I am grateful for Bear Lake Schools.

#ProjectZen #Day8 #GratitudeProject  

Day 8 of my gratitude project has me walking the halls of my school, where I attended Kindergarten through High School. I’m also frustrated that so many years later, names escape me, despite some of these people having a huge impact on me, and shaping my young mind. I feel compelled to add the disclaimer that any omission is not intentional. Hey, I’m 50 now, I graduated from High School in 1984. I haven’t lived in Bear Lake, Michigan since I was 18. So please think kindly of my attempt to reminisce.  Today I am grateful for Bear Lake Schools, and all the teachers and friends, that were such a huge part of my life back then.

Bear Lake Schools is located in Bear Lake, Michigan, part of Manistee County. Bear Lake is a small town in northern lower Michigan. A great place to grow up. Safe. Beautiful. A popular destination for summer tourists, many of them having summer cottages on the lake. Loyal campers would come up every year. Hunting, fishing, swimming, hiking, golf, and skiing (water and snow). Being a rural community, Bear Lake was home to many family farms, one of which I grew up on myself. It’s a different kind of life to grow up in a small community. Even when I was a teenager, the biggest complaint by us younger folks was that there just wasn’t much to do. We had to travel quite a ways to see a film in a theater house, or go skating, or to shop. But kids are that way, wanting to run around and do stuff, feeling like we’re missing out on things. Looking back on it now, and being so far away, I’d trade all the running amuck in the world to come back to this place. So, here is the backdrop to where I went to school. A nice school in a nice place.

Attending a small school is also a very different perspective for many people.  Bear Lake Schools was located in one building. Mind you, it’s not “tiny” at all, but small by comparison to other schools. The average size class at the time I attended was 20-30 kids. My graduating class of 1984 was, at the time, the largest one. As you moved through grade school, you moved down the hall. 4th-6th grade you took your classes back on the far end. Junior High was further back down the hall the other direction, and you got your first locker all your own. And oh how wonderful it was to turn the corner and enter High School, and be part of the big kid’s club.

I remember taking my aptitude test for Kindergarten in 1971, late in the summer, before school started. Mom took me to school to see Mrs. Richmond. While I’m sure I had to do things like recite my ABC’s and 123’s, the only real thing I remember about it was being asked to draw a picture of my dad. That was easy as my dad didn’t have much hair. A smiley circle face. I was so proud. Kindergarten was half day for me, and I attended the morning session, and was taken home every day by Mr. Edwards in his station wagon. There were 4-5 of us on his drop-off route that lived out in the part of the community where I lived (I grew up on a farm about 3 miles north of town).

Mrs. Richmond was my first teacher, and interestingly enough, taught me in Kindergarten as well as 6th grade. I adored Mrs. Hannewald. I will always remember Mrs. Babcock reading us the entire “Little House” series out loud. I wonder if anyone else remembers walking down the hall in a line to the cooler, where Mr. Urbanus (our beloved school janitor, trust me, he did more than just that, he was the glue of that place, he loved us and we loved him) would pass out pints of milk to us for snack time. Mrs. Erickson kept us all in line at recess, and if we acted up, we got to “stand on the wall” (time out for bad behavior). She was a nice lady though, but gosh, you better not be a meanie out at recess because she’d set you straight. Mr. Merriman was so kind and patient with us, and trust me, there is nothing easy about reining in a bunch of 10-12 year old rambunctious kids. We’re loud and have short attention spans. He was the first teacher to really teach me problem solving skills, not just for subject matter in class, but life. Mr. Rakoczy was so imaginative and exuberant, and he encouraged us to be creative, and applauded the smallest efforts on our part. I always saw Mr. Ludwig as proper and formal, but a love of science was nurtured by him, in me. He was the first teacher that really taught me that there are rules and expectations in place for reasons. At the time I didn’t think too highly of that, but I sure do now. Grade school is where I learned to read and write. I spent many hours practicing cursive writing and reciting my times tables. I learned how to make friends. I got to explore wonderful places on school day trips to places like Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Gwen Frostic’s studio/shop in Benzonia, and Platte River State Fish Hatchery. I joined the band and learned how to play the trumpet. I participated in the Young Author’s and Illustrator’s contests. I began to learn about life, people, places, and things outside of my world. 

Sadly, I cannot remember any of the lovely lunch ladies’ names, except for Mrs. Putney. But, I can still see their faces in my mind’s eye. Their smiles. I remember how kind they were. My daily trek to the cafeteria was always a positive experience in regard to these fine ladies who kept our bellies full with hot lunches. I still remember the little blue tickets that got punched each day. Fish on Fridays. Milk, veggies, and fruit. I remember how exciting it was that pizza was introduced to the menu when I was in high school. No vending machines full of chips and sodas for us, back then, like some schools did. Lunch was also set up where grade schoolers ate first….and the schedule worked it’s way through age groups….so you ate with your class-mates and friends. No mixing the itty bitties with the bigger teens.

Junior High. Awkward. Names escape me, and that makes me sad. Mr. Purdy taught me how to write compositions. I learned how to sew aprons and make baked Alaska in home economics class, by Mrs. Milliron. I learned how to make decoupage and copper tooling in shop class, by Mr. Milliron. I learned more about the world through Michigan history, American history, and world history. I began to learn about people on a personal level, how friendships are made and broken, how gossip is destructive (for the one doing it, and the one being belittled). I participated in Solo Ensemble competitions for band. Math and science got more in depth. Through music and sports, I began to participate in school functions away from home, and learned how to be part of a group endeavoring toward a common goal. I began to learn about social pecking orders, and what it feels like to not fit in. Those social lessons stung, and I have always tried to make others feel acknowledged and included. I’m sure I have failed some people here, but I do try, and learning that life isn’t all about me wasn’t a bad thing in the end.

Finally, high school. From awkward Freshman to big-shot Senior, there was a whole lot of academic and life learning packed into those four years. Mr. Snyder taught me that there are consequences for poor preparation and apathy as I struggled my way through physics and chemistry. I developed a horrible habit of procrastination and apathy toward some of my studies (those I disliked) and no amount of begging or tears would alter the failing grade I earned, and I would have to present that to my parents who doled out further consequences at home. I learned that sometimes in life I am going to have to do things I do not like to do, and that I must work hard despite my feelings. I also began to learn that when I make bad choices and engage in poor behavior, that there is a high price to pay for that. He never did make me feel bad as a person though, and always separated actions from personal identity. Big life lesson. Mr. Farfsing and Miss Forward introduced me to English, essays, critical thinking, Shakespeare, the art of story telling….so many things. Mr. Peabody taught me how to type, and on a manual typewriter no less. I used to get so frustrated at not being able to properly tap the P and Q keys with my pinky fingers. Mr. Grahl instilled a life-long love of libraries in me, and to this day whenever I go to my local library, I think of him and smile. Mr. Matesich, my biggest memories of him are coaching. He was the boy’s basketball coach and he ran a tight ship. I can remember some pretty exciting basketball seasons, and seeing tournament games. Basketball was a huge deal for our school.  When we graduated, we each received a proper dictionary from our school. While I did not attend college straight out of high school (I enlisted in the Army), I’m betting some of my class-mates got proper use of theirs going into college right away. I still have mine, and I dusted it off and used it well, when I enrolled in college in my 30’s. Because of high school, I also learned what it means to have a best friend that loves you no matter what.

My 13 years K-12 at Bear Lake Schools provided me with the education I needed to move forward with my life. I learned how to make decisions. I learned how to accomplish things on my own, and as part of a group. I learned how to make friends. I learned that people aren’t always what they seem, from a social perspective, and to this day I have a strong dislike for social cliques. I learned how to respect authority, as well as challenge entrenched beliefs. I was nurtured and encouraged, admonished and corrected. I was challenged. My time at Bear Lake Schools was about a lot more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. It was about life, and I have a whole lot of folks to thank for that. For those named, and unnamed, thank you for caring enough to be our teachers, our coaches, our counselors, and our examples. This 1984 Bear Lake Schools graduate thanks you. Hopefully, if any of them stumble upon this humble blog, they will forgive my rambling writing style and improper grammar. It’s no reflection on them, but rather,  just my efforts to grab memories caught in the cobwebs of my mind, and tell a story.


2 thoughts on “I am grateful for Bear Lake Schools.

  1. Thanks for sharing these memories, Maria. I went to a huge, urban high school, where grade 7 – 12 were. Back then (I graduated from high school in 1969) there was no such thing as middle school: just grade school and junior high/high school. There were 672 students in my senior class. Lots of groups, cliques, and so on. I was not part of any in crowds, but, instead, this chubby science and math person was part of a group of nerds. Thanks for making me think of this today.

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