The 'Buck' stops here: Central High Principal Buck Kasowski to retire from 'dream' job at year's end
Marlon "Buck" Kasowski never thought he'd get to serve as Grand Forks Central High School's principal. When his wife predicted it early on in his career, Kasowski was skeptical. "In the early '80s, we would drive around town, and my wife would sa...
Marlon "Buck" Kasowski never thought he'd get to serve as Grand Forks Central High School's principal.
When his wife predicted it early on in his career, Kasowski was skeptical.
"In the early '80s, we would drive around town, and my wife would say to me, 'You're going to be principal at Central High School.' And I'd say, 'Are you nuts?'" he says, holding back tears for a moment. "Well, she was right. It was a great job. A dream come true to me."
Now, after 10 years at the helm of Central, Kasowski will retire at the end of this school year. His career in the Grand Forks Public School District spans four decades, including 24 total years at Central, the oldest still operating high school in North Dakota.
Colleagues describe him as an approachable straight shooter with a sense of humor and humility, along with a dedication to both academics and athletics.
"His door was always open," says Bill Landry, a retired social studies teacher at Central. Landry also coached football with Kasowski.
Their sons went on to become captains of UND's football team.
"He wanted what was best for students and Central High School," Landry says of Buck.
'Buck was always Buck'
Kasowski, 63, grew up on a dairy farm in Buffalo, N.D. After completing a double major in elementary and physical education at Valley City State University, he started his career in Grand Forks as a math teacher at South Junior High School in 1979. Buck later went on to earn his master's degree in education administration from UND.
After a stint as Valley Junior High's associate principal, he was named associate principal at Central in 1995, shortly before historic flooding ravaged the school and much of Grand Forks' downtown area. Kasowski became Central's principal in 2009.
Even as he ascended to the upper ranks of school administration, Buck remained personable and approachable, Landry says.
"It didn't change much other than that instead of being a colleague, he was my boss," says Landry, who retired in 2018 .
Landry says he worked with Buck "in about every possible way you can" for more than three decades. That included stints teaching driver's ed and coaching football, as well as working as a teacher under Buck's leadership at Central.
"One thing that stands out for me is he's so humble and unassuming," says Mike Berg, a retired phy-ed teacher who also coached football at Central with Buck.
Berg and Kasowski joined the high school's coaching staff back in 1979. Berg served as head coach, while Kasowski was an assistant coach - a role he held until 1982.
When Buck moved on to administration at Central, Berg says he was thrilled to have him as his boss.
"He was passionate about kids," Berg says of Kasowski. "You saw that in his coaching. You saw that in his classroom. I think he was really concerned that kids were treated properly ... He had a personality that drew kids to him."
And during Kasowski's tenure at Central, there were "a lot of things that would have tested anybody's character," Landry says. "But Buck was always Buck."
During a visit in Central's lower-level gym Tuesday afternoon, Kasowski recalled the Flood of 1997 as a "very emotional" time. Gordon "Red" Opstead, then-principal of Central, played a pivotal role in helping the school get back on track after the floods, Kasowski says.
"We had so much damage to the basement and lower level," Buck says. "And of course it happened somewhere around the middle of April, so we couldn't have school. We didn't have school for the rest of the year. Red kept us together. Teachers put grades together, and we sent out report cards from a different location because we couldn't be here."
Nowadays, students' safety is top of mind for Buck.
"The two things that I lose sleep over would be school safety and mental illness," he says.
And school safety has evolved over the years. When Buck first started at Central, doors weren't locked, he says. There weren't any security cameras or safety officers, either.
Buck eventually approached the Grand Forks Public School Board and lobbied for the cameras, he says.
"It was just 1,400 kids and a bunch of adults," Kasowski recalls of his early years at Central. "It has really become something where we have to protect young people, and we take that really seriously."
In Landry's view, Central was always a "really good place to work," but it became an even better place to work after Buck arrived.
Tony Bina, associate principal of Grand Forks Red River High School, says Buck was a mentor to him. Before his time at Red River, Bina served as Central's activities director under Kasowski.
"He was kind of a father figure to me. A mentor," Bina says. "He really taught me a lot about what leadership is. And he was always so easy to talk to. I always felt comfortable going to him."
Buck also fostered a "family mentality" at Central, where folks respected one another and looked out for each other, Bina says.
"The biggest thing with him is the way he conducted himself as a leader, and how he ran that school," Bina says.
Bill Palmiscno, a more than two-decade member of the Grand Forks Public School Board, remembers the days when Central students had to be bussed to other practice spots because there wasn't enough space for all athletic activities on the school's campus.
But Kasowski pushed to ensure Central had "equal facilities" as Red River, Palmiscno says.
"He always had a great love for Central High School," Palmiscno says of Kasowski. "He worked his hardest to provide the best for kids at the high school."
When Kasowski retires at the end of June, Jon Strandell will take his place as principal . Under Strandell's watch, Central remains in good hands, Kaswoski believes. Strandell has served as Central's associate principal for more than a decade.
"It's kind of like head coaches when they retire. If you like what's going on, you try to promote from within," Kasowski says.
As for Buck's own plans for the future? Enjoying retirement with his wife and family, he says.
"Once I walk out, I don't see myself subbing," he says. "I put my time in. I love it here. I think it's a great school, and I have a lot of friends here, but I'm out," Kasowski says.
After he leaves, Buck hopes the school will continue a trajectory of "excellence," he says. But, in typical Buck fashion, he remains modest.
"It's very little about me," Kasowski says. "That's who Central is ... this is a tradition and history and pride. I hope they can continue to do the same things we have done, and do the very best they can every day."