LASD teachers, retirees share memories of elementary schools. 

December 8, 2021

LASD teachers, retirees share memories of elementary schools. 

Oriole News is a presentation of Ludington Area School District in partnership with Mason County Press. 

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

LUDINGTON – In the next month or so, Ludington Area Schools teachers will be packing up their classrooms, along with many memories they have gained as they move into the new Ludington Elementary School. The new school, located on Bryant Road, near the corner of Jebavy Drive in Pere Marquette Township, will house PreK-fifth grades, which calculates to around 1,000 elementary-aged students. As staff, students and families look forward to making new memories in the new building, they are also sad to see the old elementary buildings sold and/or torn down, where so many memories were had by so many.

“When I was student teaching in the fall of 2000 at Lakeview, I was taught the ropes by Cindy Hill, who shared her great knowledge of how things work as a teacher,” Lakeview kindergarten teacher, Alan Albrecht said. “She taught me that it wasn’t what I was going to teach the kids that mattered, but how I built relationships with each student that they would remember. In the fall of 2001, I started my teaching career at LASD. That is where I was thrown into the fire and really learned how to teach. What I remember from that year is that I felt like I really didn’t know what I was doing. I remember the relationships that I built with my students and their parents. I remember spending lots of time in the evenings at our local ESD learning as much as I could to become a better teacher. 

“I also remember the support that I received from teachers, like Jan Jackoviak, Leanne Clapper, Kathy Bourgault, and Kathy Radke. By the end of the year I felt like I had my feet on the ground and I was ready to further my skills as an educator. To this day I am still in touch with several of those students from that first class.”

Albrecht taught at South Summit Elementary in Summit Township and Pere Marquette Elementary (now Pere Marquette Early Childhood Center) after leaving Franklin, but then was moved to Lakeview, where he will pack up his classroom for the last time.

“I moved to Lakeview due to the district realignment of the buildings and closing South Hamlin Elementary,” he said. “This is where I have spent a good portion of my career and had anticipated the building I would retire from. As we moved to Lakeview from Pere Marquette, our goal was to continue the family atmosphere that we had come accustomed to. Here I have said goodbye to colleagues due to retirements and other reasons. But the one colleague, friend, work mom, Cindy Jarvie is the one that I will miss terribly. I never was able to say goodbye to her, as we all believed she would defeat her battle with cancer. What I will remember most about teaching at Lakeview is the privilege of being able to watch my own children come through the school.”

Another teacher who taught in a variety of the elementary buildings was, now retired teacher, Marie Fay.

“I taught in Ludington School for 33 years,” Fay said. “When I first accepted a job, I was the new special education teacher at Lakeview School. It was the year special needs students were starting to be ‘mainstreamed’ into regular classrooms. I had several grades of students in my classroom at one time. Keeping all the other teachers’ schedules straight was no easy job. So the students had two classroom teachers. Music, gym and art class were their favorite classes to go to, of course. 

“I appreciated living within blocks of the school, but always had so many bundles and bags that I rarely walked to work. It makes my heart happy when I still hear from former students that remember my rainforest classroom. It was a unique way to teach science to students of different grades and abilities. Since many of the students struggled with learning disabilities, it was important to try unique teaching styles to engage the kids.”

After working at Lakeview, Fay moved to Foster Elementary School and worked there while the building still remained its majority of its original structure and its original challenges.

“Next, I taught at Foster School,” she said. “Leading us as our principal was Norb Mengot. With his military background, he shaped us teachers and students into a well run school. I had the room under the stairs, directly to the right (west) as you entered the front of the school. I remember times when Larry Moss and I were both trying to use audio visual machines at the same time and would blow a fuse. I could hear his students loudly sighing when they lost power. The school was old then and the classrooms only had a couple outlets. Larry and I would take turns going to flip the switch in the boiler room to get power back on in our classrooms.”

Finishing out her career, Fay then moved to Franklin, where she received her first real exposure to those students in the very young grades.

“I was placed in kindergarten, against my wishes,” she added. “But I soon discovered the ‘littles’ to be wonderful students. Yes they were needy at that age, but they were also sponges that were very eager to learn and weren’t yet too cool to listen to their teacher. I worked under some great principals who knew how to boost our students’ abilities and put us among some of the top schools as far as academic achievement. Because we were located right across the parking lot from the high school, I was lucky to have plenty of teacher assistants. They were so valuable when you have a large class of needy young ones.”

Another, now retired teacher remembered moving around the district a lot, working with a lot of great educators and working during a lot of changes the times brought while she was still in her earlier years. Kathy Bourgault started her career in Ludington as a substitute, but soon found a full time position as a fourth grade teacher.

“I taught 34 years for Ludington Public Schools,” Bourgault stated. “I taught in all the elementary buildings, including some that are not there any more, except South Hamlin. The first year we moved to Ludington in 1976, I did a lot of subbing; Pleasantview (in Pere Marquette Township), Foster, Lakeview, and PM. I taught fourth grade at South Summit for three years. I taught fourth grade at Lakeview for one year. Then, onto Pere Marquette for 10 years teaching kindergarten when it was half day, which meant 25 in the morning and 25 in the afternoon. Party days were rough. And it also meant 50 conferences each time. During my last two years there, we switched over to full day kindergarten and developed the begindergarten program (young 5s). It was exciting being part of the research and coordination for the new program. From there, I went to Franklin second grade, where I finished my teaching career. Oh, so many memories. I loved the setting of South Summit School. There were only three grades when I was there. I taught fourth, Darlene Ponko taught fifth and Mary Eaton taught sixth. It was my first teaching assignment right out of college and I couldn’t have been in better company than Darlene and Mary. Yes, it was a drive but we often shared the drive and it gave us time to debrief from our day.  But really it’s not all about the buildings that create the meaningful memories. It’s the children and the staff you share your days with.” South Summit School was located on Deren Road west of Pere Marquette Highway. 

Another set of teachers, who got the privilege of working at Franklin were, husband and wife, Rick and Sheila Catt. Both spent time working in other buildings as well during their combined 50-plus years.

“I started teaching in 1990,” Sheila stated. “I began as a substitute teacher at all the elementary schools. Each school was unique, but one commonality was the great teaching and support staff. Shortly thereafter, I was assigned a position as a Title One reading teacher at Foster, Pere Marquette, and Franklin. I remember at times there was no available space to meet with individual children so I worked in hallways, the PE equipment room and a storage closet.  The following year I was permanently assigned to Franklin, where I worked closely with my good friend Carol Nelson. We taught reading recovery and Title One reading together.

The new school will allow teachers to work together, sharing resources and ideas. The students will have the opportunity for more interactions with others, giving them a broader life experience.”

Catt agreed with his wife and stated that so many of the schools had their own identity, but bringing all of those identities together will be an amazing thing for Ludington pre-k through fifth grade students.

“Each elementary building I taught in was unique: majestic, archaic Foster; hectic, exciting Franklin; and (due to the move from neighborhood schools) a new blend of students at Lakeview,” he said. “The new building provides an exciting opportunity for sharing ideas among teachers, students, parents, and the community. As with most teachers, the best and most important parts of teaching weren’t the big events; but rather, the opportunity to experience the growth and development of students through day-to-day interactions. My best wishes for its great success.”

Until like some of the teachers who have or are currently serving at LASD, Heidi (Miller) Urka and Lynne (Petersen) Wolfe not only work(ed) as teachers in the district, but they also attended LASD for their entire K-12 careers.

“I attended Lakeview from kindergarten through sixth grade,” Urka stated. “School was so very different then. I remember walking home for lunch each day, as there was no lunch service at school. It was a big deal when students were bussed in from the Hamlin area when the Pumped Storage project was being built, as they could not go home and were allowed to eat cold lunches in the gym. A ‘milk lady’ came to our classrooms and we could buy chocolate milk for a snack. I also remember buying stamps to fill a book that could be redeemed for a savings bond. Our desks were in rows and we spent much of the day sitting, using textbooks and answering questions from the books. I’m so thankful and excited about all the ways teaching has become more interactive and hands on. The new building will be a great setting for learning.”

Urka is in her 24th year of teaching, she began her career at Lakeview, but then two years later moved to Franklin, where she still teaches currently.

“I held an at-risk position at Lakeview, when it was an upper elementary building from 1998-2000,” she said. “I then moved to Franklin, where I have been ever since, teaching kindergarten, and now first grade. A favorite memory from Lakeview is how the staff would choose a movie/story and at Halloween we would all dress as one of the characters. We would then act out a skit in the gym for the students. While I was there, I was the evil queen from Snow White and the crocodile who swallowed the clock in Peter Pan. I have SO many memories of Franklin, from searching for a students lost snake (that didn’t exist), to watching our superintendent trap a skunk on the playground! By far, my favorite memories involve interactions with students and their families.  Our entire staff works so hard to meet so many needs, some that extend way beyond the classroom, but that impact our students’ success.”

Wolfe taught at LASD for 40 years, 22 of those years at Foster Elementary, but she also attended Lakeview as a child since it was her K-6 neighborhood school.

“I attended Lakeview and remember the fire escape, even though we never slid down it that I recall,” she said. “There was a fire at Lakeview once, but school was not in session. I just remember that I loved school, and we walked home from school every day with our friends. I lived six to seven blocks away. My dad and another friend’s moms would pile us all in a car to take us to school every morning. That’s in the day of no seatbelts.”

Darlene Ponko, a retired LASD teacher, who taught 10 of her 30 years at Lakeview, also recalled the fire escape.

“It was a long tube slide that we went down during drills,” she said. “I found it scary.”

During Ponko’s time teaching, she had many exciting memories, including the time she lit herself on fire while teaching fifth grade science.

“There was the day I lit a match during a science demonstration,” she said. “It dropped out of my hand and landed on the podium. I could see all was ok, but the kids started yelling, ‘Drop and roll! Drop and roll!,’  then it was over. They described the scene as a glow went up my sweater sleeve and down the other. We got Dow Chemical involved and they believed it was due to dry cleaning fluid. My sweater smelled like I had been to a bonfire.”

When she left Lakeview in 1993 to teach at South Hamlin, Ponko continued her love for science with her students and co-workers out there.

“At South Hamlin, I had the privilege to co-teach fourth grade with Mary Ann Perkins,” she said. “Hands on Science was the buzz word and the students and I loved doing all the experiments. Take home science kits were funded by a Dow mini grant.

Spending a day in the one room schoolhouse at White Pine Village was always a highlight as well as trips to our State Capital in Lansing, Potter Zoo and Impressions Five Science Museum.”

Most teachers who have retired from LASD spent their time serving a few different buildings during their careers, but Ned Nordine, retired Foster Elementary teacher is an exception to that rule.

“I taught at Foster School for 34 years (1969 to,” he said. “Twenty-two years were in fifth grade and 12 in sixth.”

Nordine grew up in Ludington and attended Longfellow School, where Longfellow Towers is presently. He remembers going to work at Foster, while his father was helping remodel the school building.

“When I started to teach at Foster, I was returning to a place in which I’d spent three years as a student in the late 1950s,” he said. “At that time, it was Ludington’s junior high school. With the completion of O.J. DeYoung Junior High School adjacent to the high school, my former junior high building became a K-8 elementary school. I joined the Foster staff in the fall of 1969. The current building had replaced the old Foster School, which had been across the street where the playground space is now. However, this ‘new’ building was undergoing a remodeling and a replacement of the middle section. The class of the female teachers of Foster School were relocated to the former St. Simon’s School building. It was empty because the new Ludington Area Catholic facility had been built on Bryant Road. Walt Plekes (grade 6) and I (grade 5) taught at Foster School with his class on the stage and mine on the gym floor. My father was superintendent of the construction company doing the work. Dad and I rode to work together for a few months. He went to direct the remodeling work and I went to teach. In January 1970, Foster School was closed for a day, so that the desks, books, and other things could be moved into the remodeled building.”

Nordine, along with many of the other teachers stated that they we miss the old school buildings when they are gone, but many agree that change is needed and the new Ludington Elementary School will be a great asset to the community.

“I spent my entire teaching career at Foster School, so it will be a sad day for me when the building is demolished,” Nordine said. “However, I wouldn’t want to see it empty, unused, and decaying, like the old Scottville High School or the many rural schools around the county. My elementary school years were spent at Longfellow School. I am glad Longfellow Towers replaced the old building.”

Wolfe and Urka also stated that they are sad to see their elementary school building be torn down, but they have great hopes for the new school.

“I’m excited for a new building to be housed by all elementary students in a beautiful location,” Wolfe stated. “I’m hoping teachers can keep a close relationship and work together for the sake of our children who need the love and guidance of our teachers.”

Urka agreed, “Working in a smaller building has allowed us to build a sense of family amongst staff, as well as amongst students and families,” she said. “We will work hard to build that same sense of community in our beautiful new venue. Our current buildings are old. Like old homes, they have problems. I’m looking forward to consistent heat, enhanced safety measures, a sink and bathroom in my classroom and air conditioning. Most of all, I am looking forward to having all of our teaching resources, including each other, in one location. I will miss my ‘Franklin family’ as it exists now, but like a real family, it is growing and changing.”

Read a history of Ludington schools here. 

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