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Chamber Educator of the Year: O’Connor a teacher of note

Park High School Choir Director Ben O’Connor was named Educator of the Year by the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Ben O’Connor comes off as a modest guy. The director of choir at Park High School doesn’t seem like someone who sings his own praises.

Others have, however. O’Connor, of Woodbury, recently was honored as Educator of the Year by the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce. He accepted the award May 16 at the organization’s Annual Banquet.

“It’s just humbling to receive this because I know full well there are other teachers at Park who are equally deserving,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor was nominated by Park freshman Samantha Johnson, who sings in the Overture Women’s Choir.

“He has one of the strongest and most apparent love for his job that I have ever seen in a teacher, which just inspires me more and makes me look forward to his class every day,” said Johnson in her nomination. “He has the traits that I think all teachers should have: compassion, work ethic, and true belief and love for his job and more importantly his students.”

O’Connor has worked in District 833 for 13 years and has taught at Park High School for the last five years. He conducts the Overture Men’s Choir, Overture Women’s Choir, Advanced Women’s Choir and Concert Choir.

The repertoire of these groups could include “I Dream a Dream” from the musical “Les Miserables,” “Seize the Day” from the movie “Newsies” and “Radioactive,” by stadium-rockers Imagine Dragons.

When teaching students a new song, he said he tries to go to the “sweet spot” first before deconstructing and blending the harmonic technicalities.

“You choose the piece and you sell it to them,” he said. “Start with a catchy and accessible part of the song so you’re not spending 20 minutes the first day getting the notes.”

He also helps coach students in Park’s high school musicals, including their production this spring of “Legally Blonde.”

O’Connor grew up in Appleton, Wis., which he said is “a strong musical community.” By age 3, he was already singing in the Appleton Boychoir. He began taking piano lessons when he was in kindergarten. He attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and got his master’s in music at the University of St. Thomas.

His wife, Sara, plays the oboe and teaches music at Bailey, Red Rock and Hillside Elementary Schools. The couple have two children, Cole, 4, and Annie, 2.

O’Connor said he’s pleased that District 833 is such a strong supporter of the arts.

“My wife and I feel blessed and lucky to be in the District for 13 years,” he said.