BISMARCK - Wayne Sanstead said he's having a difficult time cleaning out his office at the Capitol after 28 years as state superintendent of public instruction.
"I've never thrown anything away," said Sanstead, who is retiring after nearly 50 years in public service. "The books in here alone are going to fill a trailer truck."
The plaques he has been awarded with are the real quandary. Sanstead's house is filled with plaques already and there isn't room left for the ones he has in his ofice. He has plaques from his days as a teacher, including Jaycee awards; plaques from his days as lieutenant governor; plaques from the many organizations he's worked with over nearly three decades in office. Some photos or awards might have some political significance, since Sanstead has served under a number of presidents. As he prepares to retire at the end of December, more plaques and other awards a rocking chair from one organization; a pair of cufflinks from another are filling his office.
"I've had the (State) Historical Society folks in here and they've indicated an interest," said Sanstead, which will be of some help.
This will be the first election in 46 years that Sanstead's name has not been on the ballot. He has served so long that Education Week referred to him as a "fixture" of education when it ran an article last month on the state superintendent's race.
"My grandkids have always referred to it as Grandpa's Capitol," said Sanstead, whose grandchildren are now teenagers. "As far as they're concerned, I own and operate this building."
Sanstead began his career as an educator in Minot and ran for the state House of Representatives in 1964. He went on to serve in the state Senate and as lieutenant governor of the state from 1973 to 1980. In 1980 he lost his only election when he ran for a third term as lieutenant governor with Gov. Art Link. After that defeat, he ran again for the state House and was elected and then ran for the state superintendent of public instruction position in 1985, a position he has held since.
Sanstead said people often assumed that he was preparing to run for governor, and the late Sen. Quentin Burdick tried to persuade him to run for the U.S. Congress because he has enjoyed such widespread support in the state. However, his first love and life's work was as an educator and he chose to devote his career to serving North Dakota's students.
Sanstead is a Democrat but said he has always prided himself on being able to work on both sides of the aisle and being an advocate for students. He said he's proudest of helping to get the Legislature to fund schools at 70 percent of the cost of educating students. The state had at one point been as low as 40 percent, he said.
Sanstead is concerned that the non-partisan nature of the office might change after this election. He noted that the Republican party has pumped a great deal of money into a campaign to elect candidate Kirsten Baesler and it has made clear that she has the endorsement of the Republican party.
Sanstead said he thinks he could have won again if he had decided to run for office and it was a tempting prospect, particularly since the state has a surplus and more funds are available for improving education than there had been in the past.
His age was a factor in his retirement decision, since he is now 77 and would be 81 if he was elected to another four-year term. He and his wife, Mary Jane, whom he has been married to for more than 50 years, will now have more time to travel and enjoy time with family.
Sanstead also checked off an item on his personal bucket list this past weekend: to get a cat. Sanstead has always been fond of cats, but he hasn't been able to have a cat because he does so much traveling. This weekend his granddaughter picked out a beautiful black and white cat at the Bismarck animal shelter and presented it to her grandfather. Sanstead said the cat is already attached to him and has been following him from room to room. The cat's name is "Happy".
"He's going to be a happy cat if there ever was one," said Sanstead.
Sanstead also plans to do some volunteering and may make his services available as an educational consultant.