Free Soil board holds final meeting

June 25, 2013

Board President Jim Stockman, Superintendent Ron Nurnberger, alumni association President Phil Keilman.

By Rob Alway, MCP Editor-in-Chief.

FREE SOIL — Free Soil Community School’s Board of Education met Monday night for the very last time. After 100 years of existence, the last order of business was to pass a resolution to close up the school’s affairs.

But first, the board also took care of some important business to help keep the district’s legacy going — and to honor one of its most dedicated members. In November 2012 Ed Rybicki died. Rybicki had been a member of the Free Soil school board for 53 years, making him not only the longest serving school member of Free Soil school but for any public school board in Michigan. In his will, Rybicki left 1 percent of his estate to Free Soil Community School.

On Monday, the board of education passed a resolution that will give that money to the Free Soil Alumni Association, a gift that will help that organization continue the school’s legacy for years to come. Superintendent Ron Nurnberger said the money will technically become an asset of Mason County Eastern Public Schools, which will absorb the school district as of July 1. MCE, however, has agreed to give the money to the Free Soil Alumni Association, he said.

While the school district will become part of MCE, the buildings and the property they are on will become property of the Village of Free Soil and will serve as a community center.

“We have spent a lot of time and effort to make sure the facilities are in good condition for the village,” Nurnberger said. “We have created a nice park across the street which features playground equipment from the school, including the pirate ship. We also recently built a pavilion which has the original school bell on top of it.”

Nurnberger said the gymnasium also has a new floor and a new roof, paid for through insurance money because they were damaged due to a rain storm.

“I know the school board is proud that this building will continue to function,” he said. “We know it isn’t going to be easy for them, which is why we wanted to make sure everything was in a good shape.”

Nurnberger will go down in the history books as the last principal and the last superintendent of the school. He was hired, out of retirement, in 2007 to serve as principal/superintendent, the year the school began offering only kindergarten through eighth grade. In 2010, when the school closed, he continued to serve as a part-time superintendent. Nurnberger said he began his education career in 1969. He worked as an administrator for MCE for 11 years, serving nine as superintendent. He said he has loved being in education but will now retire for good.

On Saturday, the school’s alumni association ended the school’s existence with a party. It’s first ever all school reunion was declared a success. Alumni association chair Phil Keilman said over 1,500 people attended the party and more will be held in the future.

“It was a great time and a great way to send the school off. It was a celebration and people had a good time.”

Jim Stockman is the last president of the board of education. Stockman said he is OK with the school closing.

“It needed to be done and I think it was what I was meant to do,” he said. “Most of us knew it was going to happen. There was just a point where we only had limited students and limited funds. But, we as a board worked very hard to make sure we provided the best deal for the citizens of this school district. Because we kept the school district going for an additional three years we were able to save the taxpayers money. We also were able to save them money for an additional three years because they do not have to pay for MCE’s current building debt, saving them 3.51 mills.

“In the meantime, we built a park and preserved these buildings. I’m proud of that and I’m proud to be a pirate.”

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