Dual careers sparked by campus experience
attended UW-Fond du Lac Fall 2004-Spring 2007
Completed Education Degree at UW-Oshkosh, 2012
Special Education Teacher, Lomira Middle School and Farmer, Zedland Farm, Lomira, WI
By Monica M. Walk
School was a struggle, and Tim Zedler was sure he wasn’t college material. So, he worked in construction after graduation – and hated it.
Sundays filled him with dread, anticipating the start of a new work week. He watched young coworkers suffer injuries and surgery.
And then he was laid off.
“I thought that was bad, but it really was the best thing,” Zedler said. He was a newlywed living in Fond du Lac: His wife, Lisa, encouraged him to consider college.
“I am really glad UW-Fond du Lac is there,” he said. "I did not have the highest grades in high school. I had to take the ACT as an adult. I was not a model student, but it gave me the opportunity to attend college after I had matured a bit. I loved it.”
Small class size made it possible to connect with both professors and students. “I really enjoyed that,” Zedler said. “If you asked questions, the professors were always there. The expectations were high, but it was comfortable.”
He describes the student classroom interaction as team-oriented, a comfort to this long-time basketball player. The range of student ages was another positive. “It made it easy to connect,”
Zedler said. “It really helped boost my confidence to talk with people who were in the same position.”
As he completed general education classes, Zedler thought hard about where he wanted this college degree to take him. A foundations class in education sparked interest: “I thought, ‘I like this – this is the direction I am going to go in.’”
The boy who hated school would become a teacher.
He moved along that path while still attending UW-Fond du Lac, gaining experience in an after-school and weekend program for children in grades K-12 with emotional and behavioral disabilities, where he taught social skills and life lessons. Between his own education and his work with younger students, he didn’t have a day off.
And, he loved it.
“My work ethic got me through college,” he said. “Sports taught me to work with other people, and to work hard for something you want. And, I grew up on a farm.”
After stints at schools in Beaver Dam and Fond du Lac, Zedler now teaches special education at the Lomira Middle School, just miles from his childhood home.
Why special education? “The kids. When you boil it down, that’s it” said Zedler in his direct and thoughtful way. “It is fun to try to help somebody learn. It is fun to do your best to help somebody out. I used to say I never wanted to be a middle school teacher,” he confessed. “But middle school is fun - because you get the elementary end of it, where they are still sweet and can be innocent and honest. But, they have the ability to reason a bit. You watch them try to do things, and make mistakes, and then be the person they come to... to be there to help out. Watching the transition of 6th to 8th grade – their confidence grows. And, kids have a way of unintentionally keeping you humble.”
He maintains a connection with older students by coaching the boys JV basketball team. While he did not pursue a career in science, classes at UW-Fond du Lac – particularly a weather class with Professor Michael Jurmu – awakened his enthusiasm. “Having a professor so active and engaging sparked my interest, and going forward I still look into science for enjoyment,” Zedler said.
Which proves helpful in his second career: farming.
Zedler disliked the work of dairy farming as a youth, and wasn’t particularly distressed at 16 when his parents sold the herd. He didn’t understand why they held onto the 100 acres. But, in 2008, when John and Debbie Zedler began to talk about selling the farm that had been in the Zedler family for more than 150 years, Tim Zedler didn’t like the idea. He now understood the connection to the land: “Something that has gone on ‘forever’ needs to continue to take place,” he said.
During a trip to Door County, Tim and Lisa Zedler noticed a proliferation of pumpkin farms. “We thought, ‘Why not? Why can’t we do that?’ We had the space, and we had both wanted to try to own a business,” Zedler recounted.
Tim, Lisa and baby Hudson moved to the family homestead in 2008, opening their first fall festival with 200 pumpkins, two goats and a tent. Zedler estimates the event has doubled every year since then: Zedland Farm now produces more than 1,500 pumpkins, as well as vegetables, cornstalks, and hay bales for purchase, and they have 11 goats, two sheep, a miniature donkey, a pony, three ducks, and 25 chickens – and another son, Levi.
Families enjoy scenic hayrides, a small playground and obstacle course with haystacks and bales for climbing, and an unusual giant, Medieval-looking hammer that provides impressive produce smashing.
Their pumpkin festival is open on weekends from mid-September through October. Winter brings Christmas trees for sale in the decorated Zed’s Shed. Chickens and eggs are also available.
Overall, farming dovetails nicely with teaching, although fall is the busiest season for both professions. His parents, siblings and their families, and extended relatives all pitch in. “The farm has always been a home base for the family,” he said. Zedler’s scientific bent leads him to research how to best use the land. He is embracing non-GMO farming practices and sustainability. He ensures his own children understand these values, and students on field trips are exposed to the Zedler family’s farming zeal.
“If you’re learning, you’re living,” Zedler said.