The Learning Curve: a father-son educating duo planting roots in Michiana schools

The Learning Curve: a father-son educating duo planting roots in Michiana schools

MISHAWAKA, Ind.—On the Learning Curve—Previously you met Walt Disney Elementary School Principal, Ryan Towner, after he was awarded the 2022 Milken Educator Award.

This week, you’ll meet another familiar face to many previous Michiana students and parents.

Someone who Ryan Towner is lucky enough to call dad instead of who you might know better as Mr. Towner, or Dan Towner.

The father-son duo has been impacting students’ lives for decades and the community got to witness that March 16th, 2022 when the Milken Foundation presented Ryan Towner with the Milken Educator award.”

“The Milken Educator Award goes too…your principal Ryan Towner!” said Milken representative, Dr. Jane Foley.

“Unreal. I didn’t see that coming. Wow. My God thank you,” said Ryan Towner.

Principal Ryan Towner got the surprise of a life time last month when he was chosen as the one and only educator to be recognized this year out of 80,000 total educators in the Hoosier state.

“I love you guys. Students and staff just thank you for all that you do everyday because you give us such great purpose and we’re so excited to see what you go on to do,” said Ryan as he soaked in the moment.

Towner celebrated in person with his Dolphin family.

Interestingly enough though, Ryan saved the first phone call, not for his wife, but for his dad.

“I’m here in our gym and dad you know we had our event this morning with Dr. Jenner I was telling you about, well it turns out there was a big surprise if you will, and that was we had this assembly and I was presented with the Milken Educator award,” said Ryan.

“Oh my gosh! The Milken Educator Award! Wow!” said Ryan’s dad and former educator, Dan Towner.

“Dad I don’t know what to say, man, it’s a huge honor and I am totally shocked,” said Ryan.

“Yeah oh gosh I would be too. Well, I can’t think of an educator more deserving,” said Dan.

Quite the accolade from not only Ryan’s dad, but a former trail blazing educator!

“You started I believe it was 1984?” asked Learning Curve reporter, Summer Horan.

“Yeah I graduated from Ball State University in 82 and started teaching in 84 at Harrison Elementary School in South Bend,” said Dan.

Dan Towner’s resume is glowing just like Ryan’s.

Honoring his Hoosier roots in the classroom, Dan taught in the Mishawaka School district for over 27 years.

Decades of accomplishments from student to teacher to administrator and even interim superintendent.

Steps Dan never knew his son would soon follow.

“At the beginning, didn't necessarily when he was substitute teaching in schools, where I served as principal didn't necessarily know at that time that he would pursue a teaching degree and a career in education. But I'm certainly proud of him that he did,” said Dan.

“And Ryan, I can see that smile on your face. What are you thinking?” said Summer.

“I'm just very fortunate, you know, to have a mentor, from a young age, someone who kind of, I think modeled what an educator can and should be, and what a principal can and should be,” said Ryan.

Positions both Towner’s credit to great mentors.

“And I was very fortunate to have terrific mentors, their principal, Lee Porter principal, Carolyn Higgins,” said Dan. “Regardless of what level you're at, in the field of education. You have to have the kind of the wisdom experience of people that have done the job before to help guide you through that.”

Guidance Ryan himself has benefited from his own “Mr. Towner.”

“I feel just incredibly blessed to you know, have such a great mentor who I can call him about anything,” said Ryan.

The father-son duo has bonded over similar school stressors.

“You sometimes wonder, like, Will I ever sleep again?” laughed Ryan.

Along with the challenges of trying to find a good work life balance.

“The disappointment is that as as a school principal, you're not always able to get to your own children's activities and events, because of things going on at school,” said Dan.

Bur for these two Towners—classroom headaches never replaced family, they merely brought them closer.

“As busy as you were, I never felt like you weren't there. You know, I just remember. Gosh, like with baseball, it was it'd be a hustle day, I get home boom, where it would take off to practice those kinds of things,” said Ryan.

Bringing back memories of time gone by.

“When you look back at pictures like this, the first thing that's striking is how quickly time goes by. And it's so important to make the most of it,” said Dan.

A mantra Dan is living out now in retirement.

“I have a lot less stress. Yeah. And in good weather, I've been busy with golfing with friends of mine,” said Dan. “I also enjoy art, oil painting, etcetera.”

Outside of school, Ryan and his wife Kim gave Dan two of his four grandkids.

“It's an enjoyable time to visit with them and play with them. Then they leave and go home. So we don't have so much of the little ones getting us up at night. But as a grandparent is terrific,” said Dan.

Kids and students will always be a part of the Towner’s lives.

“My teacher was Miss Allsop who I still know and see from time to time, as Mrs. Lang felt, and she is our pH. M. Teachers Association president. She also is a preschool teacher at Horizon Elementary and has my niece Claire in her class,” said Ryan.

“When you go out to the grocery store, gas station, whatever it might be, does anyone say, Hey, Mr. Towner? Do you kind of have those interactions even now?” asked Summer.

“Sure. All the time. Yeah,” said Dan. “And it's always a pleasure to see former students parents that I worked with over the years.”

Years spent, walking down school halls, reminiscing on the impact they’ve had on kids no matter if they’re by blood or by chance.

“We very simply always asked our kids to, to work, work hard. Be nice and and support other people and be kind and good things will happen to you,” said Dan.

For now, Mr. Towner will remain in retirement.

“At this point, I'm certainly content to be behind the scenes,” said Dan.

But I don’t think these educators will ever stop caring about each other or their Michiana community.

“I feel so fortunate that my dad really modeled that for me. And I think seeing his interactions in schools and how staff responded to him was a big part of why education was attractive to me,” said Ryan.

“That’s quite the honor Ryan!” said Dan. “Congratulations Ryan we are all so proud of you”

“Well thanks dad, love ya,” said Ryan.

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