When Dave Frigaard was asked a few years ago to help liven up a starkly white brick room at Park High School, the art teacher found a creative answer: his students’ work.
Frigaard hung large student paintings on the tall walls of the school’s multipurpose room, splashing life and color onto a blank canvas. Over time he rotated the paintings with other students’ work.
Last week that room burst with even more color and art when it became a temporary memorial to Frigaard after his tragic Jan. 24 death.
Dozens of flower bouquets brought to school by students, teachers and others were placed on tables in the room. Also on display were posters with artwork and heartfelt tributes to the popular teacher. Spread across the tables, too, were more than 200 pieces of art made by grieving students.
“This was just an idea we had to have a sort of celebration of Dave’s life,” Park Principal Kerry Timmerman said, crediting Frigaard’s fellow art teachers Julie Christensen and Kristina Jameson and other staff for pulling together the memorial.
The school district has a detailed and helpful process for when a staff member or student dies, but each case poses unique circumstances, Timmerman said. Art was the obvious outlet for those mourning Frigaard.
When students first returned to school after Frigaard’s death, they were able to meet with school counselors and psychologists to talk through their grief. Many also went to work with paint and brush. They decorated the wooden tiles with colorful scenes, messages of loss and love and small portraits.
“I think it was just a way for everyone to get their last goodbye out through art,” said Park junior Collin LaBrosse. “It was a good way.”
Frigaard had an “abstract personality” and a positive energy that made his classes fun and challenging, said LaBrosse, who was in his second course with the popular teacher.
“It’s a class that I always look forward to going to,” LaBrosse said. “He pushed you, but it’s kind of your pace but he works with you - or, he did.”
The memorial to Frigaard included a collection of handwritten letters from students that were placed in a wooden box made by tech education teacher Lloyd Ness, Timmerman said. The letters and a selection of the tile paintings were given to Frigaard’s family when they visited Park Friday. Frigaard, 46, was the married father of three school-age children and he owned a namesake bar in Willernie. He died in an apparent drive-by shooting near his bar, prosecutors say. His funeral was Monday in Roseville, where he had lived.
Also among the art on display at Park last week was an unfinished self portrait of Frigaard, pencil sketches that would have been covered by paint still visible.
Frigaard’s skill with a brush became part of Park’s tribute to him in another way.
Instructional art videos that Frigaard made for his students and posted to YouTube were captured in an 11-minute memorial video compiled by Park teacher Bonnie Thoe-Austin. It opens with Frigaard’s own voice and includes videos of him teaching and photos of him with students, co-workers, friends and family.
Thoe-Austin, who worked closely with Frigaard, said after his death she gathered with Christensen and Jameson to discuss how to celebrate his life. They decided to put together the video. Thoe-Austin had access to Frigaard’s instructional videos and she asked students and staff to submit photos, which were incorporated into the video.
“It was a celebration of his life as a teacher, as a co-worker - just his humor and the great person that he really was.”
Frigaard was always happy, and there is a big void now after his death, Thoe-Austin said.
“He’s a big chunk that’s missing, so we want to fill that with happiness,” she said.
The video was played for students and Frigaard’s family, and is available on YouTube by searching “Dave Frigaard Celebration of Life.”