Eunice Lindberg Milbrath’s classrooms were full of color, creativity and hands-on experiences. As a kindergarten teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools, she spent nearly three decades taking children on nature walks, teaching them to write poetry and helping them put on plays and puppet shows. One class even corresponded with “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“She had this energy that flowed from her,” said her youngest child, Laurie Sugiarto of Minneapolis. “That’s what made her such a fantastic kindergarten teacher. She believed children learned by using all of their five senses.”
Lindberg Milbrath died July 1 of complications from pneumonia. She was 94.
Born Nov. 9, 1924, at the onset of the Great Depression, she grew up roller skating and picking mulberries in the rural town of Lincolnville, Kan. Her father owned the mercantile store, and she often scooped ice cream on Wednesdays after free movie nights. She had three younger siblings — all of whom she outlived — and discovered a love of reading and the outdoors at an early age.
She moved to Minneapolis in 1947 when she married Elwood Lindberg, a fellow Kansan and Bethany College graduate who had landed a job as a social studies teacher at Minnehaha Academy. The couple settled in the neighborhood nearby and raised two daughters and a son.
After Lindberg died in 1996, she married a man she met through a community garden, Bill Milbrath, whose wife had recently died. The two divorced in 2011, after about 15 years.
Lindberg Milbrath earned a degree in music education at Bethany and spent a year teaching music to high school and elementary students in Kansas.
But it was 14 years later, at the age of 37 and with two school-age children, that she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and found her true calling in nursery schools, kindergarten and primary education.
During a 28-year career in Minneapolis, she worked at Adams, Seward, Pratt, Minnehaha and Keewaydin elementary schools.
She divided her classrooms into areas, her daughter recalled. One corner was for dolls, another for wooden blocks. There might be a table for playing with sand. And always a piano, her primary instrument. She would play a chord to get their attention or to signal story time.
In 1970, when a class at Pratt Elementary School was learning about circus clowns, they decided to write to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” suggesting that the cranky King Friday XIII might be a little jollier if he had a court jester around to make him laugh. (They added, “We like you too, just the way you are!”)
Fred Rogers typed a letter back and thanked the children of Room 105 for their “excellent idea.”
Separately, he wrote to Lindberg Milbrath, complimenting her as a “creative teacher.” He ended the letter saying: “I feel deeply that we are all working together to help children grow in a healthy way.”
The sentiment summed up Lindberg Milbrath’s philosophy perfectly, her daughter said. “She found in him a kindred spirit with her ideas about teaching.”
The Minneapolis Board of Education recognized her talent and once offered her a job training other teachers. She chose to stay with the kindergartners.
“I believe in play!” she was quoted as saying in a story about her retirement in 1989. “My great joy is to create a rich learning experiential environment, then helping and observing as children make their own discoveries.”
In addition to Sugiarto, she is survived by daughter Karen Schoenrock of Minnetonka and son Greg Lindberg of Plymouth. Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bethlehem Covenant Church, 3141 S. 43rd Av., Minneapolis.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335