Lake Country Faces: Longtime PR-B School Board member Gaffey proud to have served
Garny Gaffey, of Pine River, is the longest serving member of the Pine River-Backus School Board, and with a recent election loss, he looks back on his years with the board fondly.
Gaffey isn't originally from the area, but it didn't take long for him to get locally involved.
He and his wife, Joleen, moved to the Backus area in 1981 with their sons from Alta, Iowa. He didn't join the board immediately, but he did establish himself through work. He started working in a field he learned from his father.
"I started with plumbing and heating and the first couple years up here were pretty lean so I started doing handyman work that I could do on my own," Gaffey said. "I got involved with different contractors doing carpenter work. That's where I ended up. I've been a self-employed general contractor for 25-30 years now."
Having four children, Gaffey always had some connection to the Backus School, starting with his two oldest children who were in fourth grade and kindergarten when they first arrived. Eight years after arriving, Gaffey became impassioned about the board following a controversial discussion.
"We had children that were in school and it was a contentious time at the school over what books were going to be allowed in the library," Gaffey said. "I went to a board meeting. I'm a conservative, Christian fellow and I had something to say about the type of literature our kids should be reading."
In the 1989 special election that followed, Gaffey ran to fill a board vacancy. He was one of three candidates with one other being local Rodney Day.
"It was really close," Gaffey said. "I don't remember the count but it was just a few votes that made the difference. That's how I got started."
Gaffey has been on the board almost continuously since then with only one gap from 1995-99.
"It was about a three- or four-year period I like to say I got voted a sabbatical," Gaffey said. "There were some issues at school and I was outspoken about them and there were a few people in the community who didn't appreciate it. I got some time off there."
Gaffey looks at those years fondly, especially proud to have supported educators in the district.
"I looked at teaching as a whole as almost a ministry," Gaffey said. "It's always been my feeling that there are no other people who can affect so many lives as our school teachers do. To be just a bit of a part of that as a board member, I always found really rewarding. I never lost that feeling."
Gaffey remembered the excitement and sadness around the merger between Pine River and Backus schools and of the closure of the Backus School entirely. During that time, he remained on the board and sort of merged into the combined district. At first the two boards operated separately but in unison. Once the schools were merged, Gaffey said there was a short period of time when there were about 12 members on the Pine River-Backus School Board before an election whittled it down to seven, one of them Gaffey, and almost a 50-50 split between Backus and Pine River candidates.
"I think it was a healthy mix of board members," Gaffey said.
Gaffey has seen a lot of changes and growth in the district, but a few items stand out fondly, particularly the early adoption of technology and development of firm strategic plans.
"One was our decision to make an investment in technology," Gaffey said. "We really went all in and I think it reaped great benefits for our district and students. There has been a time when Pine River-Backus had things going that even some of the larger districts couldn't touch. To me that was a big feather in our cap. The other one I think has benefited the district the most was when we invested in a strategic plan."
Gaffey said he was disappointed to have lost the November election. He is still enthusiastic about the work the board is doing, but he said the new board members, Brian Trumble and Wanda Carlson, likely won their seats because of their connections to the district, specifically their children.
"They have skin in the game, not that I don't, but I think they were more connected," Gaffey said. "I've been on a long time and maybe some people thought it was time someone else be there."
Though he is disappointed, he is not bitter or resentful. He wishes the best for the board and new members. He also looks forward to possibly dedicating more time to his wife now that he will have additional evenings without board meetings. He will also still be working locally with Classic Renovations and volunteering at church. He wished the best for the district.
"I would, first of all, say it was a great privilege for me to be a part of their lives as far as students are concerned," Gaffey said. "I'm grateful for the time and hopeful for the future with new board members. I've been very grateful to have the time I did with them. I'm hoping that I made a difference."