After more than 63 years together, former northwest Minnesota schoolteachers die on same day
On Tuesday, May 24, Lloyd Lee, 87, and Shirley Lee, 88, died just hours apart from each other.
CROOKSTON, Minn. – In their 63 years of marriage, Shirley and Lloyd Lee were always together, says their daughter Sondi Johnson.
The longtime Crookston residents taught together at Crookston High School for 34 years, and lived in Crookston until about a year ago, when they moved to Plymouth, Minnesota, to be closer to Sondi and her husband Jeff Johnson.
“They were just so close,” said Sondi.” “It was always Lloyd and Shirley.”
On Tuesday, May 24, Lloyd, 87, and Shirley, 88, died just hours apart from each other. While she knew Shirley and Lloyd would not want to be apart for long, Sondi said she never imagined they would die on the same day.
“While that can be hard, we also found some beauty knowing that they were together, and are together, and were able to walk hand in hand into heaven together,” said Sondi. “It’s pretty unusual that two people pass away on the same day, but if it was going to happen to any couple, it would be them.”
Lloyd and Shirley met while attending college at Bemidji State University. They were married in 1958, and taught together in Stephen, Minnesota, for two years before accepting positions to teach in Crookston. They taught at Crookston High School until they retired in 1994.
Shirley taught science, American history and biology, and served as the interim high school principal in 1984. Lloyd taught band and orchestra, and led the marching band. In their 34 years at the school, the pair made an impact on their students.
Jacey Johnston, a 1987 graduate of Crookston High School, who grew up as a neighbor to the Lees, had both Shirley and Lloyd as teachers in high school.
Johnston took biology with Shirley, and said she had an infectious laugh and a great sense of humor, while also being a no-nonsense teacher. Johnston remembers one time when her sister was struggling with a science class, Shirley took time to tutor her, even though she was not one of her students.
“She would make herself available to students, no matter what,” said Johnston. “If they needed help and she was able to lend it, she would.”
Johnston played in Lloyd’s marching band for multiple years, and remembers him as a soft-spoken and kind teacher, who held his band to high standards.
“That’s the reason why our marching band was so successful back then, because he was such a perfectionist in making us look like a college band at the time,” said Johnston. “We got kicked out of the Potato Bowl, to my understanding, because no one else wanted to march because we always won every year.”
Kirsten Johannson, a 1983 graduate of Crookston High School, looks back fondly on her time playing in concert band, pep band and marching band, and says in all her years of education. Lloyd was her favorite instructor.
“He was just a guy that strived for excellence in everything he did and his work ethic was seriously unmatched by any,” said Johannson.
Under Lloyd, the high school marching band competed in Potato Bowl parades in Grand Forks, and performed at halftime shows at Winnipeg Blue Bombers football games, a Kentucky Derby Parade, Disney World and in an Old Dutch Potato Chip television commercial.
“I can’t even imagine the amount of time — after school hours, weekends — he put in planning and orchestrating for marching band competitions, let alone the intricacy and detail of every halftime performance,” said Johannson.
But even when leading a large band of high school students, Lloyd was a quiet leader, said Johannson.
“He had such a quiet, humble, I would say, unassuming demeanor,” she said. “Not a person that demanded respect, but it was just given.”
Lloyd always instructed the marching band with a megaphone because of how soft spoken he was, said Johnston.
“We could always tell when he was getting mad because he turned more red then he would ever raise his voice,” she said, laughing.
While Shirley had her own teaching career and was a working mother, she was always supportive and present of Lloyd’s band, said Sondi, and often chaperoned events or helped with the band’s laundry.
“She was always a true partner,” said Sondi.
Many students shared memories of Lloyd and Shirley at their memorial service and funeral on Sunday, June 5 and Monday, June 6, said Jeff. Some remembered Shirley for her laugh.
“She had a big, boisterous laugh and she loved to use it,” said Jeff.
Others told him Lloyd’s support got them through band or kept them in school.
“You don’t realize the impact that teachers have on their students and it’s kind of overwhelming to hear from all of them and what impact they had on hundreds, if not thousands, of kids over the years,” Sondi said.