CONESTOGA – David Friedli has spent decades tossing boomerangs of knowledge, understanding and compassion to students across Nebraska.
Those throws have returned valuable gifts to him such as respect, friendship and contentment.
Friedli delivered his final boomerang tosses as principal at Conestoga Junior/Senior High School this past week. He announced earlier this school year that he would retire from the educational field after four decades of service. He has been principal at Conestoga since August 2009.
Friedli, 61, said the demanding schedule of the job was one of the reasons he felt retirement was the correct decision. He was often at Conestoga’s building by 6:30 a.m. and remained on campus until 9 or 10 o’clock at night during the school year. Summertime hours were filled with administrative meetings, curriculum decisions and preparing for the next academic calendar.
“I love it here at Conestoga and I love what I do,” Friedli said. “It’s a wonderful place and it’s such a great community to be a part of. But I’ve been reflecting on this for a little bit, and if I don’t stop now then maybe my health gets away from me, and I don’t want that to happen. After 40 years in education it seemed like now was the right time to step down.”
Friedli began his educational career at Elwood Public Schools in 1979 and was a teacher, coach and activities sponsor at Lyons-Decatur Northeast from 1981-90. He also served as a city councilman and parks and recreation director in Lyons from 1987-89.
Friedli helped students outside school buildings at both the Nebraska Department of Education and Educational Service Unit #9 in the 1990s. He returned to the hallways in August 1999 when he accepted a job as secondary school principal at Umonhon Nation Public School in Macy. He remained in that role before accepting the position at Conestoga.
Friedli said one of his main goals has been helping students steer their lives in a positive direction. Many teenagers have ended up in his office through the years after making poor choices at school. Although discipline was necessary for many behaviors, he said his primary mission in every visit was to teach students that they could walk on a constructive path in the future.
“There’s always something that can be learned from every situation,” Friedli said. “One thing I’ve always told students when they’re in my office is that you can’t change the past. What’s done has been done. But you always have the option to change your future.
“I tell kids that tomorrow is a new day and you have a chance to do something special in that new day. You always have the ability to make good decisions in all of your tomorrows. To me, it’s always been important to get kids to realize that. If they learn from the past, then they have every opportunity to have a really bright future.”
Friedli has also tried to help students have an enriching experience in many areas at Conestoga. He said it has been essential to provide teenagers with high academic expectations, a caring and supportive environment and opportunities to participate in school activities. Students who receive and incorporate all three of those values in their high school careers often have a chance to be successful.
“That Venn diagram has been a big part of my educational philosophy, and it’s something that we’ve all tried to provide here at school,” Friedli said. “It’s important that kids experience all three of those things.
“If they get the high expectations without the caring and support, then they’re not going to do as well, and if they’re not involved in an activity here then they’re missing out on being part of meaningful experiences. But if they can be in the middle of that diagram and get all of those things here, then they’re going to have a chance to be a well-rounded person by the time they graduate.”
Louisville Activities Director Rob Geise will take the reins from Friedli in the 2019-20 school year. Friedli said he was excited to hear that district officials had chosen Geise for the position.
“When I leave here I’ll take my shoes with me and vacuum up my footsteps,” Friedli said. “Rob is going to do a great job here and he’s going to have his own methods of doing things. I think that’s great. He won’t have to worry about anything I’ve done or what anyone else has done in the past. He’s going to leave his own footprints on the job.”
Friedli said he and his wife Kathy would continue to live in Cass County and will remain members of the Conestoga Booster Club. He said he would enjoy supporting the Cougars from the stands in future seasons instead of having supervisory responsibilities at games and activities.
Friedli will have several possible paths to travel on after leaving Conestoga. Those options include writing a book about his four decades in education, substitute teaching in other local districts or working at a 9-to-5 job. He said his biggest goal is to continue throwing boomerangs of support and caring out into the community for many years to come.
“The relationships that come with education are the best thing about this,” Friedli said. “It’s incredibly rewarding to hear from students who have graduated five or ten or 20 years ago and listen to their stories about where they are now.
“Sometimes those stories are from kids who were great role models in high school and are continuing to be great role models in their communities now, and sometimes you hear from kids who might have taken a little longer to figure it out, but they’re in a great place now and are positive influences in their towns. It gives me great joy to hear from them. Those relationships are what makes this job so much fun.”