The bad news is Mike Iacarella is retiring in June as a business teacher at Edison High School.
The good news is that he isn’t retiring from his volunteer work including the Edison Community and Sports Foundation (ECSF) and the Edison Alumni Band.
His retirement, set for June 9, will end a career that started as a banker, evolved into helping run a winery in California, evolved further into teaching elementary students at a Catholic school, and finally resulted in 29 years as a business teacher at Edison.
“Ike bleeds blue and gold. He is incredibly committed to Edison and to this community. He loves all our kids and is always in pursuit of expanding excellence at Edison on behalf of our students, staff and community,” said Edison Principal Eryn Warne.
“Ike has given the best of himself to Edison since he was a student here, and he is leaving a lasting mark on who we are and who we will become.”
Fellow teacher Kevin Hohn calls Iacarella the “Mayor of Northeast.”
“When I first got here I didn’t know anybody, and Ike took me under his wing,” Hohn said. “We were walking down Central Avenue one day, going to lunch, and two different businessmen ran out to the sidewalk and gave him money. I couldn’t believe it. After that, I started calling him the Mayor of Northeast.
“He’s a kind and generous guy,” Hohn said. “He knows everybody, and I mean everybody. And I’ve never heard anybody say a negative thing about Mike Iacarella. He’s true-blue Edison.”
Iacarella grew up on 19th and McKinley and graduated from St. Charles Boromeo, Northeast Junior High, and then Edison in 1975. “I was active in a lot of stuff. Of course I was in the band,” Iacarella said.
Both his parents were teachers: his father at Marshall/University High School and his mother at Incarnation Elementary School. He was the eldest boy of seven children.
“I loved going to Edison, and part of it was the fact that we had no idea who had money and who didn’t. We were all in the same boat. We were all teammates in football and wrestling and track. It was a shock to me my first day at St. Thomas when I parked my ’67 Chevy between a BMW and a Mercedes. That was a different world.”
He graduated from St. Thomas with a BA in finance in 1979 and took a job with First Bank in White Bear Lake as a commercial loan officer. “Oh, I could tell you some stories about repo-ing cars. Mainly I liked banking because I could help people.”
Iacarella’s next stop was in Sonoma, Calif., where he managed a vineyard. “My backyard was a national park. It was beautiful. The place I worked with was Grand Cru Winery.”
On a trip home to watch the Super Bowl with his buddies, his mother asked him to watch a class for a day at Incarnation School. “The substitute teacher they had hired had just had enough and left. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the kids. The principal thought I did a good job and asked me to stay through the end of the week.”
Back in California, he finished his masters’ in business administration at Sonoma State and got a job offer with the Internal Revenue Service in San Francisco. The high cost of living and housing in the Bay Area were not attractive, though, and Iacarella was hesitant to move there.
“In May, I got a call from the principal at Incarnation, later it was named Risen Christ, and she wondered if I’d like to consider teaching full time.” So he spent the next two years there teaching math, science and gym. “My fetal pig dissections are still legendary.”
Iacarella made the cycle all the way home when there was an opening at Edison High School for the 1994-95 school year. “I loved the elementary kids, but I immediately connected with the high school students.”
Soon after joining the Edison staff, he was chosen as Career and Technical Education New Teacher of the Year for the Midwest by the American Vocational Association.
From loan officer to vineyard manager to elementary school to high school teaching? “I think all teachers should work at least three years at a non-teaching job so that they have a sense of what the real world is like, and what should be done for a job.”
Iacarella immediately got involved in the community by joining the Lions and the Chamber of Commerce. At school he coached seven different sports: boys and girls golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, wrestling for over 20 years, boys tennis, girls softball.
One of his proudest achievements, though, was starting the Voyageur Program with other educators. It was supported by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce.
The program brought in over 700 students over the years and exposed them to the world of business. “We’d get them suits, teach them interviewing skills, teach them etiquette, both business and social. We taught them the soft skills of succeeding.”
Another area was the scholarship program at Edison. The school has a separate nonprofit scholarship committee run by the teachers. “I think we give out more money in scholarships than any other high school in the state.” Over the years, the committee has given over $2 million to Edison graduates.
Iacarella’s first contact with the Edison Community and Sports Foundation was when the school celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1997, and in 2006 he became the president of the foundation.
ECSF relocated to the school building and eventually in 2016 established the Alumni Room where the rich history of the school is on display. “This was the first school named for Thomas Edison and the only one when he was alive. He wrote letters to the student body that are in the yearbooks.”
The foundation, he said, tries to see Northeast as a community, as an area “rich in passion,
education and experience.” He said his involvement with ECSF has led him to strong friendships throughout the community, people who are willing to give back.
The foundation has a corpus of over a half million dollars. “But just think, if everybody who gets the newsletter gave a hundred dollars, we’d have $1.2 million. Just think what we could do with that.”
Iacarella’s other great love is the Edison Alumni Band, which he first participated in in 1977 at the Northeast Parade. He plays the trombone.
“I’m not a musician of any type. There are people in the band who are professionals. They’re unbelievable. What’s great is they let me play with them. Yeah, I’m good at five songs.”
With Iacarella’s and others’ leadership, the band has taken trips to New Orleans during Mardi Gras and to Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day. The band normally has from 30 to 40 members, but it reached a peak of 100 for Edison’s Centennial celebration.
Iacarella was the main coordinator behind the Centennial event, which brought hundreds of alumni back to the school for a host of events including an auditorium show, a rock’n’roll battle of the bands at Shaw’s, and a parade.
One event Iacarella hopes to revive in his final year is the annual Edison senior talent show. “We did it for years and years, but then there was COVID. It’s always a good celebration, a look back at things, and a look at all the talent the kids have.”
In one talent show he and another teacher portrayed Sonny and Cher, with Iacarella as Cher. “I looked like Howard Stern in drag.”
Iacarella and his wife Vicky have been married for nearly 25 years. She was an executive at Target Corporation, and they knew each other in high school. They met again at their 20th class reunion. They had 600 people at their wedding.
Together, he and Vicky started the Target E-Mentor program at Edison in 1999, matching students with volunteer mentors who would share emails with the students every week for the entire school year. The mentors and students would also meet twice a year.
“We would have about 80 mentors annually. It gave students the opportunity to experience people in a real working environment.”
Iacarella has many memories of his days at Edison. One of them was the Great Flood of 1997. “I was in the basement. We had just put all the business department’s computer equipment in the boys’ gym in the basement to protect it from the summer’s construction projects. This eight-foot wall of water just came roaring through the basement. We lost everything. The good news is that we got all new equipment.”
His list of school and community activities is long and varied: Northeast Lions Club, Eastside Oldtimers, Northeast Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Green Campus, Spark-Y, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church.
He still plays golf, basketball, softball, tennis and baseball, but is retired from rugby and broomball.
Iacarella has lived in Northeast all of his life except for the three-year California sojourn. In fact, he lives in a house that was next door to the house he grew up in.
What’s Iacarella’s theory on good teaching?
“I often quote Maya Angelou: ‘They won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’
“I try to greet the kids as they come in every day and when they leave. I say their names. I want them to know I know who they are and I know their name.
“I think a good teacher is someone who can sit back and listen, listen to the student’s dreams and maybe point them in the right direction to go. I always encourage them to try. Failing is not bad. Go ahead and try and you’ll learn from that. And I’ll work all I can with you.”
What will he miss most? “The kids. The kids keep you young.”
Mike Iacarella marched with the Edison Alumni Band during Edison’s 100th anniversary celebration in Fall 2022. (Photo by Cynthia Sowden) Mike Iacarella is retiring after 29 years as business teacher at Edison High School. (Photo by Al Zdon)