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Will Antell

Childhood challenges become fodder for life's work in education.

WE DO NOT SERVE INDIANS. Will Antell can still see that sign, a vivid memory from childhood that later fueled his life's work: improving people's future as an educator and Native American activist.

Antell, who grew up on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, was a multi-talented high school athlete who landed a college basketball scholarship only to drop out. He later enrolled at BSU to play basketball, but was forced to quit after his mother's tragic death, which left behind seven other children. Antell worked a variety of jobs, continued classes at BSU, married and found his focus in his final year.

He decided then to be "the best teacher and coach," a decision that lead him into a 38-year career in education. His work includes 20 years with the Minnesota Department of Education, setting policy for American Indian education, and serving in advisory roles for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Bush. He earned his doctorate from the University of Minnesota and has held faculty positions there and at Harvard. He also served a six-year term on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees.

In 1969, he founded the National Indian Education Association -- which now has 3,000 members -- to help give Native Americans a unified national voice. His significant contributions recently earned him the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award.

About BSU

As a small, caring community, Antel says BSU made a strong impression on him and gave him confidence. "Really caring about people -- that was instilled in me from day one at Bemidji. That's something I've tried to emulate."

Photo of Will Antel
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