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Paul Claus’ respect for education harkens back to his childhood in northeast Nebraska, where his mother taught school for many years.

Claus, 74, didn't end up in the classroom, but it did inspire the man who’s been the head locksmith at Lincoln Public Schools for the past 41 years to pursue an education degree in college and — many years later — played a small part in his decision to run for the Lincoln Board of Education.

Claus is challenging incumbent Annie Mumgaard in District 4, including areas of north-central Lincoln. The general election is May 7.

“That influenced me to want to be a teacher,” said Claus, who graduated from Battle Creek High School in 1963, then enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to become a vocational agriculture teacher.

Claus' parents were farmers, and his mom stayed home to raise the family's six children.

When he was 8, his father suffered his second heart attack and died. His mom, who'd earlier taught with the certification required at the time, went back to school to earn her college degree. 

Within two years, she had begun teaching again, a career that would last more than 20 years. 

Claus had initially decided to follow in her footsteps but before he’d earned his degree, he changed course, transferring to a junior college in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he began studying to become a pastor.

“At the time, the Lord was tugging at me,” he said.

He earned an associate’s degree in ministerial studies, then went to Concordia College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He spent nearly two years there, but found himself back at UNL, where he earned his teaching degree.

“At that time, I felt a pastor should be a teacher,” he said. “Not pounding people over the head with the Bible or anything like that but by teaching people.”

While he was in school he worked at the Buffalo Motel in Lincoln, and a co-worker set him up with his sister, who Claus married about eight months after he earned his teaching degree in 1970. 

Because teaching jobs were scarce, Claus landed a job at Dean’s Ford. He later worked at a moving and storage business until he heard about an opening at Baker Hardware.

He spent seven years at the hardware store and developed a curiosity for locks, learning whatever he could, taking home catalogs to study, peppering the factory reps with questions.

When a locksmith — one of his customers — told him the job at LPS was open and encouraged him to apply, he did.

Not long after he landed the job at LPS, his wife died of cancer, leaving Claus as a single father of their 3-year-old boy, Matthew.

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“Because my mom had been single, my prayer at the time was ‘Lord, either give me the grace to be a single parent or bring someone special into my life,’” he said.

As it turns out, the second part of that prayer came to pass, when another co-worker — this time a supervisor at LPS — played matchmaker, setting him up with a woman working in the office.

Her name was Kathy and before long the two married and the couple had three children. Matthew, Claus’ son from his first marriage, attended public schools. Kathy home-schooled the three younger children until high school, when they attended Lincoln Christian.

Forty-one years later, Claus’ children are grown, he has six grandchildren, knows every lock on every door and cabinet in LPS and spends his free time on two hobbies: genealogy and collecting antique toys.

He’s nearing retirement now, and while concern about taxes played a part in his decision to run, he’s also watched changes in industrial technology classes. He’d like to see those classes back in the middle schools and high schools, not at The Career Academy, which he thinks should be more centrally-located.

He wants to find some way to inspire educators to inspire their students, to find ways to tailor learning to individual students’ needs.

“Can we do something to inspire teachers to do more?” he said. “I know there are lots of good ones out there but could we do more?”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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