By Linda Andersen Diana Vagle, Hallock, Minn., holds one of the sleeping bags she has sewn for 18” dolls. Vagle makes a variety of doll clothes and sleeping bags and sells at various locations.
(Enterprise Photo by Linda Andersen)
Retired teacher Diana Vagle of Hallock has lived an interesting life and a conversation with her can cover numerous topics.
First, she mentions her four years at the University of Illinois, where she majored in journalism with minors in home economics and English education. A couple of her classmates at the university would become famous – Roger Ebert, the well-known film critic, and James Brady, press secretary for Ronald Regan.
Following college graduation, Vagle was off to South Korea with the Red Cross where she served as an activities director for the servicemen for one year. “We visited dining halls and put on programs…anything to be a break to servicemen,” she explains. Working in teams of two, they might do a program about the latest records or fashions, teach Korean history, or put on a slide show.
While in Korea she met Gerald Vagle, a “nice-looking military policeman from Kittson County.”
Later, after Diana returned to Illinois and was teaching high school journalism and English, Gerald came to Illinois and proposed. She soon found herself married and in Kittson County, where she taught briefly at the Hallock Public School and the Humboldt Public School.
Motherhood came next. She and Gerald had become interested in adoption after visiting orphanages in Korea. The couple adopted four children – John, Tom, Mike, and Rebecca. Then, as Diana explains it, “Mother Nature kicked in after ten years.” The Vagles became biological parents of Daniel and twins, Joanna and Joel.
Two of the adopted children showed autistic tendencies and Diana became interested in special education. She learned that many of Rebecca’s characteristics were the result of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Her children’s special needs, plus teaching Tiny Tots in Hallock part-time for “10 to 12” years, plus her husband’s untimely death at age 49 prompted Diana to earn a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of North Dakota. She went on to teach early childhood special education and serve as an autism consultant at area schools through the Northwest Regional Interdistrict Council (a special education cooperative) from 1990 to 2011, retiring at age seventy-one.
“Autism is called a spectrum disorder because it has children with mild disorders to children who are nonverbal and have severe handicaps,” Diana explains. She says children with autism have problems with social skills and language, display rigid or repetitive behaviors, and have sensory problems. They may be oversensitive or under sensitive. Some don’t want to be touched, others don’t like new tastes or textures, and some are very sensitive to lights, especially fluorescent lights.
“Their whole world is so confusing that rituals and routines provide security for them,” Diana adds.
What did Diana like about teaching? “I liked that there was hope… There’s hope that we can make life better.” She also enjoyed seeing how young children accept a child with a handicap who is mainstreamed into the regular classroom, offering them friendship for life.
Not used to sitting around, Diana began making and selling clothes for 18” dolls (such as American Girl dolls) after retirement. She says she first became interested in sewing doll clothes when she spent a week in bed with a hurt knee after graduating from eighth grade. Later, while directing the Tiny Tots program, she and some of the moms sewed clothes for Cabbage Patch Dolls as a successful fundraiser.
She first made the American Girl clothes for her granddaughters. One granddaughter said she needed sleeping bags for the dolls for taking them to sleepovers, so Diana now also stitches doll sleeping bags.
“It was fun making the doll clothes,” Diana says. She sells them at Nordisk Hemslöjd in Karlstad, Artists on Main in Roseau, and at area craft shows. At Artists on Main, she also sells hooded blankets and receiving blankets.
“I don’t sell them necessarily for profit. I like creating and designing them…I started out doing my own thing and then was able to order a couple basic pattern books online… I never make two alike.”
She suggests pixiefaire.com as a good source of patterns, adding that they offer a free pattern every week.
Another activity for Diana is serving on the Hallock Library Board. She is a lover of books, worked part-time at the university library during her undergraduate years and has worked part-time at the Hallock Public Library. What is Diana’s favorite book? “The Book Thief,” she responds, explaining that it is about a Jewish girl during World War II. She likes books by author Jodi Picoult, who “writes about modern problems,” and books by Temple Grandin who writes about autism and animal welfare. “For fun,” she enjoys detective books by William Kent Krueger, which are often set in Ely. She explains that her parents were from the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee – “Any book about Tennessee I read.”
University life, serving with the Red Cross, teaching, adoption, single parenting, special education, making doll clothes, books – an afternoon conversation with Diana Vagle provides much interesting information and inspiration!