Janke earns spot in High School League Hall of Fame

Cliff Janke

Cliff Janke, a former long-time fine arts teacher at Fairmont High School, will be inducted into the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Fame this fall.

Janke is a graduate of Black Hills State in Spearfish, S.D. He was in theater in high school and college, along with one year of speech. It was something he knew early on he was interested in pursuing as a career.

“I think I decided when I was a junior in high school that I wanted to teach ,and I wanted to teach either speech or music or theater,” he said.

Janke’s first teaching position was at Chamberlain High School in Chamberlain, S.D. He and his wife, Roxy, were teaching in Chamberlain when they decided they wanted to go back to graduate school.

“We had always been impressed with Minnesota school systems and wanted to teach in one,” he said. “One of the best ways we could think of to do that was get our master’s degrees at a Minnesota college or university.”

They did their graduate work at the Minnesota State-Mankato. Afterward, Janke began his 31 years in Fairmont, where he taught choir; directed theater and musical productions; and served as co-head speech coach.

Janke has served as the artistic director of more than 100 high school and community theater productions, from 1977 to the present.

When he first came to Fairmont, he helped stage a musical at the high school every year and directed plays every other year. He also directed civic summer theater at the Fairmont Opera House from 1989 to 2015.

As co-head speech coach in Fairmont, Janke coached 14 Class A champions, including four-time gold medalist Sarah Bankson, a 2011 graduate. Bankson was the first and only student in the state to achieve the honor.

When asked how coaching speech beside his wife affected his career, Janke said, “It made a huge difference. Roxy came to Fairmont our last year as a double A school and the next year we moved to single A. We were co-head coaches all those years. When it says that I coached 14 state champions, we coached those together. Every student we had we coached together.”

Janke acknowledged that he has worked with a lot of talented students, which he said was a highlight of his career.

One of those students, Grant Becker, a 2013 graduate of Fairmont High School, had Janke as a speech coach for six years. He went to the state speech tournament for the last three years of his high school career.

“I did civic summer theater plays when I was younger so I got to know Mr. Janke then,” Becker said. “When I was in high school I was also in the musical every year.”

Becker said Janke was always trying to encourage more students to go out for choir or theater productions because he wanted them to experience it.

“He did a great job of building you up and finding the strengths in a student,” Becker said.

Speaking of the Jankes as speech coaches, Becker said, “I think of all the different lessons they taught me, they taught me how to be professional and I’ve carried that with me.”

Though Janke retired from Fairmont in 2014, he did not retire from teaching. He lives in Maple Grove and is still involved in speech, directing a competition one act for Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park. He is employed by the high school and is the Minnesota Speech Rules Clinician.

“I do the interpretation of all the rules, decide whether there are violations at the state tournament and decide what penalty there is, if any,” he explained.

Through his career in fine arts, Janke was also on the state selection committee for the Triple A award, which recognizes students who excel in arts, athletics and academics, from the time it was initiated in 1992 until 2015.

“I helped select our local winners,” he said. “And then they would advance to sub-section, and then to section and then to the state level. From Fairmont, we had several state Triple A winners.”

When asked what the favorite part of his career has been, Janke said, “I really enjoyed the choirs. I loved directing musicals. ‘Les Miserables’ was my favorite.”

Janke said finding out he was selected for the Hall of Fame was exciting but humbling.

“I know the selection process is very detailed. It’s humbling because of the other people you see in the Hall of Fame who are your mentors and people that you’ve had the opportunity to work with and really help you become the coach or teacher that you are. When you get an award like this, there are a lot of people that help you get it. There were four administrators that not only supported me, but encouraged me to become involved at the state level,” Janke said.

He said the four administrators are Dr. Ralph Miller, Butch Hanson, Lynn Manske and Kim Niss.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 20 at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront Hotel. The inductees were chosen though a multi-level selection process.

The League’s Hall of Fame began in 1991. After this year, there will be 231 individuals and one group in the hall. Fairmont’s Tom Mahoney is also in it, making Janke just the second person representing Fairmont to be inducted.