia, and four grandchildren, Hans, Bjorn, Sven and Ava.

David has asked that we view life as he did, through a positive lens. To live a life of compassion, and always remember you are “never too old to learn.”

A celebration of life will be held on May 7, 2022 at 2:00pm at St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield, MN.  Arrangements are with Brenny Family Funeral Chapel and Cremation Services of Baxter, MN. To share a memory online please go to: Memorials are preferred and appreciated to be sent to the Friends of the Hong - Kierkegaard Library, c/o Mark Stapp, St. Olaf College Development Office, 1520 St. Olaf Ave, Northfield, MN, 55057.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of David Gangsei, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Starts at 2:00 pm (Central time)

St. John's Lutheran Church

500 3rd St W, Northfield, MN 55057

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