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Michele Bachmann's Teenage Years at Anoka High School

Leadership Roles in High School Hint at Future Political Career


Updated March 01, 2012

Previous page: Childhood in Waterloo, Iowa

In Michele Bachmann's 2012 presidential campaign announcement, there's little mention of a telling detail from her official bio during her first Congressional campaign in 2006: she "grew up in a broken home." Michele's parents David and Jean Amble divorced when she was 14. David disappeared from their lives and left Jean to raise the kids alone. Unable to afford the mortgage on the family home in Brooklyn Park, MN, Jean rented an apartment in nearby Anoka, moving Michele and her three brothers.

Forced to sell many of their possessions, the Ambles teetered at the edge of poverty. Yet the move offered Michele the opportunity to obtain what she described as "a high quality education" at Anoka High School, "the best of the best."

'Foundation for Life'
Michele's teenage years at Anoka High were among her most formative, perhaps due to a conversation she'd had with her mother shortly after her parents separated. The girl who'd enjoyed a carefree childhood in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, had been uprooted, transplanted to Minnesota where her father took a job designing ordnance for defense contractor Honeywell.

The painful irony that her nuclear family had blown up as a result of the move was dulled by the reality of their reduced circumstances. Much had been taken away from them: the support of grandparents and extended family living nearby, their home and the comforts of a middle-class life, and the presence of a reliable father figure. But in the conversation between mother and daughter, Jean held out a ray of hope. Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard writes:

"My mom said, 'One thing that can never be taken away from you is your education,'" Bachmann told me in a 2009 interview. If she worked hard in school, her mother went on, she'd have a foundation for life. Michele became a devoted student at Anoka High....
Almost Famous
Michele Amble Bachmann is not the only notable figure to have passed through Anoka High.

Author and humorist Garrison Keillor, host of the radio show Prairie Home Companion, was born and raised in Anoka and graduated in 1960.

Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989 and co-anchor of Fox TV's morning show Fox and Friends, also grew up in Anoka and graduated in 1984, a decade after Michele. Despite their age difference, the two knew each other; Michele had been Carlson's nanny for one entire summer and was her favorite babysitter according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune

At Work & At Play
Babysitting was one of several jobs Michele took on to help her single mother make ends meet. Michele's brother Paul Amble, now the chief forensic psychiatrist for the state of Connecticut, remembers her working as a bus driver transporting handicapped children to and from area events. Although it wasn't part of her job, she also coordinated a trip for the kids to attend a Minnesota Vikings playoff game against the Saint Louis Cardinals.

A straight-A student, she was popular and showed an early aptitude for winning political support and securing votes. In the 1972 Anoka High yearbook, a Student Congress photo shows Michele seated front and center in a group of eight students. Appearing under the oddly prescient headline "When I grow up I want to be President," the high school sophomore stares straight into the camera with a wide confident smile.

Next to her senior portrait in the 1974 yearbook, an extensive list of more than 20 activities and clubs outstrips the combined totals of the five other students included on the page. During her years at Anoka High she participated in cheerleading, chorus, drama club, gymnastics, prom committee, ski club, speech, student congress, student council, swimming, and pep club, along with activities represented by the acronyms FHA and NHS (most likely Future Homemakers of America and National Honor Society.)

"Miss Congeniality"
Michele appears to have enjoyed performing onstage. She was involved in high school productions of Hello Dolly, The Crucible, You Can't Take It With You, Fiddler on the Roof, and Bells Are Ringing.

She was also elected to the homecoming court and though Homecoming Queen title eluded her, she told the Weekly Standard, "I won Miss Congeniality once."

Just like GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Heath Palin, Michele entered a local beauty pageant. Her brother Paul recalls, "She won Miss Congeniality in the Miss Anoka competition....She didn't do it to be a pageant girl. We didn't have money for that. She just wanted to speak in public and be a part of student life."

More Than 'Average'
A classmate and former friend recalls her "beautiful long hair and bright blue eyes" but confesses:

She was friendly (some might say "perky"), positive, energetic, and...average....If I had been asked to predict which of the students pictured in that Yearbook would run for President, Michele would have been at the bottom of the list...So many of my classmates were smarter, more ambitious, more politically-minded.  Or so I thought.
By the time Michele graduated from high school, her family circumstances had changed once again. Her mother remarried and Jean's new husband had five children of his own. This time the upheaval was not as devastating for Michele who had joined a high school prayer group and found new strength through her faith.

Clusiau, Christina. "Michele Bachmann's Life On and Off the Campaign Trail: Her First Elected Role." Swampland at Time.com. 21 July 2011.
Continetti, Matthew. "Queen of the Tea Party: The presidential campaign of Michele Bachmann." The Weekly Standard, Vol. 16, No. 40, weeklystandard.org. 4-11 July 2011.
Levy, Paul. "Anoka's Hall of Fame missing two big names: Keillor and Bachmann." Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, Startribune.com. 6 September 2011.
Lizza, Ryan.
"Leap of Faith: The making of a Republican front-runner."
The New Yorker, newyorker.com. 15 August 2011.
Marsh, Steve. "Q&A with Michele Bachmann: Is She Destiny's Child?" Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, mspmag.com. February 2010.
"One Degree of Michele Bachmann." mamapeake's blog. 15 June 2011.
Sivertson, Anja. "As Caucus Approaches, Michele Bachmann looks to sell Iowans on Faith, Frugality."Iowa.watch.org at IowaIndependent.com. 13 May 2011.

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