July 2016


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Welcome to Rise

Welcome to the July 2016 edition of "Rise Grand Island," the alumni newsletter for Grand Island Senior High published every other month by the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation. "Rise" is where we connect with thousands of Islanders across the globe, keeping you and them up to date on what's happening in Purple and Gold land, and reminiscing a little bit as well.

We also really enjoy hearing from you, Islander alums who find "Rise" in their in-box every other month. Give us a shout, especially if you or a GISH alum you know has a done something newsy or noteworthy. You can reach us at the email addresses on the front page.

It's reunion time and our "At the Top" feature highlights the Class of 1944's 72nd reunion. Check it out below.

Our "Distant Mirror" correspondent, Mike Monk, Class of 1967, pays tribute to some of his earliest influences in the first of two parts dedicated to the fine teachers the Grand Island Public Schools.

Taking a cue from the Class of 1944's remarkable gathering, I have a couple observations on reunions in my "I've Been Thinking" column.

Foundation Executive Director Traci Skalberg has a Legacy piece on former GIPS principal Bessie Frith, and Senior High Principal Jeff Gilbertson gives us an update on the summer scene at our alma mater.

In Memoriam includes those classmates to whom we said goodbye in May and June.

Enjoy this "Rise" and keep pushing on.

George Ayoub, Class of 1968
Editor, "Rise Grand Island"
Email alumni@gips.org with story ideas or alumni updates.


At the Top

Class of 1944 celebrates 72nd reunion

When the Class of 1944 left Senior High in May that year, the world was still at war, Grand Island had just inched over 20,000 in population and color television was six years away.

Seventy-two years later 18 of those classmates got together to meet old friends and mark the 72nd year since their high school graduation. (According to Bill Stull, whose mother Nadene was among the attendees, four classmates showed up a little later. Their names unfortunately do not appear below. Thanks to Bill for the photo.)

The Class of 1944 held its 72nd reunion on May 20th at Pam's Pub and Grub in Grand Island. The group had lunch and enjoyed friendships over seven decades in the making.

Hundreds of class reunions are held from spring to fall every year but few will be able to match the longevity of the Senior High Class of 1944 gathering.

Here's to number 73 next year and many more for the Class of 1944.

Those from the class attending the reunion were Cliff Frymire (with wife Virginia), Wilma Anderson, Fred Stubbendick, Phyllis Jessen Dibbern, Joanne Jessen Dibbern, Riley Nielsen, Joy Doan Eriksen, Ted Eriksen, Eldora Semm Speck (with husband Dave), Tedd Huston, Nadene Evans Stull, Betty Schuessler, Harold Schuessler and Vera Nicholas Petersen.


I've Been Thinking

Reunions good reminders of our past

Straight from the eye-strain-from-trying-to-look-at-a-classmate's-face-and-name tag-simultaneously department comes some thoughts on class reunions.

Summer means reunions, none more spectacular than the gathering of Senior High's Class of 1944 in May. Yes, that math is correct: 72 years. Fourteen classmates made it to the reunion. You can find more on the 1944ers on the front page of this newsletter.

You can also get or add information if your class is reuniting this summer on Rise's link to class reunions.

If anything reflects Americana, it's the class reunion: A decennial re-assemblage to swap stories, catch up, and, if we're young enough, party like it's ____ (fill in the appropriate year, the later the longer the party.)

I've had the chance to be part of the planning and execution for several of the Class of 1968's conclaves, a duty I first thought would be comparable to a root canal.

I was wrong. In each instance our meetings descended into storytelling and laughter, so much so that I occasionally thought we'd never find a caterer let alone plan an entire weekend.

We found, too, that some classmates are difficult to find; others simply don't want to be. Not everybody is onboard the alumni/reunion/good-old-days train. That's cool.

For those who are however, a reunion is a chance not to relive the past but to remind us how it has imprinted our lives.

That and who doesn't like a good party?

As the years roll on, every 10 years can become every five years ... or fewer.

The reunion culture can be generally described using these 10-year increments although 72 years is nothing short of momentous.

The 10-year reunion most resembles high school with ashtrays and an open bar. At 27 or 28 we're young enough to close down not only the reunion but also the local taverns ... before heading to an after party.

We finally drag our party-hearty carcasses to the Village Inn or Tommy's or wherever the breakfast is hot and the doors still open at 4 a.m.

And we're still at an age where we can do it again the next day ... after some Tylenol and a nap.

I like to call the 20-year confab the Resume and Rolodex Reunion. If you ever find yourself knee deep in someone else's accomplishments and successes, there's good chance you're on the listening end of a one-sided conversation at a 20-year high school reunion.

No biggie. We all trot out photos of the kids, but for some it's just human nature after a couple decades of winning to want to show off the new house, the awards from work, and the names they just can't wait to drop.

At the 30-year reunion most of us check our blue ribbons, stock portfolios, and personal vitae at the door, opting rather to enjoy with our classmates both the past and the moment without polishing our egos. Some of that could be a matter of age and maturity, but I'd like to believe it's more of a fine-tuning of perspective.

Either way, 30-year reunions can have a refreshing undercurrent of reality when we neither downplay our triumphs nor let them solely define us. Plus, we're at an age when all-nighters can ruin an entire week. (Not that it stopped me and a dozen classmates from ordering breakfast at the Village Inn at 3 a.m.)

The 40-year get together is often a single evening because, hey, that's all our bodies can handle. The photos are now grandkids, the talk is retirement, and the memories a little hazier ... none of which reduces the reminiscing nor spoils the party. Which, as you know, breaks up early.

My class had a 45th reunion because of the insistence and hard work of a group of classmates determined to gather us in 2013. What I remember most about 45 is how we all seemed to enjoy each other's company. And certainly at that age, we were all just happy to be there.

It was delightful evening, far from the halls of Senior High, but somehow just around the corner, perhaps the best you can hope for in a class reunion.

I'm looking forward to the Senior High Class of 1968's 50th reunion in a couple years. Go ahead and crash ours if you'd like because no matter the class, it's always a good time to hang with Islanders.


A Distant Mirror

Teach Your Children – Part 1

Let us today peer into the Distant Mirror to take a look back at some of the teachers who influenced, impressed, or annoyed some of us in the GIPS system from 1955 to 1967.

I start by openly professing my love and respect for teachers. I married a teacher, and this August we will celebrate 42 years of marriage. My daughter taught third grade for a year before leaving this honest work and becoming a lawyer. And I have taught both law school and college courses.

But most emotionally, when I danced with my daughter at her wedding, the song we selected was Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "Teach Your Children." The following lines often bring tears to my eyes:

Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they pick's, the one you'll know by.
And you, of the tender years can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they pick's, the one you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

As I look into the Distant Mirror, I am struck by just how many great teachers I was blessed with in the GIPS system from 1955 to 1967. Virtually every teacher I had, whether at Howard, Walnut or GISH, took teaching seriously and was sincerely interested in the subject he or she taught. I cannot begin to discuss every terrific teacher I had, so this will by definition be a truncated discussion.

I vividly remember each Howard School teacher without prompting: from Kindergarten to Sixth grade, Mrs. Cordes, Mrs. Dvorak, Miss Langdon, Mrs. Gaines, Miss Lee, Mrs. Severson and Mrs. Weidner. They were, as a whole, kindly, demanding, wise and charming.

Miss Langdon (Second Grade): She was the type that every second grade boy loved. She was young, nice and pretty, and I felt completely comfortable with her. I was perhaps too comfortable, since one day when my reading group read about a snowy winter scene, I was bold enough to try some humor. When asked the weather in the story, I smiled and said, "It was bright and hot and sunny." Luckily, Miss Langdon got the joke and gently directed me back to the facts, with only the hint of a reprimand.

It was, I believe, in Miss Langdon's class that one day Lynn Weiser shouted out, "There ain't no Santa Claus." The room fell silent as the second graders digested this bold proclamation. I was taken aback, but I immediately thought to myself, "you know, I have been wondering about that."

Miss Lee (Fourth Grade): This tiny little pepper pot, was a charmer, but a task master. She was often only barely taller than some of her fourth graders, but a superb teacher.

Mrs. Lydia Severson (Fifth Grade): I also adored Mrs. Severson and her fifth grade class. My 1967 classmate and friend Gloria Dolton recently shared with me that it was Lydia who inspired her to be a teacher.

Each day, after lunch, for maybe 20 minutes, she would read to the class. She chose some great works of literature, including "Black Beauty,' "Johnny Tremaine" and "Robinson Crusoe." Thirty students, after running around on the playground, came into class often breathlessly. But the reading calmed everyone down, relaxing and mesmerizing the whole class.

I know this engendered a real love of reading for many of us. During milk lunch break, she also held a "Jeopardy" type competition to name the state capitals. The many competitive students in the class soon learned them all.

I recall only a single moment of anger in her classroom. That was when an ill advised "fruit roll," supposedly a gesture of generosity and kindness to the teacher, went awry. One miscreant, who will remain nameless, threw, rather than rolled, a medium sized watermelon that split open upon hitting the floor, creating a major mess. But this was a rare departure from the happy and kindly tone of the classroom.

On the last day of Fifth grade, she became serious, saying she wanted to end the year with this thought, "Don't take everything so seriously, since life is just a bowl of cherries!" I was taken aback, since it seemed a bit flippant given the seriousness of her approach to learning throughout the year. But I have never forgotten it.

Mr. Epps (7th grade): The jump to Walnut brought us into a world where we had more than a single teacher, though in 7th grade the same teacher, a "block" teacher, would teach English, history and health. This provided a modicum of continuity in the transition from a single teacher.

My block teacher was Mr. Epps. He was my first male teacher, and was both nurturing and demanding. The English instruction was first rate, and as my late father in law would have said, "We diagramed the hell out of a million sentences." But it worked. We knew an adverb from an adjective.

Mr. Broz (Eighth Grade): The avuncular Mr. Broz was my charming, yet somewhat mysterious art teacher at Walnut. He preached the value of being observant, since artists must observe to recreate. He once asked my class who could describe the sculptures at the top of the front entrance to the Walnut building. Most of the class, myself included, did not have a clue. But we soon closely examined the two gargoyle-like faces of the sculptures, and I suspect each was just a bit more observant thereafter. Mr. Broz was very worldly, and he loved to talk of subjects other than art.

On the last day of school, when signing the Walnut Cracker for a student, Mr. Broz found his own picture and drew a small halo around his head, effectively making himself an angel. I watched as he then said to the child, "You will remember this for the rest of your life." Whether this was a daunting prediction, or a real curse, I wasn't sure. I don't know about the other kid, but I never forgot it.

Mr. Flanagan (Ninth Grade): Mr. Flanagan taught me 9th Grade Junior Business. Unlike most, he was not much of a disciplinarian, though he was an excellent teacher. One day Lyle Flebbe walked into the room just as class was about to start. First, Lyle flung open a window, causing a strong wind to blow papers everywhere. Then he literally shouted, in a demanding and accusatory tone, to Mr. Flanagan, "What are we going to do today?" The room was silent with apprehension, but Mr. Flanagan did not overreact. Rather, he simply said, "Now Lyle, calm down, we are going to learn about checking accounts."

His favorite phrase, when he saw people clearly looking on other student's papers, was, "Partnership Grade. Don't look at other papers! Do you want a partnership grade, where the grade will be divided in half?" No one ever got a partnership grade, but many looked at their neighbor's work.

Mr. Harms (Ninth Grade and Senior Year): Mr. Harms taught me 9th Grade geometry at Walnut, then later moved to Senior, where he taught me 12th grade pre-calculus. In addition to being a scratch golfer, he made the complicated theories of geometry understandable, if you put the time into it. It was in his 9th Grade geometry classroom at Walnut that our class heard the intercom announce of the death of John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Hecht (10th Grade World History): Mr. Hecht was maybe my most intellectual teacher at Senior. In his world history class we read among other works, the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey." He would walk around the room, much like a college teacher, and lecture – without notes – on just about any subject. He wanted you to think in new ways with more insight.

One day he began to discuss religion and the afterlife, generally a subject few teachers would have the courage to discuss. He asked our class if we believed in an afterlife. My sense is that virtually ever student did, but Mr. Hecht said, "Well, I have never known anyone who has been there and back, and I have never seen any evidence that an afterlife exists." A few students were a bit shaken by this, and he then said, "You know, I think with just about everyone of you, I could provide you with facts that would break you down." He then look at me and said, "I am not sure if I could break you down, Mike." I wasn't sure if this meant (1) I was an infidel without beliefs, (2) I was so emotionally strong he couldn't touch me, or (3) I simply didn't much care? I now look back at this as some of the strongest praise I ever received.

This edition of A Distant Mirror will serve as Part 1 of my Teach Your Children recollections. Stay tuned in two months for Teach Your Children - Part 2, which will include my recollections of additional memorable teachers, including Judy Barth, Lillian Willman, Gale Randall, and the iconic and legendary Elmer Kral.


Shaking the World

Every Student, Every Day, a Success! Grand Island Public Schools Staff live the mission, give the mission.

I have been blessed to work in a position that tends to coincide with many "lump in the throat" type moments. Helping donors realize their legacy giving goals can generate this emotional response. Sometimes seeing a student who has much adversity in his life benefit from this work puts that lump in my throat. There is so much powerful testimony to reinforce the notion that this work really matters, it really makes a difference.

This Spring I experienced another lump in my throat. This time it wasn't about a particular student or group of students. It was about their teachers and staff. On May 12, the GIPS Foundation announced that the Grand Island Public Schools Staff and Board Members had raised $94,024 via the annual spring "Add it Up to Opportunity!" Staff Campaign. Even more spectacular than the total dollar amount was the percentage of giving. Ninety-two percent (92%) of all employed teachers and staff of the Grand Island Public Schools gave to this campaign for students. That number includes 1,369 donors with an average gift of $68.

Now for the lump in the throat...it hit me like a ton of bricks. These teachers, cooks, secretaries, custodians, paraprofessionals, nurses, and administrators care so much for students that they are willing to invest their personal dollars to fund additional opportunities for our kids. This is incredible testimony about who we are as a school district. This is every student, every day, a success. It is in the 'whatever it takes' column. I am grateful to send my own children to a school district where the staff is that personally invested in the success of students. That puts the lump in my throat. It is an incredible source of pride for Grand Island Public Schools where staff not only live the mission, they give the mission.

  Click to view photo album


Your Legacy. Their Opportunity.

Getting to the heart of the matter...

I don't think you ever retire from Education. You continue to care. I gave my heart and soul to Grand Island Public Schools and I want to do what I can to help students succeed. - Bessie Frith

She first stepped into Stolley Park Elementary in 1942. Stolley was a two-room country school when Bessie Baker entered as a "beginner." She stayed at Stolley through eighth grade and credits the beginning of her affection for school to the two teachers who taught her for the entire duration at the rural Stolley Park School. Bessie then moved on to Grand Island Senior High as her mother Letha (graduated 1927) had before her. Bessie graduated in 1955. It was just the beginning...

I went into teaching, because I liked school so well, I didn't have the courage to quit. - Bessie Frith

Fall of 1955 took Bessie off to Kearney State College where she earned a two-year teaching certificate. She returned to Grand Island for the 1957-58 school year to teach Kindergarten at West Lawn Elementary. With the money that Bessie earned that year, she went back to Kearney for two more years to earn her Bachelor's Degree in Education. In 1960, Bessie returned to West Lawn, teaching some of her Kindergartners again, this time as their 3rd grade teacher!

Over the years, Bessie taught and/or was principal at West Lawn, Wasmer Annex, Starr, Stolley Park, and Howard. She retired in 1997 after a 38-year career in education. Truly, Bessie has spent a lifetime with Grand Island Public Schools, as a student, as a teacher, as a principal, and now as an ardent supporter of school and students.

In 2006, Bessie and her husband Charles "Chuck" created an endowed scholarship at the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation to help deserving young men and women achieve their college ambitions. This scholarship is need based and is intended for a student who demonstrates good character and citizenship. The student must also demonstrate what Bessie calls "a fire in the belly," to succeed in his/her chosen career.

As of 2016, the Charles R. and Bessie E. Frith Scholarship has distributed 11 scholarships, directly impacting lives, one student at a time. This is heart. This is soul. This legacy of investing in student success will last forever.

Mrs. Bessie Frith, we are glad you didn't quit education. We are grateful for your heart and soul. You have helped so many students succeed. Your legacy IS their opportunity!

For more information about how to set up your legacy fund, call or e-mail Traci Skalberg, 308-385-5900 ext. 1170; tskalberg@gips.org


On the Island

We often say that one of the many reasons Grand Island Senior High is such a special place is because our great school building never sleeps. That is especially the case during the summer months of 2016. Our school is currently very active with positive energy focused on student learning, student-athlete conditioning, team practice and school improvements.

Some highlights:

  • Islander student-athletes workout with our Islander Power program at 6:00 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. 4 days a week. Sports camps and preseason practice take place in football, wrestling, volleyball, basketball, cheerleading and dance team.
  • The Nebraska College Preparatory Academy (UNL's NCPA) has mandatory summer academic core classes for those students accepted into their program.
  • Drivers Education is provided at GISH by the Nebraska Safety Council from Kearney, Nebraska.
  • Summer School classes occur at our Success Academy facility Monday-Thursday for credit recovery students in the core curriculum of English and Math
  • The GISH 100 wing is getting a facelift with a renovation project that includes the redesign of the existing Industrial Arts section of the building as a result of the creation of the Career Pathways Institute (CPI) on south Adams Street. The renovation includes additional classrooms for Special Education and ELL programing as well as a new state of the art Intro to Career and Technical Education lab and classroom spaces. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by December, 2016
  • One of our GISH courtyards has been recently redesigned as an outdoor classroom space. The project was possible because science teacher, Bridget Thurman, was awarded a grant from the Natural Resources District. The space contains native prairie plants and grasses that most of our urban students may have only seen in their history books

  • We are excited to host the class reunion building tours for the Class of 1966 on July 2 from 10:30 am-12:00 pm, the Class of 1986 on July 30 from 9:00 am-11:00 am, and the Class of 1996 from 1:00 pm-2:00 pm
  • Administratively, we are welcoming 26 new certificated staff members to the Islander family for the 2016-2017 school year. These staff members were hired to replace staff that have retired or moved and to fill added teaching positions.


In Memoriam

HAZEL (NIEMOTH) HUST, Class of 1946, died April 13, 2016, in Bartlett, Ill. She was 88.

PAT (HARRISON) McCLELLAN, Class of 1948, died April 25, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. She lived in Hollis, N.H. She was 84.

RANDY SWEENEY, Class of 1983, died April 27, 2016, in Amarillo, Texas. He was 51.

RON NOEL, Class of 1953, died April 27 in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was 80.

GERALD KUZAK, Class of 1967, died May 1, 2016, in Grand Island. He was 66.

FRANK HAACK, Class of 1943, died May 4 in Grand Island. He was 90.

JANET SWANSON, Lincoln Elementary Food Service Staff, died May 4, 2016 in Plattsmouth. She was 67.

LESTER LUEBBE, Class of 1950, died May 5, 2016 in Grand Island. He was 83.

SHELLEY (MONGEAU) GOESS, Class of 1971, died May 7 in Englewood, Fla. Shelley lived in Rotonda West, Fla. She was 63.

DWAYNE KILLION, Class of 1948, died May 8, 2016, in Kearney. He was 86.

JANE (WOLCOTT) BAKER, Class of 1959, died May 14, 2016 in Omaha. She was 74.

HOWARD JELINEK, Class of 1948, died May 18, 2016 in West Point, N.Y. He was 85.

AUDREY (WOLFE) O'ROURKE, Class of 1939, died May 21, 2016, in Grand Island. She was 95.

DAN "BUGGS" OBERMILLER, Class of 1969, died May 27 in Chico, Texas. He was 64.

DORIS (SCHEFFEL) CLARK, Class of 1939 died June 2 in Grand Island. She was 95.

KATHRYN KALVELAGE, Class of 2013, died June 11, 2016, in Alda. She was 20.

JEAN (SCHIMMER) CLARK, Class of 1945, died June 12, 2016, in Elgin, Ill. She was 88.

ELINOR (LYKKE) RADEMACHER, Class of 1945, died June 13, 2016, in Tarzana, Calif. She lived in Woodland Hills, Calif. She was 89.

CAROL (ADAMS) KAMPSCHNEIDER, Class of 1977, died June 14, 2016 in Omaha. She lived in Fremont. She was 57.

RICHARD "DICK" McFEELY, Class of 1946, died June 22, 2016 in Hastings. He was 87.

ANTHONY RISCHLING, GISH Band Instructor, died June 17, 2016 in Grand Island. He was 36.

MIKE CHAVEZ, Class of 1967, died June 19, 2016, in Grand Island. He was 68.

MARY (SPIEHS) ECKERT, Class of 1953, died June 19, 2016 in Grand Island. She was 80.

To report an alumni death since July 1, 2016, please send an email with first name, last name, class year, and maiden name if applicable to alumni@gips.org.