The name Wayne Drexler was famous within the Western Dubuque Community School District, especially during the 31 years he served as the first superintendent.
“He was almost like the George Washington of our district,” said Tom Wickham, who taught and coached in the Western Dubuque district for 43 years.
Drexler, 91, of Dyersville, died July 31 at the Guttenberg Municipal Hospital.
“He IS West Dubuque,” current Western Dubuque Superintendent Rick Colpitts said. “He was the founding superintendent of our district; if he hadn’t done what he did, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Drexler began his career in education as a teacher in 1950 after graduating from Loras College and pursuing advanced degrees from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and the University of Iowa. His teaching was briefly put on pause when he served in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps during the Korean War.
He became Dubuque County superintendent in 1957 and was in charge of more than 100 rural schools. After Iowa school districts were reorganized in 1960, he was selected as the Western Dubuque superintendent and served in that role until 1991.
Under Drexler’s leadership, the district grew from 360 students at its beginning to nearly 4,000 in 10 year’s time.
“He drove around the entire area recruiting people to come to be part of the district to get our school district started,” Colpitts said.
Wickham said it took a lot of work from both Drexler and the first Western Dubuque School Board to bring more than a dozen communities into one school district when it was first formed.
“To get all those people pulled in the same direction was quite a challenge, and he did an outstanding job,” Wickham said. “He was a great boss, too.”
Also a musician and piano player, Drexler helped form the district’s first marching band with band director Phil Schmitz, Wickham said. The band went on to play all over the country, including at the Cotton Bowl and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Drexler’s work in the district was eventually honored when the local school in Farley — the town where Drexler was born on Sept. 12, 1928 — was renamed to Drexler Elementary and Middle School.
Though Colpitts never worked with Drexler in the school system, he had many good conversations with his predecessor.
“He was never overbearing, but he would give information: ‘Hey, you might want to think about this,’ and his insight was extremely valuable,” he said. “He just wanted the district to have the best opportunity to be successful.”