Mr. Koesters and his iconic shopping cart: The history behind the unstoppable, motivational duo

By Anna Kenney

You snooze through your alarm Monday morning and it’s already 7:30, you don’t have time to get Dunkin, and now you must face the inevitable: Soph Lot.
Panting, sweating and gasping for air, you make it through the doors of Marian just as the clock strikes 7:45. Typical day for you, right? Barely making it, not sure if you have your homework done or if you’re ready for that quiz. You turn down senior hall, and in that very moment, something you never expected turns that frown upside down.

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A prized possession
Mr. Mark Koesters poses with his iconic and symbolic shopping cart. He incorporates the cart and its meaning into his classes. Photo by Anna Kenney.

How many high schools do you know that have a gladiator tie-wearing teacher pushing a shopping cart down the halls? Mr. Mark Koesters is a rare and curious man, who sparks your interest and makes you contemplate the history of the strange and iconic grocery cart that he pushes behind you in the halls.

“To me, having a shopping cart in a classroom is just normal. It’s abnormal but it’s become the normal,” Mr. Mark Koesters: Latin teacher, theology teacher, wearer of multicolored ties, and someone you can always borrow a kernel of corn or a can of beans from, says about one of his many treasured possessions. His beloved collection of other items includes an owl statue, a bust of Julius Caesar, a copy of The Saint John’s Bible , his bucket of corn kernels, several mini John Deere tractors, and of course, the iconic shopping cart which plays an unexpected role at Marian.

Koesters has been teaching at Marian since 1987. Around the time he began teaching nearly 31 years ago, he noticed that there was a shopping cart in the kitchen. As years progressed, he often waxed floors in the school in the summertime, and one summer he noticed that someone had left the shopping cart by the dumpster. Koesters saw that the cart had a bad wheel and, all of a sudden, it hit him that this cart needed to be rescued, because it had a greater purpose in life.

When Koesters began teaching world religion to seniors 24 years ago, one of the topics covered was Buddhism. One of Buddhism’s main lessons comes with an interesting analogy about life. Koesters explained the analogy; “Life is like a cart with a bad wheel. It works, but it’s still bumpy. There’s something wrong with life and everybody experiences it. In Buddhism, this is what causes the bad wheel, or causes problems.” Buddhism teaches that the greatest goal in life is to reach nirvana and escape the cycle of reincarnation.

The tiny shopping cart bought for Koesters by a Marian graduate. He fills it with his favorite miscellaneous items. Photo by Anna Kenney.

As a visual to aid to this teaching, Mr. Koesters would push the cart with the bad wheel around the room and it would bounce, making everyone laugh and smile. Students were inspired by this teaching technique and loved the shopping cart. “Everybody laughed, but they got the lesson,” Koesters said.

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The tiny shopping cart bought for Koesters by a Marian graduate. He fills it with his favorite miscellaneous items. Photo by Anna Kenney.

Today, Koesters no longer teaches senior world religion, but the shopping cart is still in his room. Now with no handle to match with the bad wheel, it still has great purpose and meaning. In fact, most of Koesters’ students would be very concerned if the cart suddenly disappeared. “It’s taken on a life of its own,” Koesters explained. “It’s kind of an institution.”

Now, Koesters uses it in his classes for teaching and uses it as a visual in different PowerPoints. It also comes in handy for hauling things around. Koesters and other teachers and students use it to bring things to their cars or move boxes and heavy items around the school.

One student, after graduating in the late 90s, was at Target when she saw a mini shopping cart that was missing a wheel. Immediately she remembered the lesson about Buddhism from her senior religion class, bought it, and gave it to Koesters as a gift.
He was grateful for the mini-cart and happy that she had been impacted by the lesson. The mini-cart has been a part of the story ever since. Now, Room 214 has two special shopping carts close to the hearts of both Koesters and his students.

Even though life has bumps in it, everything will be okay and will work out for the best. Koesters and his shopping cart help Marian girls get through the bumps in their lives and put smiles on everyone’s face.

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