Alumni Through the Decades
As part of this year's celebration of 100 years of educational excellence at Grosse Pointe Public Schools, we are partnering with the district to profile 100 alumni from our illustrious first century. Are you or someone you know interested in being profiled in a story that will be distributed district-wide across various social media and news platforms? Start by nominating yourself or someone you know here.
Jacqueline Francis - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2013
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Jacqueline Francis is happy to come home. The award-winning journalist recently joined the WDIV Local 4 / ClickOnDetroit team as a reporter, moving from her previous job at a news station in Grand Rapids.
Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Jacqueline started in the Grosse Pointe Public School System as a sixth grader at Pierce Middle School, followed by Grosse Pointe South. She graduated in 2013 and attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Convergence Journalism with a concentration in Political Science.
Jacqueline discovered her passion for journalism at Grosse Pointe South. She took honors journalism with Jeff Nardone, who served as The Tower’s faculty adviser until his death in 2013. She joined the Tower staff her junior year as a page editor, and senior year was promoted to editor-in-chief.
“I loved it – being able to ask questions and hold people accountable, especially as a teenager,” she recalled. “It was a way to be taken seriously and a way to make a difference. What we said and thought mattered, whether we were writing an editorial or a news article.”
It was the atmosphere of a newsroom she fell in love with the most.
“It was the one place in school I felt that everyone from different backgrounds came together seamlessly -- where it was safe to express your ideas,” she said.
She credits Jeff Nardone for cultivating this atmosphere.
He is also “the number one reason I am in this profession today,” she added.
Jacqueline has returned to the Tower room on several occasions to guest teach classes, in particular when her younger brother was on staff, and each time she regrets she can’t let Nardone know she is “living out this amazing career and passion I found, that I don’t know if I would have found if it wasn’t for him,” she said. “He really instilled in us the power of journalism and the ability to make a difference.”
Initially when she headed to college to pursue journalism, she thought she wanted to be a newspaper writer. However, like many college journalism programs, there was a focus on multimedia and she was required to take a TV production class.
“I fell in love with it immediately,” she said. “It’s faster, more visual, conversational. I decided I wanted to do journalism on TV. It’s a more exciting way to tell a story.”
Her first job after college was in Champagne, Illinois. She signed a two-year contract to be a multimedia journalist, responsible as “a one-man band” for reporting, shooting and editing stories as a multimedia reporter and fill-in-anchor at the local FOX affiliate.
The experience was overwhelming at first, but ultimately rewarding.
“I was crying when I got there and I was crying when I left because I was sad to leave,” she said. “It was an amazing opportunity.”
Her first day on the job she was assigned a story about a kidnapped University of Illinois student from China. She covered the story from early stages through the trial of the accused kidnapper, who ultimately was convicted for murder. In the process, she learned about the judicial system as well as about cultural differences and norms as she connected with a grieving family on the other side of the world to help tell their story.
Since it was a federal trial, no cameras were allowed in the courtroom. Jacqueline had to rely on her notes in court, then write a script so that the moment court adjourned for the day, she would be met by a cameraman outside the courtroom to report on the story for that evening’s newscast.
The story got national media attention and Jacqueline’s reporting was featured in a documentary, "Finding YingYing," which premiered at the SXSW 2020 Film Festival.
After her contract ended, Jacqueline moved to Grand Rapids to work for WOOD TV8, an NBC affiliate, signing a three-year contract. Her breaking news coverage of the May 2020 riot in downtown Grand Rapids earned her a prestigious regional Edward R. Murrow Award along with two Emmy nominations.
It was a Grosse Pointe connection that led to her new latest position at Channel 4.
“I have always wanted to work for Channel 4, but I didn’t know anyone there,” she said. “I didn’t have any connections.”
Jacqueline had stayed in touch with her former TV production teacher at South, Steve Geresy, who told her that a Grosse Pointe North alumnus, Matt Morawski (Class of 2001), was an executive producer at Channel 4 and suggested she reach out to him.
An introductory email to Matt Morawski was followed by a phone conversation, which led to an introduction to the news director and a lengthy interview process.
When she was offered the job, she texted Steve Geresy to let him know and thank him for his role in making that happen.
“He was so humble and replied, it was all due to your hard work,” Jacqueline said.
“I can’t wait to pay that forward,” she added. “Any time I can help anyone from my school or college. That’s what it’s all about."
Jacqueline makes her debut next week. She is reporting Tuesday through Saturday in a mix of the 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock news, and Friday and Saturday on the late evening broadcast.
“I’m so excited to be home,” she said. “One thing I never expected when I graduated college was to feel this connection with a community I’ve never lived in before. When I lived in Illinois and Grand Rapids I cared so much about the people in my community. To get to do something in my hometown where I’m already connected and already have so much pride for … I’m pinching myself. It really is a dream come true. It’s a cliché, but it’s the truth in this case.”
Her advice to anyone pursuing a career in the news industry is not to be afraid to reach out to people.
“Reach out to me. Reach out to the Matt Morawski,” she said. “It can be a very intimidating and daunting industry if you’re alone in it. It really is rewarding for us in the industry to help others. It makes it feel full circle.”
Paul Lechner - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1982
Paul is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, with 26 years of service. He gained operational experience in both Iraq and the Balkans. These days Paul works at the Department of the Army Civilian with the Tank-automotive and Armaments Command at the Detroit Arsenal. His position is Chief of Workforce Development within the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Human Capital. (Imagine repeating that title over and over every day!)
Outside of work, Paul is the current Chair of the Grosse Pointe Woods Community Tree Commission and a Past President of the Grosse Pointe Sunrise Rotary. He has a daughter who is a senior at North and a son at De La Salle.
Paul recalls his time at GPPSS filled with excellent teachers who challenged and encouraged him to look beyond himself. During his deployment to Iraq, Paul would often recall the challenging books from Mrs. Susan Reames’ World Literature Class and reread many of them. Elaine Christiansen’s Geography and World Affairs class also helped to broaden his worldview and heighten his passion for global. From Kindergarten with Mrs. Toepel at Defer through graduation at South, the GPPS truly helped form Paul both personally and professionally.
Even though Mrs. Reames has since passed, Paul had the opportunity to thank her towards the end of her life. She was “Matilda” in his eyes -- a truly larger-than-life teacher. One memory that sticks out for Paul is watching the “Mad Woman of Chaillot” with Katharine Hepburn, and Mrs. Reames requiring all of her students to wear hats. She challenged Paul to be a better writer, a better student, and to push himself intellectually.
But Paul isn’t all work and no play. His family made it a goal to visit and attend a baseball game at every MLB ballpark. So far they’ve traveled to 20 ballparks, and have only 10 more left to visit!
When asked if he had any advice for the graduating class of 2022, Paul had this to offer: “Who you are at 17 doesn’t determine nor define who you’ll be at 20, 30, or 50. Challenge yourself to move beyond your comfort zone in order to grow. Be reflective—Learn from your successes and failures. And remember to treat others as you’d like to be treated.”
Jacob Butler - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2022
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Our summer series on distinguished alumni from the Class of 2022 concludes with Jacob Butler, a graduate of Grosse Pointe North.
It was important to Jacob Butler to attend a historically black college or university, as he wanted to spend his undergraduate years on a campus where he felt racially represented.
He found that at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.
The moment he stepped on campus, Jacob said he “felt accepted and felt the environment was conducive to future successes.”
Jacob had a similar feeling during his years at Grosse Pointe North High School. He grew up in Detroit and attended the Detroit public schools through elementary and middle school. At age 15, after his family had moved to Grosse Pointe Woods, he began attending Grosse Pointe North.
“My years at North were packed with a lot of growth,” he said. “When I started at North in the ninth grade, I wasn’t really confident in my abilities. At North I was able to ask for help, step up my reading abilities, step up in advocating for myself. Everybody helped – my mom, me, my teachers. They just made the environment comfortable for me to ask for help. It was definitely a team effort.”
In addition to his academic growth, Jacob got involved in extracurricular activities. He was a member of the Interact Club, the National Honor Society and the Black Student Alliance. He also served as a Link Crew leader, acting as a mentor to younger students to help them acclimate to their new environment so they experienced the same sense of belonging he did.
After a summer spent working at a variety of summer jobs, including as a camp counselor, Jacob is settling in at Hampton and getting ready to begin his freshman year. He plans to study business management, hoping to “network and do some self-discovery and find out what it is that makes me happy, and what I can create that would be of service to others in the business world.”
His advice for this year’s seniors is “to soak up the year. The year is going to go by so fast. It’s going to be your favorite year, but it’s the quickest year.
“Try to get to know everybody,” he added, “because senior year is the year you connect with people you wish you had connected with sooner.”
Anne (Cavanaugh) Gryzenia - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1993
After graduating from Grosse Pointe South in 1993, Anne (Cavanaugh) Gryzenia attended MSU, where she studied Advertising and played for the women's varsity tennis team.
Anne spent many years working in advertising in Detroit, New York & Boston before taking a break to stay home with her four children. She was about to return to work at the first agency where she ever worked (Doner Advertising) when she was approached about the possibility of working for the Grosse Pointe News.
The newspaper industry was never something Anne had thought about specifically, but she decided to accept the position. Once she dug in, she found herself utterly obsessed with how to improve, innovate and refresh the paper. "I was up at all hours doing research, taking notes, and reading community newspapers from all over the country. I was hooked from the very beginning and haven't looked back," she says.
The GPPSS Difference
During her time at Grosse Pointe Schools, Anne feels the district prepared her mostly by preparing her to be organized, accountable, and "ready to sink or swim."
"I think learning how to do things independently without help is so important for real life," Anne shares.
She also had several teachers who were tough but who encouraged her to be better. Mr. Wall at Brownell and Mr. Blondin, and Mr. Wasilewski at South are a few examples.
At one point, Anne recalls having a rough time with school, friends, and sports. During a particularly rough time, when she was feeling rather low, Anne received a letter in the mail from Mr. Wall. The letter came years after she had him as a teacher, and Anne recalls it being a really nice, hand-written note with a newspaper clipping with an article and photo (from the Grosse Pointe News, of course!) to encourage her. She remembers that it made me feel special and that someone cared; "it meant so much to me, I can't even adequately express it." Anne says.
When asked what her advice for our recent graduates would be, Anne said, "Always be the hardest worker. No matter what you do, it will always be appreciated and you will never regret it. You don't need to be the smartest or the best at everything -- just be diligent and work hard, and it will pay off."
Maureen Magee - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1995
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Maureen Magee is currently working and living in Dakar, Senegal, where she is the Regional Director of an international humanitarian organization called the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The NRC provides education, food, shelter, water, livelihoods, and legal assistance to families who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence and war. Last year, they provided support to nearly 10 million people worldwide.
Maureen considers herself very fortunate to live and work in many countries, including The Gambia, where she was a Peace Corps Volunteer. During her time in The Gambia, many of her friends and neighbors from Grosse Pointe supported the library they built in the village hosting Maureen. She has also lived in Benin, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Iraq, and Jordan. Maureen considers France as a "homebase", as she has a house there that she shares with her husband. She also likes to visit Grosse Pointe as often as possible, as that's where her parents and brother reside.
You also may see her dog, Max, out and about in GP. Max was adopted while Maureen was living in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is now enjoying his golden years here in the Pointes while Maureen's parents. He's probably the only Basenji in the neighborhood that came directly from the DRC!
Maureen tells us that speaking French has changed her life. She shares, "My language skills made me eligible for much of my international career. I also married a French man and now consider France home. Ironically, I did not study French at GPN but rather Spanish and German. I do think that the opportunities that I had to learn not one, but two languages, in high school gave me the courage and confidence to learn French later on."
The GPPS Difference
When looking back on her time in Grosse Pointe, Maureen fondly recalls Mr. Pisani, her sixth-grade social studies teacher at Parcells. "He opened my eyes to the world outside the US, and his quiz competitions were legendary."
Asked what advice she has for this year's graduates, Maureen says, "Seize and be grateful for the opportunities you may be lucky enough to have presented to you."
Dan Ritter - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1990
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
After graduating from college, Dan started his career in public accounting, focusing on a mix of manufacturing and municipality clients in audit and tax capacities. After about four years, he left to join a company that distributed movies for 20th Century Fox, which had him traveling to California part-time.
Dan developed enhanced financial analytics for Fox and other movie studios to help them understand their movie distribution through big box retailers. After 4-5 years, he moved back into manufacturing, where he was the group CFO of tier two and three auto suppliers. In 2003 he moved into the world of large corporate restructurings, joining the global consulting firm, AlixPartners.
Over the years, Dan worked on several complex corporate bankruptcy cases called restructurings. His firm took active/operational roles in turning around the operations to ensure companies emerge from bankruptcy stronger - often saving thousands of jobs in the process.
During the financial crisis, Dan worked on the General Motors bankruptcy for almost a year, where he developed a cash management system to help manage their cash flow. He was also part of the team that negotiated a $33 billion loan with the US Government.
Dan has led a number of other restructuring engagements, as well as large global Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations which are complex litigation cases across a broad spectrum of industries. Today, Dan is the Chief Financial Officer of AlixPartners.
The GPPSS Difference
One of the things Dan learned during his time in Grosse Pointe Schools was the value of Relationship building. Dan recalls that he always had a genuine interest in ensuring his friends and classmates succeeded. He understood the importance of supporting them.
Dan recalls that his counselor at North, Tom Neil, greatly influenced him. Looking back, Dan recognizes now that Mr. Neil took a tailored approach with each of the kids he was trying to help - he got to know you, your experiences, what made you tick — or what didn't. Dan says, "I needed that tailored approach while in school, and I think it made a difference."
When asked about his advice for recent graduates, he answered, "Ask as many questions as you can. Don't feel the need to show what you know; explore what you don't. Help your peers, make them better - a rising tide raises all ships. And be of service. Look to help. Pitch in. Work as a team."
Outside of work, Dan enjoys boating and flying. He earned his pilot's license over 20 years ago and often flew clients and colleagues up and down the California coast.
Recently, Dan was asked to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary Aviation program, which flies missions for the Coast Guard/Department of Homeland Security. He was nominated by the Governor and appointed by the President to a Selective Service System board seat for the State of Michigan.
Farrah Fasse - Grosse Pointe South High School, Class of 2022
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
From the time she moved with her family to Grosse Pointe Woods and began fifth grade at Mason Elementary, Farrah Fasse loved her experiences with the Grosse Pointe Public School System. She attended Parcells Middle School, followed by Grosse Pointe North, where she became heavily involved in school activities early on, growing into leadership roles by her junior and senior years.
For example, Farrah served as a senator on the Student Council her freshman and sophomore years and as class president her junior and senior years.
“I really loved being part of the Student Council,” she said. “There were a lot of times people wouldn’t agree on something, but it was really great to come together and make events happen and make our class happy.”
One of those times was building the senior class float for the homecoming parade. During her welcome speech at North’s commencement this spring, Farrah talked about the bonding moments that occurred during float building parties -- a feat after some of the challenges posed previously during the pandemic.
“Our senior year we all came together and did the work and we were finally able to do something we were proud of,” she said. “Even though we didn’t end up winning the competition, I consider us winners.”
Another highlight of her high school experience was working on North’s student newspaper, North Pointe. Similar to Student Council, she got involved freshman year, working her way up from an intern to editor-in-chief her senior year.
“That was an incomparable experience – probably one of my best experiences,” she recalled.
In addition to transferrable skills like writing, designing and editing, Farrah enjoyed the social aspect of it, as she had the opportunity to get to know and become friends with students in the grades above and below her. She still maintains friendships with these students today, including younger students still at North.
Perhaps most memorable was the sense of pride she experienced each week, from deadline to distribution day, and the sense of satisfaction that came from watching her peers read the paper.
“After we put our hearts into every day, stayed up so late… it was such a great feeling,” she said. “I don’t like to take a lot of credit for it. Even though I was the editor, it wasn’t my paper. It was everybody’s paper. I was so proud to lead such an amazing group of people and build relationships with them and see them get better at what they were doing. That was an amazing experience and one of the most rewarding parts of high school for me for sure.”
An avid student, Farrah built lasting relationships with her teachers as well. While she says she loved them all, standouts were English teachers Kristen Alles and Paul Golm, social studies teachers Dan Gilleran and Brent Maynard, and North Pointe adviser Allison Dunn.
Farrah will take her love of learning with her to Northwestern, where she plans to pursue a double major in political science and secondary education at the university's School of Education and Social Policy.
While she will miss North, Farrah hopes to enjoy at Northwestern the same sense of camaraderie, collaboration and pride she experienced in high school, where she says knowledgeable counselors and teachers would "drop everything to help you."
“Everybody just wants to help everybody out,” she said. “And learn and have fun. I brag about North all the time.”
She has a few words of advice for this year’s seniors.
“This is cliché and everybody is going to say this, but it really does go by fast." she said. "Especially after Christmas break, you’ll blink and you’ll be weeks out from graduating. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the time in class with your friends. Have fun. Go to a football game, go to homecoming and go to prom because you will regret it if you miss that chance.”
Jerome Manning - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2017
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
When Jerome Manning was a student at Grosse Pointe South, choir was his “main thing,” he said.
He naturally gravitated toward anything performance related, including participating in South’s choir and school musical all four years, performing in Hairspray, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Mary Poppins and The Will Rogers Follies. He was also a member of the Tri-M National Music Honor Society and the Thespian Society.
After graduating from South in 2017, Jerome attended Ryder University in New Jersey, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater. Before the pandemic hit, he performed in Hair the Musical and Steel Pier. Then, like many performers, he had to adapt to performing online due to COVID restrictions.
Jerome graduated from Ryder in 2021 and moved to Atlanta. While he had hoped to perform live theater in New York City, with theaters closed down during the pandemic, he decided pursuing TV and film was more sustainable. He also liked the excitement of Atlanta, where there were a lot of opportunities and less competition.
“I feel like New York is always going to be there,” he said. “It’s a really special time in Atlanta for film and television – especially for Black people and people of color. I do love theater and that’s my first love, but right now there’s so much momentum in Atlanta for film and TV so I’m really interested in pursuing that.”
Last year Jerome divided his time between Atlanta and Grosse Pointe, returning to his hometown to serve as the lead choreographer for Grosse Pointe South’s choir. He choreographed the majority of the show choir competition numbers. While he plans to return this school year to choreograph a set here and there, he can’t make the same commitment as last year, as he is getting more invested in his work in Atlanta.
This summer he performed in a summer stock theater production of Hair the Musical in upstate New York. A friend, who served as the culture and inclusion director for the show, contacted him initially in search of a choreographer, but ultimately Jerome was cast in a lead role. He spent a month on the show – two weeks in rehearsal and two weeks in performances.
“It was a really fast turnaround – the fastest turnaround I’ve ever had and the most performances I’ve ever done,” he said. “It was really, really fun. Challenging, but possible. Sometimes we had two shows a day.”
Jerome’s advice for young people pursuing the performing arts is, “Really love what you’re doing and you can’t go wrong; that’s number one.”
Number two is: “Know your strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to work on those. Never stop working on your skills because there’s always room for improvement.”
And finally, “You have to be confident in yourself because there are so many people who will tell you that you’re not good enough. But if you’re really confident in what you bring, people will see what you see in yourself.”
Mike and Shirley (Totten) Vining - The High, Classes of 1957 and 1958
by Mike Vining, Guest Writer
We met on a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1956. I lived with my mother and half-sister Dona Selby at 1545 Roslyn Road in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan at that time in my life.
I was sitting out on our front porch enjoying the pleasant weather when Sally Goodsmith, who lived across the street from us, came over with a cute friend. She introduced me to Shirley Totten, her best friend since they went to school together from kindergarten through high school. It was a fate meant to be, as I had never before sat out on our small porch.
Shirley lived three blocks away at 1643 Hollywood Avenue. I had never noticed her as we didn’t have any classes together. While high school girls were of great interest to me and all my friends, I assumed that I didn’t interest them at all.
A few days after we met, Shirl invited me to visit with her one evening while she was babysitting for a neighbor. We enjoyed talking to each other. A few evenings later she invited me again when she was on another babysitting job. Okay, I was slowly getting the message.
Occasionally I worked evenings at the Michigan Bell Telephone Company, Valley Office, where I worked as a central office switchman maintaining the equipment. Shirl would often borrow my car. She would drive me to work and then go around and pick up her girlfriends and go to Cupid’s drive-in restaurant on Harper Avenue near 8 Mile Road. A typical teen hangout in our day.
They would tease all the boys hanging around looking over the guys for their friends who wanted a boyfriend. Sometimes they would go drag racing. My stick Chevy was relatively fast, and they would challenge any carload of guys that came along to a drag race.
Since the military was actively drafting at that time, I was concerned that I might soon find myself in the army. I decided to join the regular Navy (USN) as the army didn’t suit me. I had been in the Navy Reserve (USNR) for the last 2 years attending meetings one weekend a month.
After completing USN basic training at the Naval training center Great Lakes, Illinois near Chicago, I was sent to a Naval air squadron, VA-153, at Moffett Field Naval Air Station, near San Francisco, California.
Meanwhile, Shirl’s dad Harold Totten, a long-time sheet metal worker, accepted a six-month temporary assignment with his company supervising the construction of an auto assembly plant in Los Angeles, California. He took his family with him, and Shirl attended high school there for a semester. She had a good time going to school there. It was very different from Grosse Pointe High.
I would hitchhike the 400 miles down to LA every weekend I had off to visit them. (I was way out of the allowed area for traveling on weekend liberty. It would have been at least a two-week restriction to the base if I was caught.
When Harold’s job was finished in LA I was visiting them that weekend, so they drove me back to my base in San Francisco on their way home to the Detroit area. Harold slipped me a $50 bill when we shook hands goodbye. The next weekend I had liberty. I took the $50 and put it down on an engagement ring. I went home on leave after she graduated and gave her the ring.
Shirley always preferred to have a job. While she was a senior in high school she worked part time at the J L Hudson department store in the women's shoe department on a commission basis . She didn’t make a lot of money but did enjoy the shoe discount. After graduating from GPHS she worked at Detroit Bank and Trust as a clerk in the stock records department.
Meanwhile, I was transferred to the USS Pine Island, a large seaplane tender. After I joined the ship, we went to the Japanese island of Okinawa, which was our overseas base.
Sometime later, our ship was in port at Sasebo, Japan when I saw a notice in the ship's newspaper that the Navy was accepting requests for transfer to Japan for overseas shore duty. I submitted a request. In short order the personnel officer received approval of my request and was informed that I was being transferred to Yokosuka Naval Station in Japan. I called Shirl right away and proposed that we set a date to get married and go to Japan together.
We were married on January 24, 1959. A few days later we loaded up our car and took off for California. It took about a week to drive from Detroit to San Diego. As there were no interstate highways then, we drove US Route 66 most of the way.
In early April we got orders to travel on the USNS General Sultan, along with our car that went with us in the hold of the ship. It was a large military passenger ship used only to provide travel to overseas locations for military dependents as airlines were not flying to Japan much in those days.
Our thirteen-day trip to Japan on the ship General Sultan was a pleasant experience. We wore civilian clothes and had our meals in the large dining room. We played a lot of cards: bridge, hearts, pinochle, etc. We gossiped with the other military passengers and took long strolls around the deck in the evenings. It was a great honeymoon cruise.
When we arrived in Japan the Navy put us up in a hotel outside the Yokosuka base for a few weeks until we could get checked in and arrange for housing. The base housing had a waiting list, so we moved into a Navy approved Japanese single bedroom rental house with tatami mats for floors in every room but the kitchen that had a wood floor. The Navy provided us with furniture from their warehouse. It was about a block or so away from the Pacific Ocean and about five miles away from my base in an area known as Kamakura, close to a well-known tourist attraction of a temple with a huge Buddha.
The bathroom had a large cast iron tub with a wooden floor in it, like a hot tub, which you filled with water and then went outside and built a wood fire under it. The shower water also was heated by a separate small wood fired furnace.
We would drive around the countryside on my days off and because Shirl was taking classes to learn conversational Japanese, we had some interesting experiences with the local folks we met. In Japan they drive on the left side, so driving around was always a challenging situation.
Shirl hired a maid for a dollar a day. A Japanese teen-aged girl who wanted to learn English. Just imagine the stories she told her friends about how the crazy Americans lived. We next received orders transferring us to the Quonset Point, Rhode Island Navy base. We bought a nice three-bedroom house near the base. We were stationed there for a little over two years.
When our Navy enlistment was up, the Navy moved our furniture and belongings to the Detroit area. After putting the house up for sale, we traveled home to Detroit. We stayed with Shirl’s parents Harold and Lil until I could find a job.
A good friend of Shirl’s had an uncle who oversaw the new IBM computer systems that Ford Motor Company had recently purchased. We typed up a resume and gave him a copy. It turned out to be a very nice job as a computer programmer with a good salary. Ford arranged with IBM for me to attend their schools where they trained their technicians. We bought a 3-bedroom colonial at 2168 Hampton Road in Grosse Pointe Woods.
A few years after we had settled in and the kids were in school, Shirl decided it was time to go to work. She took a position at a Manufactures National Bank of Detroit branch as a teller at the drive-up teller window. She soon found that she disliked the job as among other things he was a jerk and she sometimes had problems balancing her cash drawer when her shift was over.
She resigned and took a job at a doctor’s office. It was at an office of three urologists’ doctors. She thrived at this job as it was right up her alley and supported her desire to become an RN.
She then moved on to the next major event in her life by enrolling in the Wayne County Community College School of Nursing. After graduating in 1982, she began working as a Registered Nurse at various hospitals. By then we had moved to 275 McKinley in Grosse Pointe Farms, up the street from the Punch and Judy movie theatre.
Her first job was at Detroit Receiving Hospital as an RN in the pediatrics department. I was working at Ford and later took an offer from Chrysler to supervise their network systems center.
Her next job, after we moved to Orlando, Florida, was as an RN at ORMC Arnold Palmer Children’s Orlando in pediatrics as assistant nurse manager. And I worked for AT&T as a network systems developer.
Our final move was to Palo Alto, California where we both worked at Stanford University. Shirl first worked at the Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital. She later took a position as a research nurse at the Stanford University Research Center. I was the manager of computer services at the School of Medicine.
After 10 years at Stanford, we both retired in 2007 at the ages of 69 and 71 and moved to Oviedo, Florida. Shirley passed away in November of 2011.
Kamaria Davis - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2022
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Kamaria Davis has wanted to go to New York University since she was 8. Initially it was the allure of New York City. Her interest in studying acting came later.
When selecting her top universities based on the strength of their drama programs, she considered options on the west coast such as USC and UCLA. She decided to apply Early Decision to her dream school, however, and was accepted into NYU’s Tisch Drama program.
“I was so happy; I cried when I got in,” she said.
The program has 10 professional training studios, each offering a unique approach to creative work. Upon acceptance, students are placed in one of eight different primary training studios where they learn the skills needed to proceed to an advanced level of training. They remain in their primary training studio for four consecutive semesters, each building upon the last.
Kamari was accepted into the Atlantic Acting School, based on a company founded by the playwright David Mamet and the actor William H. Macy, most recently known for his role in the Netflix comedy, Shameless.
According to the NYU website, the Atlantic Acting School introduces students to professional-level ensemble work and teaches them how to build a successful career in theater, film and television.
Kamaria’s main passion is film and TV, as she hasn’t performed on stage in live theater since she participated in Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit when she was in elementary and middle school.
One advantage of NYU’s drama program is that it exposes her to “a little bit of everything," she said, and she looks forward to the opportunity to explore theater again.
Kamaria is grateful she attended a four-week summer intensive program at an acting studio last summer in New York City. Not only did it help her navigate the city, it prepared her for what she understands is a very rigorous curriculum at NYU, with Monday, Wednesday and Friday spent in the studio, and Tuesday and Thursday reserved to fulfill her general education requirements. While many drama majors opt to minor in business entertainment, she is leaning toward communications.
Also preparing her for the rigor of college in general was her time at Grosse Pointe North. Her favorite classes were AP Psychology with Jennifer Weisbrodt, AP Literature with Jonathan Byrne, and all the classes she had with Dan Gilleran – government and sociology her junior year and Exploring Global Issues her senior year.
“I thoroughly enjoyed going to AP Psych every day and I was so sad when it was over because it was just a semester long,” Kamaria recalled. “My friends and family all tell me I should be a psychologist. That class really made me explore that as an option.”
She also appreciates the perspective her sociology class provided “on the world and my outlook on everything. Especially going to such a diverse school like NYU, I feel more prepared for that because of what I learned from sociology about everyone’s different opinions and perspectives,” she said.
Finally, she credits Jonathan Byrne for helping her with her college essay.
“It was a requirement in his class to write a draft and that was so helpful. By senior year I was already so stressed about applying to colleges, having the foundation of my essay already done was so helpful.”
Her advice to next year’s college-bound seniors, especially those pursuing the performing arts, is to put the college essay on their summer to-do list.
“If you can do anything over the summer, do that, because you’re going to be dealing with so much stress with your auditions and keeping your grades up," she said.
For acting students, she recommends perfecting audition monologues because “you don’t get another chance.”
She also encourages students to look applications over carefully in advance, as she missed a requirement to prepare a dramatic dialog from prior to the 19th century.
“I had to learn a Shakespeare monologue with my acting coach,” she recalled. “I was so stressed because I had three days to prepare for that.”
Do your research, she advises, and the rest will fall into place.
Sean Guibord - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2022
Grosse Pointe Woods resident Sean Guibord is attending Notre Dame University in the fall. Notre Dame is not only his dream school, but it affords him the opportunity to continue to pursue the interests he forged while a student in the Grosse Pointe Public School System, attending Mason Elementary, Parcells Middle School and Grosse Pointe North.
While at North, Sean enjoyed math and science classes, in particular AP Physics with Don Pata. He also was heavily involved in music offerings with performing arts director Tom Torrento, playing the trombone with the jazz band, pit orchestra and full orchestra, and snare drum with the marching band.
Sean hopes to continue his love of music at Notre Dame and has tried out for the marching band, concert band and jazz band. Academically, he is deciding between engineering and a pre-med track.
Sean also ran track at North, competing primarily in the 800-meter event, and hopes to take advantage of Notre Dame’s intramural sports or running club, among other clubs he plans to join.
Another reason Sean selected Notre Dame was the opportunity to grow his faith at a Catholic university and to participate in community service. While at North, Sean was the vice president of the Interact Club, a youth service club sponsored by Rotary. He also served as president of the National Honor Society, which has a large service component for membership in addition to its academic criteria.
“I know Notre Dame has a lot of opportunities to get involved with service,” Sean said. “I want to continue that outside the classroom.”
He also liked “the smaller size of the school and the way that on campus they randomly assign everyone to a dorm. Most kids stay there all four years. You get that tight-knit community in the residence halls developed over the four years.”
Sean feels prepared for the rigors of college after his experience at North and is particularly grateful to his counselor, Jenny Sherman, for serving as a valuable resource for four years, especially through the college application process.
His advice to next year’s seniors who are beginning the process of applying to their own dream schools is “to start the process as soon as you can. I know I heard this advice when I was a senior and didn’t exactly take heed. Definitely start the process early. Also, I know kids have so many applications but take it one at a time and work through them. Break them down so you’re not sitting there in September. Segment it and go one application at a time and work through it."
As he looks forward to his own college experience, Sean urges students to “keep involved and keep working hard. Also, have fun.”
Eliana Gross - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2022
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Class of 2022
Grosse Pointe South High School
Musical talent and a knack for teaching run in Eliana Gross’s family. Combined, her parents, Carolyn and James Gross, represent nearly half a century of music education with the Grosse Pointe Public School System.
Eliana started taking piano lessons at age 4 with one of her parents’ former students as her first teacher, graduating to a professional teacher after a few years. She also took voice lessons for six years and participated in choir while at Brownell Middle School.
At Grosse Pointe South, Eliana focused on piano. Her senior year, she began studying under Ivan Moshchuk, a 2009 graduate of South and classical pianist who has performed extensively abroad and is currently enrolled in a doctorate program in London. Ivan helped Eliana prepare for auditions so she could pursue her dream of studying piano and earning a degree in music education.
Her top choice was the University of Michigan. Eliana prepared and submitted four pieces for a pre-screening round simply to make it into the audition round. The next round required her to prepare a new set of audition videos.
Once she was accepted into U of M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance for the fall, she started working with a former U of M Doctor of Musical Arts student, Dr. Yang, who studied with Eliana’s piano teacher of choice. Taking lessons on campus has allowed her to get acquainted with the campus while also running into music faculty in the hall – an opportunity she hopes will make her transition all the more seamless.
Her advice for high school students pursuing music in college is to spend time during junior and senior year getting familiar with the faculty at whatever school they are applying to.
“Maybe a year before auditions, reach out to any faculty that interests you and take a trial lesson to see if it would be a good fit,” she said, “so that when auditions come, they’ll see your name on the list and you won’t be just another name, but a person they had a connection with.”
Eliana feels fortunate to be able to focus on music classes her freshman year thanks in part to the advanced placement classes she took at South, including AP Government and AP Psychology. These credits allowed her to test out of the social sciences and psychology requirements.
She also took AP Italian -- which came in handy this summer when she and her mother traveled together to Milan, Florence, Verona and Positano -- in fulfillment of a promise her mother made to her when she was in elementary school that whatever language she studied, they would go to that country together when she graduated from high school.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, Eliana plans to pursue a master’s degree and doctorate in music education. Her dream would be to get a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in conducting and become a conducting professor.
Whatever she ultimately decides to do, she has always loved going to school, she said, so pursuing education seems the right fit.
And she already has gotten a taste for teaching, as she has taught piano for the past two years to a total of 20 students ages 8 to 13, ranging from beginner to intermediate. She currently has six students and hosted a recital in her family's living room.
“They all dressed up and did so well,” she said. "I was so proud of them.”
Grace and Christian Fenton - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1969
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
They met at what was then Parcells Junior High School. In eighth grade they were in the same English class, but became friends in ninth grade study hall.
“I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” Chris Fenton said.
“He was so cute,” Grace Fenton recalled. “I felt so bad for him because he wore pants that were slightly too long. He always wore tied wingtip shoes, and a button-down collared Oxford shirt, either white or powder blue.”
Their shared interest in music landed them in orchestra class together throughout their time at Grosse Pointe South. While Grosse Pointe North had opened in the fall of 1968, Grace and Chris were among the graduating class allowed to remain at the former Grosse Pointe High School through their senior year.
Before they graduated – Chris off to Hope College and Grace headed to Marygrove College – they planned their future together.
“We had a half day off from Grosse Pointe High School and we went over to Farms Pier and we sat there and plotted out our life,” Grace recalled. “It was the spring of our junior year. We said, we’re going to get married, right? But we’re going to get our degrees, right? How many children are we going to have?”
They also planned to “get through school as fast as we could” – and they did, each graduating in three and a half years.
While Chris planned to major in music at Hope, he switched to business as a more practical major.
“I played the (French) horn pretty well, but I likened it to golf,” Chris said. “I was a par golfer, but in order to be the best, you had to shoot under par and as hard as I might practice, I wasn’t going to get there.”
While apart, the two kept in touch by phone and the U.S. postal service.
“Back then there were no cell phones, obviously,” Chris said. “I would get a bag of quarters, dimes and nickels and plunk in money.”
They also wrote letters, although Chris said he kept up his end of the bargain more than Grace did. Between her heavy course load and working two jobs at Hudson’s and Jacobson’s to help pay for her tuition, Grace said she “didn’t have a lot of time to write letters.”
They got engaged in the summer of 1971 in the parking lot of Macomb County Community College.
“It was a romantic spot,” Chris joked.
They graduated in December of 1972 – keeping true to their promise to finish college quickly – and were married on Jan. 6, 1973.
Chris also kept on his career path in business. He received an MBA from the University of Detroit in 1978 and worked from 1973 to 1979 with an accounting firm, then for Sperry-Rand Corporation, a Fortune 500 company. This position required a lot of travel and he decided to quit after his oldest daughter, Hope, asked her mother when “that man” was coming back after Grace dropped Chris off at the airport for yet another business trip.
Grace’s mother worked as an extra resource teacher at Barnes and saw a posting for supervisor of accounting for the school system, Chris recalled. He met with Bill Coates, the GPPSS superintendent at the time, who offered him the position. Chris accepted, then moved his way up, from Business Manager, to Director of Business Affairs, then Director of Business and Support Serivces before he became Assistant Superintendent of Business and Support Systems. For the last 13 years he served as Deputy Superintendent of Business and Support Services. He retired in 2016.
“I don’t regret a minute of it,” Chris said. “I worked with some great people, from administration all the way down to the hourly people. It was a great experience.”
While Chris kept up his interest in music by playing with the St. Clair Shores Symphony Orchestra and even accompanying some district performances over the years, Grace devoted her career to music instruction. She taught music at University Liggett School after she and Chris were married and before Hope was born, and returned 16 years later, remaining for another 27 years. She also served as a minister of music at Knox Presbyterian Church in Harrison Township, where she and Chris are active members.
Both are currently retired. Chris joined the Full Circle Foundation board at the beginning of 2022 and works with a few private foundations. Grace enjoys knitting, sewing and quilting and spending time with her grandchildren.
“I’m a really good grandma,” she confesses. “The kids call me GG for Grandma Grace and I thoroughly enjoying being a part of their lives.”
They remain in their home in Grosse Pointe Woods, where they have lived since 1979. In January, they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and plan to take their four children – Hope, C.J., Ian and Colin – and eight grandchildren ranging in age from 3 to 17 on a cruise.
What has kept the two of them together and “steadied” them throughout their marriage, in Grace’s view, “is the presence of God in our lives.”
Chris’s advice to young people today, in a world of social media and “the vanity of selfies,” is not to focus too much on themselves or get “caught up in the material stuff of the world.”
“The focus should be on helping others and working with others,” Chris said.
Also important are being a good listener and forgiveness.
“I believe in second chances,” Chris said. “I’ve been granted second chances so I think that’s important.”
Grace stressed the value of unconditional love.
“You make a promise when you get married and there are no conditions on it,” she said.
Ben Paolucci - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2022
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Benjamin Paolucci was interested in attending a school that offered as much academic freedom and flexibility as possible. He found that in Vanderbilt University, where he believes he will have the freedom to pursue his various interests, from the American legal system to business to medicine.
While he has always been interested in history, his interest in economics grew when he took classes at South. He describes himself as a well-rounded student.
“I’ve been interested in pretty much every subject from environmental science to math to English,” he said. “You hand me pretty much any subject and I’ll thoroughly enjoy what I’m learning.”
He put his interests to work to make a difference within his school and broader community. While he was involved in a number of clubs and activities, including playing tennis for two seasons, he is most proud of the club he founded called the Public Defense Initiative.
“Our goal was to explore systemic issues within our legal system not only in the metro Detroit area, but also throughout America,” he said. “We looked at criminal justice issues, over-sentencing in certain areas; we looked at the juvenile system, how that system compares to the adult system, concepts of a punitive system versus a rehabilitative system, looking at how retribution has an impact in the legal system and our court system?”
As president, he booked prominent speakers, including Judge Terrence Berg, appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Ben’s AP U.S. History teacher, MaShanta Ashmon, is the faculty sponsor of the club. Ben describes her as one of his most influential teachers.
“Not only was she an extraordinary teacher who opened my mind up to a lot of the injustices and a lot of the overlooked history of the United States, but she also encouraged me to use my voice and to use my skills to have a positive impact on my community, specifically other students,” he said.
Ben is proud that the club will continue after he is gone. In fact, in May they held an induction ceremony for the next generation of students.
“Ultimately I hope that the Public Defense Initiative can be re-chartered each year and stay a club for as long as possible for our community,” he said, adding that he believes open dialog is important to preventing “students from falling down that apathetic attitude toward many issues. I think in many ways I have accomplished that goal. Encouraging open dialog is important. I’m very happy how that club has turned out and I’m very happy that people in prominent audiences have had those important discussions.”
Ben’s other main venture while in high school was working with small businesses in and around the metro Detroit community during the pandemic.
“One thing I noticed during COVID is that while PPP (paycheck protection program) loans were offered to small businesses, many of these businesses lacked a cohesive digital marketing plan," he said. "They didn’t have the resources or time to appropriately market online, which became crucial as a lot of store fronts remained closed or there were many restrictions during 2020 and much of 2021. During that close to two-year span, I spent a lot of time helping small businesses in and around the community adopt digital marketing strategies.”
While at South, Ben served as president of the National Honor Society, helping to organize a blood drive at South – receiving an American Red Cross scholarship for his efforts – and spending time with students with autism as a four-year member of South’s peer to peer program, eating lunch with students with autism at least once a week and volunteering in the classroom.
“It was a really fulfilling experience,” he recalled. “I learned a lot about autism spectrum disorder and gained invaluable experience and empathy and patience. Really beyond anything I would say patience and understanding.”
Ben has taken this patience and understanding with him to his summer job at Full Circle, where he works with young adults with disabilities to help teach them basic life skills, from cooking to picking vegetables to learning how to operate a retail store.
“Every Wednesday we go on a field trip,” he said. “Last week we went bowling. This week we’re probably going to the park and then I think we plan on going to the Detroit Zoo or to the movie theaters. It’s really fun stuff and it’s wonderful to be able to help students out who have intellectual disabilities, help them learn, help them gain valuable life skills, and be friends with them, really.”
His advice to college-bound incoming seniors is to make sure whatever college they apply to, it’s a school where they can see themselves thriving.
“I would also encourage students to take a lot of time, think about what they are passionate about. For me, it’s a multitude of things. For some students, it may be one thing.”
He cautioned students to recognize that their interests may change and to avoid selecting a school solely based on an individual program, but one that fits their needs more generally.
Ben is keeping his own options open as he looks toward heading to Nashville in mid-August. Whether he pursues business, the law or medicine, his goal is “to work in a profession where you can genuinely positively impact someone’s life and broader community and make a living. What can be better than that?”
Dr. Ronald Uppleger and Dr. Katherine Solomich - Grosse Pointe North Classes of 1974 and 2006
Dr. Ronald Uppleger and Dr. Katherine Solomich both graduated from Grosse Pointe North High School, with Dr. Solomich in 2006, and Dr. Uppleger earlier, in 1974. It was there the father and daughter discovered their love of learning. They both enjoyed science and the arts. Dr. Uppleger went onto Michigan State University for 3 years and was accepted early into the University of Michigan School of Dentistry based on his grades and his dental exam scores. This allowed him to start his career at age 24. His daughter, Dr. Katherine Solomich (nee Uppleger) went on to graduate from Western Michigan University with 2 degrees. She was recognized by graduating Magna Cum Laude. From there she went on to the number one Dental School in the USA, the University of Michigan. It was a proud day for the Uppleger family when Dr. Uppleger was permitted to place the Doctorial stole upon Dr. Katherine at her graduation at the University of Michigan ceremony.
In 1984 Dr. Uppleger opened Uppleger Dental, after graduating from the University of Michigan with a Doctorate in Dental Surgery. He went on to many post doctorial programs including The Pankey Institute, Kois Center for Dental Excellence, and received a fellowship in dental implants from The International Congress of Oral Implantology. Dr. Katherine Solomich joined her father in 2015 at Uppleger Dental, also graduating with a Doctorate in Dental Surgery from the University of Michigan. In 2011, the practice opened a new, state of the art office which was custom designed to provide optimal patient care in an all digital and paperless practice. Both Dr. Solomich and Dr. Uppleger are committed to excellence, which in turn, delivers the best results for their patients.
The GPPSS Impact
Both Father and Daughter credit much of their success to the lessons learned during their time at Grosse Pointe North. Dr. Uppleger learned teamwork and hard work from his participation in football and track. Dr. Solomich also acquired knowledge of teamwork from her participation in soccer and cross country. Mr. Cooper, the cross country coach and Jodie Jackson-Randazzo, the soccer coach, who encouraged her to strive for personal excellence.
When asked if they had one piece of advice for students today, the response came quickly to them: “Believe in yourself. Find a mentor to help guide you. Always ask questions. The road to success will have a few bumps, stay steady.” Dr. Uppleger and Dr. Solomich are as committed as they come, and continue to keep Grosse Pointe’s smiles bright.
Rachel Konrad- Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1989
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
There are a number of people Rachel Konrad considers influential in her professional trajectory, but leading the way was her journalism teacher at Grosse Pointe South High School, Bob Button. It was her experiences working as a student journalist and editor of the student newspaper, The Tower, that inspired her to study journalism at Northwestern University, and to spend the first 15 years of her career as a journalist.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that I owe my career to Mr. Button,” Rachel said about her former adviser, who died in 2021. “He was one of those teachers who had vast influence, the likes of which he could never know. The number of people he touched over the years – not just the people who went directly into journalism because of him, but the number of people who went on to write or interview strangers or get over their fear of cold calling people. He was definitely a formative influence.”
Rachel also learned about the commitment involved in producing a weekly newspaper. As an editor, she enjoyed editing her peers’ and writing for a column she “cheesily” titled “Konrad’s Corner."
“I loved being able to provoke people to think a bit differently, to get myself to think a little bit differently,” she said.
An even earlier influence than Bob Button was her fifth-grade teacher at Defer Elementary, Nancy Kline, the first person outside her family who made her feel like she could do “absolutely anything.”
“There were relatively few moments in my life where someone believed in me and was willing to put their confidence in me,” Rachel said. “It was high impact for a fifth grader. I was 11.”
After graduating from Northwestern with degrees in journalism and history, Rachel did an internship in Milwaukee. She was then hired at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., where she covered everything from the rodeo to fraud to court cases to the opening of the new ice-skating rink.
From there, she received an offer to return to the Detroit area and work at the business desk at the Detroit Free Press.
“I thought that was an incredible offer,” Rachel recalled. “I could come home.”
That experience opened up a lot of doors for her, as well as taught her foundational skills she has used in her career since, such as “crisp and fast writing” and “not being afraid to ask the tough questions.” She interviewed the CEOs of all the automakers, Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, to name a few.
In 1999, Rachel witnessed the technology boom and migration of young professionals to the San Francisco Bay Area and considered a change in career. While she loved conventional print journalism, she recognized the challenges it was facing with the advent of the Internet.
She decided to apply to new 21st century-style journalism jobs in the heart of the tech industry. She ended up accepting an offer at CNET, which covered the tech industry. This job introduced her to a new industry and brought her to the San Francisco Bay Area.
After about two and a half years, she began to work for the Associated Press, one of the largest journalism organizations in the world. Among the emerging companies on her beat were Google and eBay.
“One of the start-ups I covered was this completely obscure, no-name car company,” Rachel said. “They invited me to test drive their electric car because they knew I had covered the automotive industry. I was a kid from Detroit and my dad worked for Chrysler for years. My family was all in the automotive industry.”
The company was Tesla. On a whim, Rachel reached out to a contact there and immediately received an offer to work in public relations.
Before she knew it, she was reporting directly to co-founder and CEO Elon Musk.
“That was terrifying and educational and illuminating and, honestly, awesome,” she said. “I’m really grateful to Elon. I did that for three years and it was like getting a master’s of business administration every day you worked for the man. He was incredible.”
Rachel joined Tesla in 2008, right at the point the company started selling its first cars. In 2010, she and her husband and then 4-year-old son, Levi, had the opportunity to relocate from Tesla headquarters to England.
Rachel’s next offer came in 2011 while she was at the Paris Motor Show and ran into Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault-Nissan, who invited her to work for his company in global communications.
“I was not looking for a job or to leave Tesla; I loved it,” she said. “But it was an incredible opportunity to move to Paris and to see the auto industry from a different point of view.”
She remained in that position for five years. In 2015, while at a conference on the environment, she ran into someone named Pat Brown, who was in the stealth phases of founding a new company. While he complimented her on her role in helping the automotive industry move away from fossil fuel dependence toward solar energy vehicles, he said she was in the wrong industry. He invited her to come work for him at Impossible Foods.
“Here I am in Paris in this cushy job with an expat status, but I wanted to have an impact on the planet,” Rachel recalled. “I knew I needed to do this. I quit my job. I moved my family 7,000 miles back to California to the San Francisco Bay area so I could work with this company, still in stealth mode.”
This proved to be rewarding work and she remained there until 2021. Then, determined to accelerate her impact on the planet, in January 2022 she began working for Dave Friedberg at the Production Board, a San Francisco-based venture foundry fully focused on making and building businesses that decarbonize the Earth and solve the public health crisis. The Production Board starts and invests in businesses in food and agriculture technology, the life sciences and medicine.
Rachel is driven to protect the planet for the benefit of future generations, including her two sons, Levi, now 17, and Adam, 7.
In fact, Levi is headed to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the fall, where he plans to major in environmental science – an area of tremendous growth in the future, in Rachel's view.
“A lot of colleges advise not enrolling in the environmental studies program because it is oversubscribed,” she said. “That makes me really optimistic.”
Mike "Smitty" Smith- Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1975
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Everyone knows him as Smitty. That’s what his friends called him when he was growing up and the nickname stuck through adulthood.
Smitty attended Mason Elementary and Parcells Middle School, which were both within walking distance from his home, but grew up attending football and baseball games across town at what was then Grosse Pointe High School.
By the time he was ready to start high school in the fall of 1971, a new high school closer to his home in Grosse Pointe Woods had been built. It was close as the crow flies, but walking to North meant walking around the Lochmoor Country Club golf course.
“If I was really running late to school, I would hop the fence and run across the golf course,” Smitty confessed. “Of course, I was not the only crazy kid to have that idea, so once a month there would be an announcement on the PA system to not walk across the golf course.”
It was proximity to Detroit, however, that had the most profound influence on Smitty’s life.
“The beautiful thing about Detroit in general as a kid growing up is you see so many musical styles and artists and bands coming out of Detroit,” he said. “You think everybody is listening to this music.”
When he started playing in bands as a drummer, however, he discovered that not everyone was exposed to the “magnificent music scene” that was Detroit.
For example, he first heard Alice Cooper – who was barely played on the radio at the time, he said – as a middle school student at Parcells.
“That was when The Stooges and MC5 really became known in the community,” he recalled. “Back in 1969, they didn’t have the term punk rock and I don’t think they even had the term glam rock. That didn’t come till much later, even though we had the beginnings of Alice Cooper, the MC5 and the Stooges. They are clearly the grandfathers of what we think of as punk rock.”
Another formative experience for Smitty was hearing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show when he was 7 years old.
The Beatles’ appearance was “electric,” he recalled. “You could tell even Ed Sullivan didn’t know what to do. For me and millions of other kids that age, that was what got us off to the races.”
Smitty got his first drum kit as a gift from his parents at age 9 and began exploring music first in neighborhood bands, playing out of their parents’ garages.
He planned to pursue an art path, then “got cold feet on whether or not I should be an artist,” he said. So he opted instead for the flexibility of liberal arts at Hope College.
“After a year and a half, I thought: What am I doing? I definitely want to go to art school,” he recalled.
He transferred to the Center for Creative Studies (now the College for Creative Studies) to pursue his interest in the arts. The timing for moving back to Detroit was fortuitous, he said, because a friend putting together a punk rock band called The Blind “was having a heck of a time finding a drummer."
All the drummers who were auditioning over played; they were too sophisticated, Smitty explained.
The band members were looking for the more simple punk rock drumming style and Smitty’s experience playing in garage bands fit the bill. After about a year and a half of playing for The Blind, he joined another band called the Detroit L-Seven. From there he went on to play with Figures on a Beach, signing a record deal with Sire Records, Madonna's first record label.
About seven years ago, Third Man Records, an independent record label founded by Jack White, contacted Smitty. They were putting together a re-release compilation that included songs from the Blind and the Detroit L-Seven.
“Life is crazy,” Smitty said. “You do things and you think they have little or no effect, and the next thing you know a major record label is reaching out to do a re-release. It really goes to show how magical life can be.”
While Smitty has been playing in a band full-time since he was in his early 20s, he also has worked professionally producing video and graphics for major corporations.
The lessons he learned as a musician contributed to his success in the corporate communications world, he said. His advice to young people is that whatever your dream is, pursue it “full tilt.” Even if it doesn’t pay off, the lessons learned along the way will.
“I’m a testament to that,” he said. “When I finally got a job in corporate communications, all of those skills I put together working on being a musician I could put to use.”
Bring that “same passion and hard work to whatever you do,” is his advice to teenagers interested in pursuing music. “Just go at it full steam. The idea of having a backup plan; forget about it. If you focus on your passion – in this case music. Practice, write, perform, do everything you can to get your music out there, treating it like a job. Even if the chances are in the 90th percentile you won’t make it as a living, the lessons you learn are ones you can take with you for the rest of your lives.”
Now that he is “a gentleman of a certain age,” Smitty says he is leaning into the music part of his life more than even a decade ago, using the knowledge he has gained in his combined experiences.
“My music passion trained me to go into corporate marketing and my corporate marketing trained me to go on to do events of my own,” he said.
One of these events is the Detroit All-Star Garage Rock Punk Review. The fourth installment of a two-night, one-day celebration of Detroit music is planned for Friday, August 19 and Saturday, August 20 at the Cadieux Café in Detroit.
Community members are invited to join in this celebration of the Detroit Rock ‘n Roll scene featuring All-Star Punk Rock DJ Mike E. Clark and celebrating the 10th anniversary of Jett Plastic Recordings.
Advance tickets are available at fezco.ticketleap.com. Buy in advance and save. Tickets for a single night are available at the door for $25.
Pete Brown: Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1996
Written by Owen Parent (South '23), Student Intern
Pete Brown graduated from Grosse Pointe North in 1996, before continuing his academics at Western Michigan University, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. After graduating from WMU, Brown went on to teach 3rd and 4th grade in the Three Rivers Community Schools system for several years. Brown then once again moved in 2005, finding himself in Indianapolis working at The Eiteljorg Museum, a museum dedicated to Western and Native American culture and history.
Brown spent eight years at the Eiteljorg, starting off in the Education and Public Programs department, but eventually found himself working in other areas at the Museum.
“By leveraging my other areas of interest and side business, I eventually migrated to the marketing department managing their website, managing social & traditional media outlets and creating lots of educational and promotional videos and graphics,” said Brown.
Brown's time did come to an end at The Eiteljorg Museum, however, as he quotes that the “entrepreneurial renaissance man” in him emerged.
“I formally launched ASH Interactive in 2012 and have been focused on helping non-profits, social service & educational organizations with their marketing and general communication strategies ever since. During the early days of the pandemic, ASH spun off 2 new sub-brands aimed to help people stay connected remotely; Midwest Virtual Experiences and Virtual Career Tech. Through these brands, we've helped hundreds of educators and non-profit administrators stay connected with thousands of students and community members during some challenging times and I'm very proud of that.”
The GPPSS Impact
Brown believes Grosse Pointe is full of many influential teachers, and that he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for them.
“Ms. Charlotte Hage was a very influential teacher in my life. Mr. Pete Dettlinger was one of my absolute favorite teachers at North, and it's been great to run into him occasionally over the years. Mr. Glen Williams was another great teacher and someone who is very committed to the community with his annual Haunted House among other things.”
Brown’s advice to students today? “Keep your eyes, ears, mind and heart open to all possibilities and opportunities.”
Jeff Smith and Lisa Vallee-Smith: Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1978
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Jeff Smith and Lisa Vallee were in the same group of friends as freshmen at Grosse Pointe North High School, but they didn’t start dating until senior year.
“We were at a party at my best friend’s house in her backyard,” Lisa recalled. “Jeff and I just started talking and that was it. He invited me to homecoming, but he didn’t invite me until 36 hours before the dance.”
Jeff’s recollection was a bit different.
“I think it was four days before homecoming,” he said. “We were in her brown Pinto and I said, ‘Would you like to go to homecoming with me?’ What really established the relationship was she looked at me and said, ‘What took you so long?’ I just assumed she was going to go with me so what’s the rush?”
They continued dating on and off through college. Jeff attended Michigan State while Lisa initially ventured off to school in southern Indiana, later opting to move back to the Detroit area and attend Wayne State University, where she earned a degree in journalism and communications.
After graduating, they each went their separate ways to focus on their careers. Jeff got an opportunity to move to New York City and work in television at CBS, while Lisa started her career in public relations in Detroit at Detroit Renaissance, formed in 1970 by such distinguished business leaders as Henry Ford II, Max M. Fisher and A. Alfred Taubman.
“It was really incredible for that to be my first professional experience,” Lisa said.
Coincidentally, it was the same good friend from North who hosted the summer party who brought the two together again, this time for good.
“Lisa came out to visit her and then when we saw each other, that night we decided to really start dating again,” Jeff said. “It was immediate. I basically said, ‘Are you ready to settle down?’ We were 30-ish.”
The two debated between New York and Detroit, ultimately deciding on New York. Jeff moved from CBS to Crain Communications, helping the company form its NYC business, and Lisa took a double demotion and a salary cut to work in a public relations firm in New York, which turned out to be an amazing experience, she said.
They married in 1992 and decided to move back to Grosse Pointe when it was time to start a family. Their oldest son, Gerard, was born in 1994, followed by Christian in 1997.
While Jeff left Crain Communications when the couple moved from New York, chairman Keith Crain called him to ask if he had anything lined up in Detroit. Jeff said no and Crain offered him a position as president of a new non-profit, the American Automobile Centennial Commission, formed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American automobile industry. Over the next few years, Jeff helped organize over 100 events around the country. Highlights of the experience included a black-tie event at Cobo hosted by comedian Jay Leno.
After that opportunity wrapped up, Jeff went into the financial services industry and formed his own wealth management company, Woodworth Financial. He continued this for nearly 20 years, until he was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer.
“Managing people’s money is a full-time job, so ethically I didn’t think it was appropriate while I was going through chemo to have people’s life savings with me,” Jeff said. “So, I sold the firm in 2016 and focused on getting better.”
While the doctors initially gave him three to four years to live, Jeff is currently in remission and is participating in a clinical trial with MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“My undergraduate degree from Michigan State was in physiology with a minor in psychology,” he explained. “I was ready and open to all kinds of healing – both what was directed by the University of Michigan as well as what I could find on my own. There was a whole discovery of modern science which I used, along with ancient nutrition, meditation, ancient spirituality. Combining the ancient and the modern together really helped things.”
Jeff decided to put his business, financial and health experience together and formed a company called Raising My Game, which focuses on health, wealth, relationships and business, and employs techniques such as team and one-on-one coaching and “conversational intelligence” to build trust and innovation.
Lisa, who founded her own public relations company, Airfoil, 22 years ago, is “on the leading edge of retirement.” She still serves as Airfoil's chairman, but is in the process of a buyout, having seceded the firm to a long-time associate. She plans to stop working full time by the end of the year.
Jeff and Lisa have always been interested in philanthropy, so over a decade ago they created a family foundation called the Smith Family Foundation.
The foundation benefits non-profit organizations involved with education, healthcare, poverty, children and the city of Detroit, Lisa said, with some larger contributions made to Ascension St. John Hospital, in particular its neonatal intensive care unit.
Jeff and Lisa reflect fondly on their experiences with the Grosse Pointe Public School System – Jeff at Mason Elementary and Parcells Middle School and Lisa at Barnes and Brownell Middle School before they met up at North.
“Our dearest friends in the world are people we know through the schools, particularly North,” Lisa said.
Her advice to young people, whether pursuing college or launching their careers, is to nurture friendships and always make new friends.
Jeff advises to “trust your instinct and find a teacher or a counselor you feel good about who can serve as a mentor.”
James Doerer - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2020, Miles Dearing and Terrence Lane - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2019
Pictured with Fox 2 Detroit anchor and reporter Ryan Ermanni are, from left, former Grosse Pointe South football players James Doerer, Miles Dearing and Terrence Lane.
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
James Doerer, Miles Dearing and Terrence Lane spent hours together on the gridiron at Grosse Pointe South’s stadium. The three former South football players have reunited this summer to offer a skills and recruitment football camp for high school students from the metro Detroit area. The camp will be held June 27 to 29 at Balduck Park (for more information or click here).
Having gone through the recruiting process themselves, these three college players are on a mission “to inspire and prepare the next generation of football players to achieve their dreams.”
James moved to Grosse Pointe when he was 3 from Evanston, Ill., attending Richard Elementary, Brownell Middle School and then Grosse Pointe South. As a senior, James was named to the first team all-conference, first team all-area, all-state and Dream Team. He also competed in baseball as a freshman and was a three-year member of the track and field team. He was captain of the football team his senior year and was a member of both the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society.
James credits his coaches for his athletic accomplishments, including South’s head varsity football coach Chad Hepner, who then served as defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, in addition to his track and field coach.
“The thing that I appreciate about these people is they volunteered their time,” he said. “They easily could have charged for their services; most people probably would have. They saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself and that’s why I will forever be grateful for them.”
James is also grateful to Miles and Terrence for their positive influence.
“They’re a year older than me,” he said. “They taught me the way on how to be a college athlete. They also pushed me to be better because they saw something special in me that I could be.”
James currently attends Valparaiso University, where he is a linebacker on the football team and had his debut against Butler University. He is majoring in communications with a minor in film. He is particularly enjoying the commentating aspect of sports broadcasting and hopes to weave his love of storytelling into the sports documentary process.
“Creating narratives is one of my favorite things to do,” he said. “I love covering teams and being able to tell people’s stories because I think everyone has a unique story to tell. To have that platform to give to other people to share that story can really inspire and change people’s lives.”
Miles’ family moved to Grosse Pointe when he was in the fourth grade. He spent his fourth and fifth grade years at Maire Elementary before attending Pierce and then South.
Miles started playing football in seventh grade with the Red Barons. He played on the varsity football team at South as a sophomore and served as captain his junior and senior years, winning all-region and first-team all-conference honors as he helped lead the team to win three conference championships as the team MVP. In addition to earning three varsity letters in football, he earned four in wrestling and was a three-year wrestling captain at South.
Miles, too, describes a strong relationship with Coach Hepner.
“We’re talking, eating lunch together, and hanging out with his kids and talking wrestling and BBQ,” Miles said.
Miles also played in the school band from fifth grade through his senior year. In fact, he was able “to continue the musical journey” as well as his athletic career at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he studied trumpet under a music professor and played football for two years until he transferred to Ball State University, where he is majoring in sports production.
Miles hopes to combine his interest in food – his family owns Bert’s Entertainment Complex in Detroit – with the art of storytelling and narrative documentary work, drawing relationships between his home life and food.
Terrence started at Maire Elementary in kindergarten and attended Pierce and then South. While he began in the Red Barons program in fourth grade, he took a break his eighth-grade year, returning to the sport his freshman year.
While playing football at South, he received many accolades, including two-time Academic All State, First Team All-MAC White, and Second Team All-Conference. He also participated on South's track team and competed in states in the discus event.
Terrence is majoring in cognitive neuroscience at Brown University, which he describes as a blend of psychology, neuroscience and computer science. The defensive end saw action in several football games his freshman year, including against Harvard and Princeton, but the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID. Terrence took a gap year and returned to Brown last semester. Having worked hard to stay in peak condition, he is looking forward to next year.
All three alumni look forward to reuniting each summer at the football camp, which they hope to make an annual event.
“We thought no matter where we go and no matter where life takes us, in that last week in June it’s something that always brings us together," James said. "That’s the special and unique part of it, that we have an opportunity to make a difference and create a change in our community.”
Elizabeth and Claire Sheeren - Grosse Pointe South, Classes of 2018 and 2020
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Elizabeth Sheeren (class of 2018) has multiple autoimmune diseases, and her family describes her medical journey as "going through a storm for many years."
Until the beginning of 6th grade, musical theater was Elizabeth's life. She was an actress in both Grosse Pointe Theatre Main Stage and Youth on Stage, and also a member of the Michigan Opera Theatre's Children's Chorus. But by 2011, her health began to decline and she was no longer able to attend school regularly or participate in activities. Due to the incredible support of her Brownell and South teachers, she was able to stay on track with a hybrid of in-person and homebound instruction, often completing her school year throughout the summer months. Unfortunately, her health took a turn for the worse in the Fall of 2017, and she had to spend more than seven months in the hospital, missing most of her senior year at South – including spending graduation in the hospital.
Her sister Claire (class of 2020) still vividly recalls the night the Run, Walk N Roll 5K was born. Elizabeth was in the hospital, and Claire sat at her kitchen table with a friend, feeling completely lost about how to help her sister. It was devastating to Claire to see Elizabeth suffering so much, and missing everything she had worked so hard to hold on to. She wanted to help. So in 2019, during her junior year at South, Claire led the first Run, Walk N Roll 5K. Now it's an annual event that raises money for the Palliative Care Department at C. S. Mott Children's Hospital in honor of Elizabeth. The Palliative Care Department helps patients and families battling complex and chronic diseases maintain a good quality of life. Claire shares that the palliative care team has been the driving force in Elizabeth's care.
It was also important to Claire that this event be inclusive so that people in wheelchairs and adaptive strollers could also participate. In its first year, the event raised over $46,000 and had over 550 participants. The Sheeren family was utterly amazed by the outpouring of support.
In 2020, they planned to have another large event, but because of Covid, they had to pivot to a virtual fundraiser – and they still raised over $39,000! Then in 2021, they held a hybrid event with an in-person 5K that started and ended on the block where the Sheeren family lives. There was also an option to participate virtually. People were running, walking and rolling on three continents and in over 30 countries!
The GPPSS Difference
Claire tells us she is thankful for all of her teachers for their support, but especially Stephen Zaranek (“Coach Z”) at Grosse Pointe South. She ran cross country and track under his leadership throughout high school, and he has been instrumental in making Run, Walk N Roll a reality. Coach Z was the first person Claire talked to about the event in 2019, and he has been there every year to help with the race logistics and planning. This event would not be possible without him.
When asked what advice she has for this year's graduating seniors, Claire offered, "I would encourage students not to be afraid to have big dreams and set big goals, and to persevere to achieve them."
Visit the Run, Walk N Roll 5k website to participate in this year's event or to make a donation.
Leah Nadeau - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2009
Leah Nadeau graduated from Grosse Pointe North in 2009 before going on to college in San Francisco for Media Studies. There she learned about film production, digital marketing, social media, journalism, and more. After graduation, Leah says she didn't exactly have a plan for her future, so she went to work at the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club (now Grosse Pointe Equestrian) for a year. Leah then applied for graduate school in 2014 and started the following fall.
When Leah was living in the United Kingdom in 2015, she picked up a paintbrush, setting her on an entirely new path. She was studying film theory, and her dissertation was stressing her out – she knew she needed a new creative outlet. Since then, Leah has never put that paintbrush down. She considers herself a self-taught painter, and she uses social media to sell her artwork directly to customers.
Growing up, Leah felt as though she had a purpose to fulfill someday, but I didn't know quite what it was. She remembers feeling lost, particularly in grad school when it seemed as if everyone else already knew their life plan. She shares, "I had no idea who I was or who I would be until I began painting. Finally, everything clicked. I've been working non-stop since 2015 to have a successful business, and now that I do, I wouldn't change it for the world."
Leah also recalls that things weren't always easy in high school. "I was bullied, and the trauma I had experienced in middle school had made me feel very untrusting of people. After transferring to Grosse Pointe North, I was very hesitant to make new friends and trust others, but people at North welcomed me with open arms. I felt like I belonged. It's never too late to find friends, even when it may feel scary. Just tell your story, and the people who listen and take the time to understand are your people."
When asked which teachers impacted her, Leah shared that Mr. Brian McDonald and Mr. Kevin Cox at South both stand out in her mind now. "They were both my English teachers, which I really excelled at. They made my time learning extremely enjoyable. Both are so passionate about their jobs that it was contagious," she says.
As far as advice for this year's graduating class, Leah offers this advice: "Enjoy your time as a kid. Being an adult isn't always easy. I wanted to grow up when I was a kid and see the world. Looking back, I should have cherished my childhood more."
Kai Dickerson - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2021
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Kai Dickerson left a legacy behind when she graduated from Grosse Pointe North High School last spring.
While in high school, Kai took advantage of as many opportunities as she could. She served as an officer for Link Crew, a group of students who mentor incoming freshmen; tutored students as a member of the National Honor Society; and served two years as president of North’s Diversity Club.
She also had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. as a participant in Close Up, a program that brings high school students from across the country together to make lasting connections with the people and places that represent our democracy.
Among Kai's favorite classes at North was Exploring Global Issues with social studies teacher Dan Gilleran. In this class, students are able to connect what they learn about issues facing countries around the world with work with a local organization. In Kai’s case, she worked with Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe to put together Wellness Wednesdays. Still in existence at North today, Wellness Wednesdays are focused on education that removes the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, promotes stress reduction techniques, and provides resources for the Grosse Pointe student population.
Her years as president of the Diversity Club also led to some lasting change. Kai co-founded North’s Inclusion, Diversity, Education & Allyship Week, known as IDEA Week, which took place this year on April 25 to 29. The purpose of IDEA Week, according to Kai, is to design a series of events highlighting the social and cultural diversity present within the Grosse Pointe community.
As part of the inaugural week, Kai helped to facilitate Mental Health Across Cultures Day, a student-led symposium aimed to eradicate stigmas and expand perspectives on what mental health is and looks like internationally.
Through this experience, Kai connected with different grassroots organizations in the area, including The Family Center – which led to her meeting MaryJo Harris, The Family Center’s Director of Programs & Administration. MaryJo offered Kai an internship with The Family Center this summer, beginning this May.
As an intern, Kai helps plan wellness programming for middle and high schools and researches resources to be distributed in counseling centers as well as published on their websites.
Reflecting on her early years attending Mason Elementary and Parcells Middle School, Kai said her fifth-grade teacher, Karen Frakes, “had a huge impact on me. She was really encouraging and introduced me to my passion for writing and just sparked a real interest in academics that I didn’t have previously.”
Kai just completed her first year at Spellman College in Atlanta where she is studying psychology and is on the premedical track to become a holistic psychologist.
“As a holistic psychiatrist, I want to address the physical manifestations of psychological disorders and the psychological manifestations of physical disorders as well as the ecological, socioeconomic, racial and nutritional impacts that may impact the illnesses,” she said.
Before attending medical school, Kai plans to pursue a master’s degree in medical anthropology to understand the holistic side of the field.
Kai's advice to young people is, "Regardless of your age, if you see a need for change, you can take action. Anybody can make a difference."
Eric Morath - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1999
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
After graduating from Michigan State, the first job Grosse Pointe North graduate Eric Morath held was at a business magazine in Novi. From there, Eric moved to Detroit News, where he covered the auto industry. "I loved traveling to auto shows and test driving new vehicles--I may have broken the speed limit on I-696 with a newly released Dodge Challenger SRT8," Eric says.
In 2008, he and his wife Amy decided to pursue new career opportunities in Washington. Eric landed a job with Dow Jones and was later promoted to economics reporter at The Wall Street Journal. That role allowed him to travel with the labor secretary, interview Ivanka Trump in the White House. and spend two months in Germany writing about the labor market and work-life. Eric was honored with a Gerald Loeb Award for reporting on Amazon's headquarters search.
In 2021, he was promoted to the Economic Policy News Editor role at The Wall Street Journal, in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He now oversees a team of reporters covering the Treasury Department, IRS, SEC, and other agencies.
Eric lives in Silver Spring, Md., with Amy and their three amazing children, Eleanor, 10, and Matthew and Libby, 7-year-old twins. Eric coaches their soccer teams in his spare time, and they all enjoy taking hikes in the Shenandoah Valley and visiting the Atlantic Ocean in the summer.
The GPPSS Difference
Grosse Pointe North's student newspaper, The North Pointe, was the first publication for which Eric wrote. Working for the student newspaper taught him "the value of communication and the importance of media in a community."
Eric also learned there's no substitute for hard work and putting in your best effort. "In 6th grade, at Parcells Middle School, I skipped doing my math homework a few days in a row. Teacher Mike Manzella sent me out of his classroom to the counselor's office to have me enroll in a different math class. A few minutes later, Mr. Manzella came down to collect me. He assured me I had the ability to be a good student, but I had to put in the work to achieve my best. That moment and feeling have stuck with me to this day," he shares.
There are several other teachers that Eric also recalls as having a positive impact on him. One example is Mrs. Sherry Trickey, a 4th-grade teacher at Ferry Elementary School - Eric credits her for teaching him to love learning. Another is Crosby Washburne, a teacher at Grosse Pointe North, for teaching him how to write and communicate.
Eric says he was also lucky enough to meet his future wife in their ninth-grade civics class. "Amy has been my biggest inspiration, supporter, and cheerleader that pushed me to take risks, explore the world and enjoy life," Eric shares.
When asked what advice he has for this year's graduating class, Eric answered, "Ask lots of questions and be curious about everything. Never miss an opportunity to learn."
Nina White - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2016
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
After graduating from Grosse Pointe South in 2016, Nina White attended the University of Michigan, where she studied Musical Theater and minored in German. After graduating in 2020, like many of her fellow "pandemic graduates," she moved back home for much of the year.
In June 2021, Nina finally found herself in New York City, ready to pursue an acting career. In her first week as a New Yorker, she learned she had landed a dream job in a brand new musical. Nina will be making her Broadway debut this coming fall in the world-premiere musical Kimberly Akimbo by Jeanine Tesoro and David Lindsay-Abairre. Until rehearsals start this September, you'll find Nina in Brooklyn, nannying her days away and changing lots of diapers in the process.
The GPPSS Difference
Nina says she felt very prepared by her GPPSS English education on an educational level. She shares, "I felt incredibly equipped to handle the demands of college-level writing courses. Apart from that, I felt as if GPPSS equipped us from a very young age with the tools to find credible information sources online and otherwise. We began learning how to vet the credibility of an online source in elementary school library classes. In middle and high school, many assignments made strict demands on the types of sources we could employ for assignments. These skills have only become more critical in our terminally-online world rampant with fake news. If Facebook just put the Maire Elementary librarians on the case, fake news wouldn't stand a chance."
Before arriving at South, Nina had never taken a German class and hadn't been particularly interested in it. When it was time for her to select her courses, Nina asked her counselor if there was a foreign language teacher that kids seemed to particularly like— and her counselor said that people always had great things to say about the German teacher. So that was that, and Nina enrolled in the class.
"To me, Lisa Richman is the epitome of an incredible teacher," Nina says. "Frau Richman cared about her students' learning and genuine absorption of the class material above all else. Her class was never about acing her tests—she considered her students on the merit of their efforts to learn and improve rather than the actual grades they were earning on assignments. So many of her students went on to study German after high school, which to me is no surprise. She inspired resilience and curiosity in all of us. I went on to minor in German at the University of Michigan myself, and I have Frau Richman to thank!"
When asked what advice she has for this year's graduating seniors, Nina says, "Don't be afraid to change your mind. This applies to your personal decisions about college, career, what you like or don't like, who you spend time with, etc. It also applies to your broader worldview! My learning may have started in Grosse Pointe, but it surely hasn't ended there. Since graduating, my mind has expanded exponentially through new experiences and hearing perspectives from new people I've met. You have grown up in only a tiny sliver of a vast universe—how exciting it is that there is still so much to learn and be surprised by and be wrong about?"
Erykah Benson - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2017
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Erykah Benson has always loved school – which explains why, at age 23, she is pursuing a doctorate in sociology at the University of Michigan.
Erykah moved to Grosse Pointe when she was in middle school and attended Pierce, then Grosse Pointe South. Both experiences were "awesome," she recalls, and gave her the opportunity to get involved in activities outside of her passion for school.
Her love for journalism began at Pierce, where she worked on the student paper.
At South, she served as a copy editor, page editor and, her senior year, editor-in-chief at The Tower.
“That was really foundational to my experiences as a scholar and a writer,” Erykah said. “It was pretty much the center of my experience of learning the skills of being a writer, and that inquisitiveness that is necessary to being a journalist is something I carried with me into college. Eventually, even though I didn’t end up pursuing journalism per se, I can apply those same investigative skills as a researcher and sociologist.”
While Tower was her main focus outside of her studies, she also was a member of the National Honor Society and the Gay-Straight Alliance, and participated on South’s softball team, which she describes as one of her favorite memories due to her teammates and coaches.
“I loved my softball team,” she said. “Even though we didn’t win a lot, every experience was awesome.”
Erykah largely attributes the academic foundation she built to her formative years at South and gives a “big shout-out” to her teachers.
After graduating in 2017, Erykah attended Michigan State University, where she received a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies in social science.
What ultimately led her to her current field is the research she became heavily involved in while at MSU. A member of the Social Science Scholars Program, she was among a cohort of students who conducted research, worked closely with the faculty, and took on leadership roles on campus and in the community. This program also afforded her the opportunity to study abroad in the United Kingdom.
Erykah’s undergraduate research focused on an image content analysis of high school history textbooks and how they tell the stories of racial and ethnic minorities through visuals. While this research was put on pause during the pandemic, she started up a research team in 2019 and that work is being carried on by a group of undergraduates who won an award for it last year.
Erykah graduated from MSU in the spring of 2021 and, inspired by the passion for research she developed as an undergraduate, started her Ph.D. program at U of M the following fall. What she finds most exciting about research is not only the discovery of something new, but being part of scholarly investigations that preceded her work.
“To be able to contribute to that conversation is a really exciting part of the research,” she said.
Erykah specializes in demography, in particular population studies, and feels fortunate to be at a university that is a major hub in survey research. Her particular areas of interest are residential segregation, economic well-being, and entrepreneurship in America.
These focus areas evolved from her interest in food desserts and economic disparities that occur among certain urban and rural communities.
“I’m really interested in this deep, long history in the United States of the inequities that are rooted in racism, that are rooted in the way that different groups of people have been relegated to certain areas in an urban or rural landscape, and all of it is due to the inequitable distribution of resources and power,” she said. “Grosse Pointe and Detroit specifically are a really important story to tell in that history.”
As someone who switched majors a lot as an undergraduate, Erykah's advice to college-bound seniors today is, "Don't put so much pressure on yourself to figure it all out, because there will always be something connected to your interest. It's OK to change."
She recommends having a tentative five-year plan, but remaining "open to the opportunities that open up before you.”
She also recommends finding good mentors. She found that mentor at Grosse Pointe South in Tower adviser Kaitlin Edgerton.
“Edge gave me so much support and continues to give me so much support,” Erykah said, adding that since leaving South, she has continued to gain “a really good circle of mentors in positions that I want to pursue – people I look up to and can always turn to for advice.”
David and Anna (Collins) Court - Grosse Pointe North, 2008
by Mary Anne Brush, Fully Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
David Court and Anna Collins were matched alphabetically in 1995 as classmates at Poupard Elementary, appearing next to each other in the yearbook. Years later they would make it an official match; the couple married in July of 2017.
While Anna started at Poupard in kindergarten, David didn’t join her class until a year later.
“I was shy and he was very outgoing,” Anna recalled. “He would tell you he had a crush on me at that point and I thought he was a rude boy, likely because he had a crush on me.”
The two went on to attend Parcells Middle School but, with different circles of friends, they didn’t cross paths much for the next few years, even through their first two years at Grosse Pointe North.
It was at an English class junior year where fate – with a little help from alphabetical seating – brought them together again.
“We got to chitchatting,” Anna said. “We had all the same memories for the most part so it was a pretty easy conversation. Everything that ever happened in our educational career was pretty similar.”
Then the Sadie Hawkins winter dance – the dance where the girl invites the boy rather than the other way around – rolled around and Anna asked David to be her date.
“The joke is that’s when I caved,” she said.
The two have been together pretty much ever since.
They both attended Wayne State University, carpooling to class and sharing a parking pass to save money. David left WSU for a year to attend Michigan State University, then returned when he applied to Wayne’s physical therapy program, receiving his doctoral degree in physical therapy after three years of study.
Anna received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Wayne and was hired during the 2013-14 school year to teach first grade at Mason Elementary, where she remains today.
Before she was hired, she returned to Poupard for her student teaching under the guidance of her former teacher, Jill Barron, now a third-grade teacher at Richard Elementary.
“I was very inspired by my elementary teachers,” Anna said. “To this day, those are the ones that stand out most to me. I was fortunate enough to keep in touch with some of them.”
This led to the student teaching opportunity with Jill, who Anna says was “a phenomenal example.”
“Everything I know as a teacher started in her classroom as a student and then as a student teacher,” she said.
In her nine years at Mason, Anna taught first grade for five years, then two years in kindergarten before returning to first grade for the last two years.
Anna always knew she wanted to be a teacher.
“It was never a question,” she said. “I don’t really know what I would be doing if I wasn’t a teacher. I was that kid that would go play school in my basement. I have a little sister and she was one of my students and/or teaching partners.”
David came to his career choice in a more roundabout fashion. While he originally planned to pursue pharmacy, after taking a few classes he decided it wasn’t for him.
Much more suited to his energetic and “people person” personality, according to Anna, was physical therapy, which David discovered after enrolling in a few classes. He is currently a physical therapist and supervisor in Beaumont’s outpatient facility at the Neighborhood Club, where he works with a range of clients, from teen athletes with sports injuries to people recovering from knee surgeries.
While working full-time as a teacher, Anna enrolled in an online program at MSU to get a master’s degree in education with a focus in literacy and technology. David was still in the PT program at Wayne at the time and the two were living at home with their parents.
While together since they were 16, “we both knew we wanted to get our education and degrees out of the way before we took the next step,” Anna said. “We knew we were each other’s forever partners; there was never a question about that.”
Anna was expecting to receive her degree from MSU in May of 2016, but she didn’t plan to attend the ceremony as she had taken all the classes online and saw no reason to sit with strangers. Both David and her family insisted that she go, however.
She reluctantly agreed, and afterwards David surprised her with a trip to Grand Rapids. Anna thought this was her graduation celebration. What she didn’t know was that he planned to propose to her on their way to dinner. Waiting for them at the restaurant was a group of their closest friends who celebrated their engagement with them throughout the weekend.
“We were waiting for this next step,” Anna said. “I didn’t know he literally meant the moment I walked across the stage we were going to get engaged.”
Grace Reyes - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2019
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Journalism students at Grosse Pointe South enjoyed a visit on May 9 from Tower alumna and Detroit-based journalist, Grace Reyes, a 2019 South graduate. Grace talked to the students about what it’s like to be a journalist and food critic.
While only a junior at Wayne State University, Grace already has articles published in Forbes, USA Today, Entrepreneur Magazine, the Detroit Free Press, Eater Detroit, Bridge Detroit and more.
Grace says she enjoyed returning to the Tower room, where she spent many hours as web editor and web editor-in-chief of Tower Pulse, The Tower’s online publication.
“It’s one of the best school newsrooms in the state,” she said. “It was a very healthy and creative environment, but also it was a real newsroom where we were putting out newspapers weekly and stories daily.”
Looking back, Grace says the experience reflects the reality of life as a professional journalist. It also may inspire students to pursue journalism in college, in her view.
Grace got her first break her junior year at South when she was awarded an apprenticeship at the Detroit Free Press. That opportunity was invaluable and provided a starting point for her to continue journalism in college.
Through this apprenticeship she discovered the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity, founded by the WSU Department of Communication and editors of The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. Grace applied and was accepted, receiving a full scholarship to WSU.
One of the requirements of the scholarship is that Grace participates in an internship each semester. Her first was in 2019 with Tostada Magazine, where her stories were featured on WDET CultureShift.
“Tostada taught me my interest in food and culture journalism,” Grace said. “I found my niche – telling stories through food culture.”
She returned to Tostada for another internship in 2021, where she ran social media and TikTok. That was where she discovered Eater magazine and decided to reach out for a freelance opportunity.
In January, Grace began working at WDET as a breaking news intern writing radio scripts or radio “wraps” – two to three-minute informational news pieces from traffic to weather read on air, which she said represents “a great change of pace.”
This summer she begins an internship for the Detroit Pistons working with the marketing team on media marketing. She credits the connections made in the industry through her former Free Press internship for the opportunity. She plans to continue her freelance writing for Eater.
While meeting with South’s journalism classes, Grace focused on some of the finer points of review writing to prepare the students for a visit to The Sugar Bar on Fisher Road to write their own reviews.
“There are many different formats to reviews, from holistic to a guide or a profile of the restaurant or the persons involved in the industry to a first-person essay,” she explained.
She advised the students to avoid jargon, get creative and explore their voice. A review should engage the reader and make them want to read more, she said. Heavy description is important.
“What does the atmosphere feel like? Is it a cozy room? Describe the feeling. Does it feel energetic? Describe the food. Can you smell the food when you come in from the parking lot? Be creative and have fun with it.”
In general, Grace tells students who may want to pursue journalism in college or as a career not to “be afraid to put your voice out there. Journalism is a very welcoming industry. It’s a passion and you are telling people’s stories and raising awareness for communities that may not feel represented in mainstream media. There are so many different outlets. Journalism isn’t just one path, like many careers. You find your niche; you find what you love. That is what is really great about it – you can write about anything.”
Grace plans to pursue this career after she graduates from WSU.
“I’d love to stay in food and culture reporting,” she said. “With Eater in 25 cities across the U.S., I could see myself working my way up.”
Working toward this goal started in that newsroom at Grosse Pointe South.
“I always knew it was for me,” Grace said. “I never could see myself – even now – doing anything else. I’m so glad I decided to take honors journalism my freshman year.”
Michael Retherford - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1989
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Michael Retherford is what you would call "well-rounded." He has a background in Entertainment Media, holding both a Master's and Bachelor's Degree in Entertainment Business and double Associate degrees in Film and Audio Production.
In 1994, Michael started his professional career leading up to his position as a Department Chair at Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. At the height of his tenure, he was in charge of five different courses, including Post Production, Advanced Post Production, Audio for Film, Production Audio, and Introduction to Editing.
In 2009, Michael's film experience became more comprehensive when Full Sail University partnered with ESPN. Michael served as Production Director for the television introductions to Monday Night Football, College GameDay, College GameDay Live, Daytona 500, NBA Finals, European Soccer, and WWE NXT. Michael also served as Producer for the ESPN National League Lacrosse spots and Post Production Supervisor on a Feature Film called "To Write Love on Her Arms," featuring Kat Dennings from the hit TV show "Two Broke Girls". The film was distributed nationwide through Redbox Productions. Michael also ran camera for Stevie Wonder and Steve Vai when they visited Full Sail Studios to record.
Michael won an Educator of the Year Award in 2006 in Orlando, Florida for his leadership and passion for teaching.
Outside of his role as an educator, Michael is a musician who excels at playing percussion and has recently taken on learning the guitar as an extra hobby.
When asked what his advice is for this year's graduating class, Michael says, "Work hard, and the success will come."
Lauren Nixon - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2008
By Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
During Teacher Appreciation Week, math teacher Lauren Nixon reflected back on her appreciation for her own teachers when she was a student at Grosse Pointe North High School.
Lauren graduated from North in 2008 and returned for the 2013-14 school year when she was hired as a math teacher, replacing longtime teacher Gary Bennett.
Gary, who still coaches for North’s girls’ varsity basketball team, was Lauren’s math teacher her senior year.
“I had a great experience with him,” she said. “What I really appreciated about Gary is that he prepared you not only for honors and AP math, but for college as well.”
Other former teachers still at North when she returned included Kate Murray, her English teacher, now principal; Katy Vernier, her class adviser, now assistant principal; Michelle Davis, her tutorial teacher, now athletic director; social studies teacher Dan Gilleran, the faculty adviser for North’s Diversity Club while Lauren was a member; and math teacher Jessica Roman, the faculty adviser for Willow, a women’s leadership club Lauren also joined.
Counselor Brian White served as Lauren’s counselor since she was a sixth grader at Parcells Middle School; Brian transferred to North just in time to serve as her high school counselor her freshman year.
“It was very gratifying for me to get hired,” Lauren said. “I always had a good relationship with my teachers. I always really appreciated what they did, so it was really cool to come back to the school I went to and get to teach among my old teachers and staff members I always admired and thought of as mentors.”
There were some adjustments, however, transitioning from student to colleague. For example, she remembers running into Andy Montague, her English teacher freshman and senior years.
“I’d see him in the hallway and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Montague, how’re you doing?’ He pulled me aside and said, ‘Lauren, you can call me Andy now.’”
Lauren didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher. She had a passion for architecture – one of her favorite classes at North – and was unsure of her major her freshman year at Michigan State University.
She also had a passion for coaching and being around kids. Growing up in Grosse Pointe Shores, she swam with the GPS Sharks swim team and served as a lifeguard at the Shores swimming pool through high school. When she aged out of swimming with the Sharks, she became a coach.
Lauren swam for four years at North, helping two relay teams qualify for states. She also played four years of lacrosse, serving as captain, and going on to play lacrosse all four years at MSU.
Ultimately Lauren decided to pursue teaching and declared math as her major.
While Lauren always excelled at math, it “is the subject everyone says they’re bad at,” she said “What inspired me was to change the mindset of students, whatever level of math they’re in.”
Lauren graduated from MSU in 2012 and completed her required year of student teaching at Harper Woods Middle School. When that wrapped up in May, she started working as a substitute teacher for the Grosse Pointe Public School System, primarily at North and Parcells. She also worked at North as an assistant coach for the girls’ lacrosse team.
She continued to coach for the lacrosse team after she was hired as a full-time teacher at North, stepping into the head coach role her second year. She hung up the whistle last spring, as the commitment combined with her commute to her home in Plymouth made it challenging to spend time with her family, including her stepdaughters, Leyla, 14, Ellie, 8, and Lennon, 5.
Since returning to North, Lauren says not a day has gone by that she has regretted working there.
She credits much of that to Principal Kate Murray’s leadership.
“Working with Kate as my administrator is really motivating,” she said. “I was a struggling English student and at the time she motivated me and believed I could do well. I got that same feeling when I was hired as a teacher. I feel like she motivates our staff to try stuff. That’s what I appreciate about Kate. We’re not limited. She wants us to explore different ways to teach our students best.”
Her advice to anyone pursuing education is to stick with it.
“You may not find the right school right away, but don’t let that get you discouraged. I truly believe if you find your fit, it will work out,” she said.
She also suggests finding a mentor.
“Teaching is meant to be collaborative. You’re meant to join heads with other people in your building to bounce ideas off. Try to network with other teachers in your building. It doesn’t even have to be someone in your subject area.”
While Lauren enjoys her students’ “lightbulb moments,” the most rewarding times for her are when she shares a connection with a student or sees the students working together to solve a math problem.
“I call my students mathematicians because that’s what they are,” she said. “I think a lot of students come into math saying, ‘I’m not good at math.’ But to anyone who comes in the classroom I say, ‘You’re a mathematician! You’re doing the hard work. Stick with it.’”
PJ Veltri - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2007
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
After attending Our Lady Star of the Sea for grade school, PJ Veltri started at Grosse Pointe North as a freshman in 2003. He remembers being at the freshman orientation in the summer, sitting in the PAC (Performing Arts Center) with his friends when whoever was talking mentioned the PAC staff. Still, it was PJ's first time in a new school, so instead of jumping into performing arts, he decided to run cross country and focus on his studies.
That Christmas, PJ recalls two of his best friends, Eric Jorgenson and Jeff Beattie, talking about the cool thing that they had done the previous day – they got to leave school for the afternoon to work on stage for a Christmas concert at Parcells! That same day PJ went down to the PAC and was whisked away into the theatre.
PJ's friends began to show up less and less as time went on, but he was hooked. At the end of his Sophomore year, the Assistant Technical Director announced that he was leaving for college to pursue a career in stage lighting and had decided that PJ would be the best person to fill his shoes. By the time graduation rolled around. PJ had lit over 100 events and had been the lighting designer for 4 high school musicals, 4 high school plays, 4-6 middle school productions, and countless vocal shows.
Throughout his time at GPPSS, PJ learned so much while working at the PAC. And because he considered himself to be both analytical and mechanically inclined, he decided to attend Michigan State as an Engineering student. At State, he took theatre classes to keep that part of his life alive, but he was all-in on his engineering studies.
That dedication to Engineering didn't last long, though. Soon he would be introduced to Kirk Domer, the head of the Theatre Design Faculty.
When PJ and Kirk met for the first time, Kirk asked him, "I've got two different people telling me that I need to meet you; what do you want from me?"
PJ admitted at that point that he was ready to dip his toes back into theatre. PJ was a full-time theatre student working toward his BFA by the end of that year. In the summer of 2008, PJ took his first "professional" gig working as the head electrician on a show at Williamston Theatre before coming back and working at the PAC.
By the time he graduated from Michigan State, PJ had worked on every show produced from the moment he had dived back into the theatre.
PJ tells us that every theatre artist needs to make a decision upon graduation from college. What are you going to do, where are you going to go? And there are really only 4 answers - New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Grad School. Instead, PJ committed to spending the summer of 2011 back in Grosse Pointe working at the PAC, the place where it all started.
PJ continued working in Grosse Pointe until Dan Vicary retired. During this time, he was the Assistant Technical Director in charge of Stage Lighting and Rigging. He still was able to take jobs professionally outside of the GPPSS, and he worked extensively with IATSE Local 274 in East Lansing. He even worked as an electrician at a small music festival outside Midland.
Once Dan retired, PJ became the Assistant Technical Director and was the head of all Technical Activities under Art Pasha. But he was also still working as many other places as he could to gain as much experience as possible. Most notably, he recalls working on Mitch Albom's "Ernie and Hockey: The Musical" as the video technician for their annual tours.
When Art left the district, PJ was promoted into the position of Technical Director, doing his best to provide the program with the same experiences that he was so lucky to have in his high school years.
The GPPSS Difference
PJ tells us that he was lucky enough to work with a highly talented group of teachers and other staff members in the performing arts across the district. He shares, "Music and arts education offers so much more than what they are explicitly teaching in the classroom. I feel extremely lucky to have worked with each of them when I was a student and now as a collaborator to provide these programs to the students within the GPPS."
Without the guidance of Dan Vicary, and the experience of working alongside Steven Drader, Sam Kitchel, and Art Pasha, PJ feels that he would probably be in a very different place right now.
Asked what his advice would be for this year's graduating class would be, PJ offered this: "Simply this: If you love to do something, do that. It doesn't matter what it is; just make sure you get to do that thing in your life. It doesn't have to be your all-day, everyday thing, but your hobbies are what make you who you are."
Hollis Jane Andrews - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2007
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Fans of the ABC medical drama The Good Doctor might have noticed a new character last week.
The Good Doctor is about a young autistic surgeon with savant syndrome. In the 16th episode of the fifth season, the doctor and his fiancé are headed toward their wedding day and a documentary filmmaker has chosen to follow their lives to showcase relationships and weddings of atypical couples.
Native Grosse Pointe Farms resident Hollis Andrews was cast in the role of filmmaker Sophie, who pitches the documentary while visiting her aunt, a patient at the hospital.
Hollis appears in three episodes of the show, which gave her the opportunity to spend about six weeks on location in Vancouver, where the show is filmed.
The experience was "awesome" and the people "delightful," she said.
“Everyone was very lovely; very Canadian and kind. It was really fun. In all the acting I’ve done before on television, it’s usually a day or two because it’s in one episode of a show. It was really cool to be able to follow through on this and to play a character for so long and have a chance to get to know the cast and crew.”
Hollis was involved in Grosse Pointe South’s show choir all four years of high school. While she did not participate in any of the musicals, she was in Fall Follies and Broadway shows. Her junior year the choir toured Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
After graduating from South in 2007, Hollis attended Albion College, majoring in creative writing and musical theater. Each semester she was cast in either a play or musical.
“I’ve always known I wanted to pursue acting basically since I was a child,” she said. “After Albion, I returned back to Grosse Pointe. It was a typical story – I had a hometown boyfriend."
When she heard there was a casting call for a movie called Oz the Great and Powerful that was being filmed in Pontiac, she decided to audition and was cast as an extra.
While on the set, she reconnected with an old friend who asked what she planned to do next.
“I said I was debating whether I wanted to go to L.A. or New York to make it as an actress,” Hollis said. “She said she was going to L.A. and we should go together. It was as if the universe decided.”
In January of 2012 -- six months after she graduated from Albion -- Hollis moved to Los Angeles. Through connections she made from her experience on Oz the Great and Powerful, she landed a job as a production assistant on the show Entertainment Tonight. She worked there for about six months, then began “standing in” on television shows and movies.
“What happens on a set is when they’re setting up shop for the actors, they’ll bring in people the same height and hair color to go through the scene with the lighting department and camera crew to figure out where the lights and cameras need to be,” Hollis explained. “That’s when the actors go to hair and makeup and talk to the directors.”
Hollis has been standing in for actors for about a decade as her “day job.” About five years ago, she hired a manager, who helps set up auditions.
Pre-pandemic, she would go into the office to meet with a casting director for auditions. Currently, she memorizes her lines, records the scene, sends it to the casting director, and then, "I pray that it works," she said.
Now that her time with The Good Doctor has come to an end, Hollis is back to auditioning for future roles.
“It’s the nature of the beast being in the entertainment industry,” she said. “You do one job and it ends, so you go back to the drawing board and try to get another one.”
For young people interested in pursuing acting as a career, she cautions them “to be comfortable hearing the word ‘no’ because you’re going to hear that way more than ‘yes.’
Acting will “really test you,” she added. “You need to be 100 percent sure that it is what you want to do.”
Her other advice is to “be a good person to everyone you meet because you just never know who might help you in your career.”
For example, it was the head makeup artist for Oz the Great and Powerful who introduced her to her sister, who worked at CBS and helped Hollis secure the PA job on Entertainment Tonight.
“The moral of that is you never know what opportunity or what audition might propel you in your career,” Hollis said. “Keep relationships with everybody and be kind to everybody.”
Tim Herd - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2015
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
A full-time doctoral student at UCLA studying higher education and organizational change, Tim Herd finds time to consult with different organizations on program evaluation and development – and to engage in artistic pursuits at the same time.
For example, he is working with singer and actress Selena Gomez on her new project, Wondermind, an online space that fosters community around mental health. His role is to conduct research projects to assist with the company’s Podcast and weekly newsletter.
Tim initially got interested in consulting while an undergraduate at Michigan State University. He created a mentoring organization called Rising Black Men, which provided a pipeline of support for Black men from the university to the greater Lansing community.
This initiative earned Student Organization of the Year accolades, while also affording Tim different opportunities on campus to pursue his goals. It also set him on his current consulting trajectory.
Tim moved with his family to Grosse Pointe Woods when he was in fifth grade, having previously attended Detroit Public Schools. He went to Monteith Elementary and later Brownell Middle School, where he particularly enjoyed his sixth grade science teacher, Walter Charuba, and seventh grade social studies teacher, Rufus McGaugh, now retired.
Tim recalls Mr. Charuba as being a fun teacher who “would come in and play his guitar.”
Mr. McGaugh impressed students with his travels around the world, sharing photos with his lectures.
While at Grosse Pointe North, Tim’s main interests were “school and sports,” he said. He played basketball and ran track and cross country, serving as captain of the basketball and track teams. An academic standout and member of the National Honor Society, he participated his senior year in North’s Freshman Assist program, serving as a mentor to ninth graders.
“It was a really cool opportunity to work with some younger students,” he said.
This planted a seed for pursuing education as a career. After graduating from North in 2015, Tim attended Michigan State, where he majored in elementary education, then went on to the University of Pennsylvania to earn a master’s degree in higher education.
While Tim is still developing his ideas for his dissertation, his hope is to complete his Ph.D. by June of 2025. From there, he plans to remain in academia as a professor or continue his consulting work for the private sector. He is also interested in continuing his creative pursuits as long as they align with his work and interests.
For example, last quarter he worked as a production assistant to help produce a documentary on the origins of Asian gang culture in Los Angeles. The film is slated to premiere in a few months.
For students graduating today, Tim’s advice is to “find your community. Find your village. And I know it sounds cliché, but be yourself. I know in high school and middle school you’re growing and learning about yourself, but having people who can support you through that process is extremely important.”
Judge Terrence Berg - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1977
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
The Honorable Terrence Berg, Grosse Pointe South Class of 1977, is currently a federal trial court judge in the U.S. District Court in Detroit. Terrence was appointed by President Obama in 2012 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Prior to that assignment, he was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office from 1989 to 1999 and from 2003 to 2012.
Terrence specialized in fraud and computer crime cases and worked in the Michigan Department of Attorney General from 1999 to 2003 for Governor Jennifer Granholm when she was the Michigan Attorney General. Terrence also enjoyed working in Nicaragua as a volunteer with the Catholic Order of Jesuits for one year, from 1981 to 1982.
The GPPSS Impact
When asked what made his experience at Grosse Pointe schools unique, Terrence shares that he learned the importance of friendship, teamwork, and caring about learning. He says, "I was lucky enough to be on The Tower staff when Mr. Robert Button, who just passed away in December, was the moderator," Terrence said. "He cared deeply about journalism and took the Tower and his students very seriously. He was a talented writer and editor and encouraged excellence and integrity in the work product of his students. That experience made me appreciate the importance of a free press. I also valued Ms. Anne Cowley, the debate coach, and English teacher. I learned how to write and argue persuasively in the debate program. I also recall Mr. George Sommerville, who taught a survey course on World History like it was a college seminar. These teachers and others at South kindled in me a love of learning that is still burning today."
When asked what advice he has for today's graduating class, Terrence shared this: "Value your friends by sharing, listening, and being supportive; value yourself by developing a curious mind, a habit of hard work, and a character of integrity."
Ambassador Rick Mills - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1977
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Ambassador Rick Mills is a thirty-three-year member of the U.S. Foreign Service, currently serving as the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.
Before this assignment, Rick had the honor to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, the Charge d'Affaires (Acting Ambassador) at the U.S. Mission to Canada, and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassies in Lebanon and Malta. During his career, he also had assignments as varied as Senior Democracy Advisor at U.S. Embassy Baghdad, the Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at U.S. Embassy London, and the Energy Attache at U.S. Embassy Riyadh. At the U.S. State Department in Washington, Rick served terms as an Executive Assistant to Secretary Madeline Albright, as a political officer on the (then) Soviet Desk, and in the Department's Bureau of Legislative Affairs.
Rick's path to the Foreign Service was a bit circuitous. "But, having an international career and public service were always interests and professional goals, even during my high school years in Grosse Pointe," he says.
Attending Grosse Pointe South gave Rick the grounding and educational confidence he needed to decide to attend Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where he was inspired by his time in the nation's capital. During this time, Rick became further convinced that a career involving international relations was the right choice. At first, he thought a legal career in which he would engage in international work would be the best fit. So Rick went to law school and afterward, in 1984, joined a Washington, D.C.-based legal firm with offices and clients in sub-Saharan Africa. Rick enjoyed practicing law but told us that the international component of that work left him wanting more.
After some internal debate, Rick took the Foreign Service Exam in 1987 -- convinced he would fail and then know he was born to be a lawyer -- but to his surprise, he passed and, in 1988, left the law to join the U.S. State Department. If it didn't work out, he told himself, he could return to the law as a career. But from day one as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), Rick knew this was the path he was meant to take.His first tour was at the U.S. Embassy in Paris (1988-90), where he met his “better half”, his spouse Leigh, who was also an FSO. From there, the two began a wonderful life -- sometimes frustrating and challenging, but always rewarding and deeply engaging. "Representing the country I love, and the values it may sometimes fail to achieve but constantly struggles to achieve, has been a great life," Rick says.
Rick still is surprised at how much of his worldview, approach, and preparation for life were shaped by those four years at GPSHS. Many of his GPS friends continue, 45 years later, to inspire him.
Outside of academics, Rick talks about the "Pointe Players" as pivotal in shaping who he is. He tells us, "The self-confidence that came from being accepted into this group of creative, funny, wickedly talented fellow students meant the world to me. It fueled me -- throughout my life -- to try new things even when not very comfortable about doing so. It also taught me how to navigate and diplomatically manage such a group of people -- a key skill for me in later life!. I learned in a very basic way how to build a team that could work together on a shared goal: whether a fall musical, a spring play, or agreeing on how to fundraise for both. Mr. Bruce Kefgin was the director of Pointe Players during my years as a member, and I will always be grateful for his quiet mentorship and what I learned from him those years."
Thank a Teacher
Rick remembers some of his favorite teachers, including Ms. Carole Rio, fondly. Rick says, "I truly learned how to write -- craft effective texts, edit a draft and make an argument on paper. Many a written cable back to Washington in my career owes its impact to what I learned in Ms. Rio's creative writing class my sophomore year."
He also recalls Dr. Summerville, from whom he learned world history, which triggered his thirst for learning about other places and cultures. Another favorite was Dr. James Kellogg, who taught AP American History and triggered his deep interest in the American story and how he might make a small contribution to it.
Finally, he remembers Mrs. Alma Fleming, who taught AP English, deepening his love of books.
"When I look back, I know how fortunate I was to have attended a high school with such a depth of committed, talented teachers and mentors," Rick says.
Advice for the Class of 2002
When asked what he'd pass on to this year's graduates, Rick says, "Don't underestimate the value of kindness. It is the supreme virtue, and to engage the world with simple kindness will pay you back-- personally, professionally, and in terms of your happiness -- in ways that no other approach to life can do."
Sarah Bellovich - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2019
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
While Sarah Bellovich has a number of favorite teachers throughout her years in the Grosse Pointe Public School System, the one who stands out as an early influence is Rand Swansey, a longtime third-grade teacher at Richard Elementary who retired three years ago.
It was in Mr. Swansey's class that Sarah says she fell in love with writing.
Through her time at Brownell Middle School and Grosse Pointe South High School, Sarah continued to pursue her love of writing, taking creative writing classes at every opportunity.
Outside of the classroom, Sarah ran cross country and track and was involved in student council. She also was a member of the National Honor Society and participated her junior year in Generation of Promise, a youth leadership program that works to advance racial equity in metro Detroit. Sarah and a few classmates were part of a cohort of high school students from across southeast Michigan.
“We were all in it together,” she recalls. “We visited each other’s communities. We talked about each other’s religions, each other’s lives, and what it’s like to go to their high school. It was very helpful to get together with students from other communities from different backgrounds. I learned so much through the program.”
Now a junior at the University of Michigan, Sarah says she continues to cross paths on campus with some of the students she met in the program.
While Sarah chose international studies as her major, she is keeping her love of writing alive through Michigan’s Sweetland Center for Writing. Her favorite writing classes include ethics in writing and a Middle Eastern studies class.
As far as her major is concerned, she particularly enjoys the cross-curricular nature of the international studies department, where she has the opportunity to take art history, comparative literature and psychology classes as part of her studies. Of particular interest was a class on how the study of psychology and mental health varies in different parts of the world.
During a summer internship, she had the opportunity to work in the mental health and behavioral health field and hopes to incorporate these experiences in her future career. For example, after her freshman year, she worked with Northeast Integrated Health, a behavioral health provider in Detroit that provides mental health support to people who may not have access to insurance. She participated as a member of the outreach media development team in grant writing, among other responsibilities.
Last summer, Sarah worked on Congressman Andy Levin’s re-election campaign as part of the Democracy Summer Program. This fellowship teaches high school and college students tactics in voter registration and political organizing, the history of political and social change in our country, and lessons for political leadership.
Sarah, who is also minoring in French, is headed to Paris this coming summer for a political science study abroad program at Sciences Po, France’s leading university in the social sciences.
After graduation, Sarah plans to move to Washington D.C. to work for a senator or representative or pursue a master’s degree in public policy. A member of Kappa Alpha Pi Pre-Law, a co-ed fraternity at U of M, she says law school may be in her future.
Her advice to this year’s college-bound seniors is “to get involved in extracurriculars you really care about. If you’re not enjoying something, don’t worry about continuing it if it’s not something you are passionate about.”
Extracurricular activities offer “an incredible way to find multiple communities within a university and to continue to grow a community after your first year,” she added. “Never stop that. It’s just so worth it to meet as many people as you can and to have as many conversations as you can, because that is the main learning experience of going to college.”
Cheryl Huckins - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1971
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in School Pointes
Cheryl Huckins started at Grosse Pointe North High School in the second graduating class in the school’s history. A strong student, she enjoyed the advanced placement courses she took, in particular English and U.S. history, and graduated as the class salutatorian.
When visiting colleges her junior year, she was drawn to Wellesley College in Massachusetts and received a scholarship to go there.
“It’s just an absolutely beautiful campus,” she said. “That really spoke to me.”
Thanks to those high school AP classes and some coursework she completed at Wayne State University and U of M’s Biological Station in northern Michigan, she was able to graduate in three years.
She went on to attend the University of Michigan Medical School, graduating in 1978. She completed her internship and residency in internal medicine at St. Joseph Hospital in Ann Arbor and remained as a chief resident one extra year before going into private practice in Ann Arbor.
Cheryl relates a “funny story” when she and her partner went to a bank to get a loan to rent office space to open their practice.
“The banker told us he would never go to two women doctors, but he ended up being a patient of my partner’s,” she said.
The practice grew from there, and in the 1990s they sold it to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Cheryl then became the medical director of St. Joseph Mercy Medicine, an employee physician group.
Cheryl met her husband while they were both at U of M. She was in her first year of medical school and “he fell in love with my roommate, who was a nurse,” she recalls. “She graduated and left, and didn’t have any special feelings for him. He would come and lament after she moved out and then we started dating.”
The couple lives in Plymouth, where they raised three children, now grown. Her daughter, a teacher, lives in Plymouth. Her two sons -- one a rocket scientist with Lockheed Martin and the other an attorney -- live in San Francisco. They have a total of six grandchildren.
Cheryl retired in September of 2020, but still serves as the medical director of Evangelical Homes Saline, devoting about 20 hours a month to quality work for the nursing home. In spite of the increased pressures caused by the pandemic, Cheryl says she has found the work fulfilling, in particular the focus on improving's the quality of people’s lives. Starting in October, she will serve as president of the Michigan Medical Directors Association, a society committed to post-acute and long-term care medicine.
One of the most impactful experiences Cheryl recalls in her career was providing medical relief in Sri Lanka after the tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004.
“In medicine, you kind of get a routine in your work, which is very fulfilling,” Cheryl said. “You’re taking care of people day to day in your office practice or your hospital practice.”
However, when the call came to break out of that routine to serve a severe need, she accepted the call.
“Medical people everywhere will tell you it’s a life-changing experience to see people live and survive in situations most of us would find unlivable,” she said. “You realize that even the little you give to them, even if it is just treating a sinus problem, it is so appreciated. They are so respectful and show their appreciation and how much it meant to them.”
While in Sri Lanka, she helped with the operational plan for an elder care center, returning four times to assist with putting the operational policies in place, hiring and training.
The experience inspired her to do more relief work and she signed up for Hope Clinic, a pediatric care unit in Nicaragua. She also went to Pakistan with a group of doctors to help people impacted by flooding and to Haiti after the earthquake.
“It was exhausting work, but it also gave you a good feeling about what you were doing, which was to try and help people,” she said. She also noted how so often she “got so much more from the experience than what I gave them.”
Cheryl’s advice to young people who want to pursue medicine is to figure out a work-life balance.
“Medicine can take over your whole life, but I think you’re a better doctor if you do have activities, family outside of the field, and you’re able to enhance your provision of medical care when you have life experiences outside of medicine," she said.
“I would recommend to a young person to not be afraid," she added. "Be cautiously courageous in trying something new. I didn’t know where Sri Lanka was when that opportunity came up and it was very unknown what the circumstances were going to be like. Yet the experience turned out to be one of the best things I will ever have done in terms of working with people. But you have to open yourself up to be challenged and take some risks that are not crazy risks, but that take you out of your comfort zone.”
Chad Hepner - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1993
The Hepner family, from left, Logan, Kimberly, Chad, Brooke and Wyatt.
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in School Pointes
Chad Hepner was named state champion in diving in 1993, the year he graduated from Grosse Pointe South High School.
Nearly three decades later, his son Logan, a junior at Grosse Pointe South, earned the same title in 2022.
A love of sports runs in the Hepner family, with Chad following his own father’s career path as a player and coach. Russ Hepner, a physical education teacher at South, served as head football coach from 1968 to 1986. While he retired from coaching before Chad joined the football program, he was assistant coach under head football coach John Rice, a close family friend and godfather to Chad.
Chad enjoyed a successful football career with the Blue Devils as the first South football running back to rush for over 1,000 yards, among other accomplishments. But it was diving that the state champion and two-time All-American pursued at Michigan State University, where he majored in kinesiology in the School of Education, with a minor in history.
After graduating from MSU and completing his student teaching, Chad spent a year at Kenyon College as the strength coach for the athletic program and the diving coach. In 2000, he was hired as a P.E. teacher at Grosse Pointe South — replacing his father, who was retiring.
“I was happy to come back to Grosse Pointe,” Chad said. “I knew it was a great school system and a great community. I didn’t necessarily plan on coming back here to make it my home, but it worked out and I knew what a great opportunity it was.”
While at MSU, Chad met his wife, Kimberly, a fellow diver. The couple got married in 2002 and currently live in Grosse Pointe Park with their three children, Logan, 17, Wyatt, 15, and Brooke, 13.
Their children are carrying on their parents’ affinity for sports. In addition to Logan’s success as a diver, Wyatt, a freshman, was the only wrestler at the school to qualify for the state championship and finished seventh in the state, earning all-state accolades. Brooke, a seventh grader at Pierce, plays for a high-level travel soccer team and for her school volleyball and basketball teams.
Logan also distinguished himself outside the athletic arena, as one of two South students — and representing 1 percent of 260,000 submissions nationwide — to win a National Scholastic Art Gold Medal in metals.
“That’s an area I don’t know anything about,” Chad confessed about his oldest son’s achievement. “He loves metal working. He started that when he was a freshman. He loves (art teacher) Mr. Szmrecsanyi.”
While Chad began his teaching career at South in the physical education department, the program was cut back his third year and for about 10 years he taught history. For the past six or so years, he has enjoyed a split schedule where he teaches history in the morning and physical education the rest of the day.
On the coaching side, he spent a decade as the boys’ diving coach and started coaching football in 2001. He began as a varsity assistant, then was head JV coach for a few years, stepping in as the interim head coach following the death of the head coach. He continued coaching when Tim Brandon took over as head coach and has served as the varsity defensive coach since 2011. In 2014, he was named the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
Named head football after Tim Brandon retired, Chad is optimistic about the coming season, especially with the quarterback, running back and some strong offensive linemen returning. At the same time, the team lost some strong players, including nine starters on defense and Will Johnson, who was widely ranked as the No. 1 cornerback in the country.
“We have some work to do, but I’m optimistic because we have some great guys coming back,” Chad said.
In his new role, he hopes to inspire young men the way his head coach, John Rice, inspired him while he was a player.
For young people who are pursuing teaching and coaching as a career, Chad says, “It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding. For me, I know the impact that sports and the coaches had on me growing up. Hopefully this is a chance to have that kind of an impact on kids today.”
Lorelle (Pflaum) Meadows - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1979
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
After graduating from Grosse Pointe North in 1979, Lorelle (Pflaum) Meadows went on to study at the University of Michigan. She received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Oceanic Science from the College of Engineering in 1983, 1985, and 2002 respectively.
During that time, Lorelle married Guy Meadows, gained a stepdaughter Anastasia (Meadows) McIntosh, and had another daughter, Caitlin Meadows. The family lived in Ann Arbor, Dexter, and finally settled in Pinckney, Michigan, where they lived on a farm raising horses.
In 1987, Lorelle joined the University of Michigan, where her primary area of research focused on natural and anthropogenic influences on marine coastal processes. Her focus was on High Frequency Radar remote sensing of surface currents in the world's oceans and Great Lakes. She conducted research, taught in the first-year engineering program, and grew to become Assistant Dean of Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at UofM.
Lorelle's primary responsibility in the role of Assistant Dean was to assure the delivery of a curriculum that addressed college-wide educational objectives to prepare students for the careers of the 21st century. She led the design, planning, implementation, and assessment of the College of Engineering's first-year program. She also undertook targeted curriculum development projects in service-learning, ethics education, and sustainable engineering. This engagement led to her development as an educational researcher. She now also conducts interdisciplinary research at the intersection of social psychology and engineering education, emphasizing the influence of gender bias in engineering student teams.
In 2014, Lorelle joined Michigan Technological University as Dean of the Pavlis Honors College. In this role, she led the creation of a new honors college uniquely committed to inclusion and equity and eliminating barriers to high-impact educational practices for all students. Because of the success of the college and its innovative curriculum, in 2019, Lorelle was asked by the university's president to lead the "Education of the 21st Century" task force in developing the next generation education for students at Michigan Tech. This task force has become a driving force on campus, leading to exciting changes in the curriculum that uniquely address the developing needs of our changing society.
Currently, Lorelle is semi-retired, living in the UP, and enjoying completing her last few research projects while giving back to her community through volunteer activities.
The GPPSS Difference
Three fundamental lessons come to mind from Lorelle's time in GPPSS.
First, she tells us that she learned that curiosity and learning are deeply linked. Lorelle says, "I had the wonderful experience in third grade of having the opportunity to go to the library each week and select a project to work on – my own project, whatever I wanted – and learn about that topic to make some sort of project out of my learning. This was an incredible gift and instilled in me how fulfilling it is to pursue knowledge on a topic of deep interest out of curiosity."
Second, in High School, Lorelle was taught the importance of taking responsibility for her actions. As a senior, she attended an unsanctioned senior event in the parking lot. As she recalls, it was one hour during one day when they had a giant food fight in the parking lot (she recalls it involving mustard, shaving cream, and flour, but might be a little off on that). In any case, the math teacher called everyone involved up to the front of the room the next day to ask for their excuse for being absent. He gave them each an "F" for the day (which turned out to be more symbolic than influential on their grades). Lorelle was devastated and embarrassed, but in the long run, it taught her that when you decide to do something, you have to own it, take responsibility for it, and accept any consequences.
Finally, having come through the school system in the 60s and 70s, a lot of what Lorelle learned centered around her interest in breaking social molds. "I wanted to take shop class and play baseball. I wanted to work in the summer on the grounds crew for the schools. Although, as a girl, I wasn't allowed to do any of these things, what I learned was that to make a change, you needed to be an advocate for that change - to stand up to the systems that are in place that hold people back from reaching their goals and potential, and, that even if you fail at gaining traction for yourself, you are still setting stepping stones in place for others," she says.
After leaving Grosse Pointe, Lorelle realized the incredible privilege she had in attending such an excellent school - and how that privilege provided her with a fantastic set of opportunities that are not available to everybody. She encourages students today to look for those times in their lives when they are given a privilege and learn how to use the power that comes with it to support others.
Andy Miele - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2006
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in School Pointes
Until he put on the Team U.S. hockey jersey, Andy Miele couldn’t believe he would be representing his country in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“When you’re a kid, you think everyone gets the chance to play in the NHL and the Olympics and live out the dream,” Andy said. “And then reality hits and you realize that’s not really how it happens. So when the opportunity comes, it becomes surreal.”
Ironically, he hated hockey when he first started playing. His parents would force him to get ready to go to the rink, and each time he put up a fight. Then one day, something clicked. His skating and stick handling skills had developed and he felt comfortable on the ice. From then on, he loved the sport and he hasn’t stopped playing since.
His hockey career includes a year on Grosse Pointe North’s varsity team his freshman year, followed by a year of junior hockey with the USHL, four years of college hockey at Miami University in Ohio, and 10 years in the American Hockey League, where he made a few appearances in the NHL for the Arizona Coyotes.
Andy’s love for hockey has taken him around the world, including to Sweden and Russia, where he was playing in the KHL for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod when he got the call informing him he had been selected for the U.S. men’s team.
Not only did Andy participate in the Olympics, he led Team USA as captain to a great start, with wins over China, Canada and Germany in the preliminary round, earning the top overall seed for the elimination bracket.
“The coaching staff and the management did a really great job of finding the guys and doing their research on the players,” Andy said. “We tried to get to know each other and just have fun. It was a good mixture of young guys and old guys. We gelled really quickly, which was evident when we ended up being the number one seed in the quarterfinals.”
While ultimately the U.S. lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals in a shootout, Andy was pleased the team performed better than expected. Highlights from the experience include wearing the “C” on his jersey, participating in the closing ceremonies — he had to sit out the opening ceremonies due to a false positive COVID test — and having the opportunity to display the memorial American flag honoring his grandfather, a U.S. Navy veteran who passed away last summer, in the locker room where it served as the team flag.
“The whole experience was so awesome. It’s so hard to pick,” Andy said when asked his favorite moments about the experience.
Andy ended up not returning to Russia after the Olympics due to the turmoil in the country following the invasion of Ukraine. He was picked up by the Lausanne Hockey Club team in Switzerland, where he is finishing out the season. Fortunately, he was able to get back to Switzerland to his wife, Hilary, and daughter, Bonnie Louise, within three days of the birth of his second daughter, Margo Grace, on Feb. 24.
After playoffs with the Lausanne Hockey Club, next up for the free agent is returning to Charleston, South Carolina.
“I’m not signed anywhere yet so I’m still trying to figure that out,” Andy said. “I think I will relax a little bit.”
Arthur Bradley Eisenbrey III, MD, Ph.D. - Grosse Pointe High, Class of 1968
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Dr. Arthur Bradley Eisenbrey III, a 1968 graduate of "The High," is currently retired from active clinical practice as a pathologist and from the military. As a military physician, Dr. Eisenbrey served as a Flight Surgeon and was deployed across the United States, Honduras, Ecuador, Japan, Korea, and the Middle East. Dr. Eisenbrey also served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and retired at the rank of Colonel. His final military position was State Air Surgeon for the Michigan National Guard.
As a Clinical Associate Professor of Pathology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr. Eisenbrey continues to volunteer as teaching faculty for M1 and M2 students (WSU SOM) and Pathology students and Residents (UToledo).
Dr. Eisenbrey and his wife, Louise, have been married for 46 years and are proud parents and grandparents. He shares that their professional careers have been rewarded by world travels, and he expressed deep gratitude for Louise. "She allowed me to be a licensed pilot, one-time airplane owner, certified scuba diver, and current sailboat owner. Louise, thank you for letting me be your husband."
Dr. Eisenbrey has always felt a call to social justice work. He says that "witnessing the protests against Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., 14 March 1968, listening to his speech in the packed gymnatorium solidified my commitment to social action and standing by my principles, even when they are unpopular ('speaking truth to power'). "
He goes on to say, "Integrity has its consequences, which in the extreme included Dr. King's martyrdom. Protecting one's integrity may require stepping away from a desirable position, resigning from a job/leadership position, or stepping in when a colleague is mistreated. Being outspoken and sticking to my principles at "the High" was good preparation for my career as a scientist, physician, and military officer."
The GPPSS Impact
Dr. Eisenbrey recalls teachers Gail Grillo and Suzanne Boivin sharing their love for the Humanities, particularly literature, which he's carried throughout his life. In particular, he remembers how Mrs. Grillo made literature relevant to current events. He shares, "My comfort as an author was seeded in the Humanities and History classes at the High School. Tom Gauerke showed me that serving on the sidelines for the football and track teams was of value, and I have honored that service commitment throughout my professional career. Thank you, Gail, Suzanne, and Tom."
When asked what advice he has for this year's graduating class, Dr. Eisenbrey shared succinctly, "Don't sacrifice your integrity for popularity."
RJ Ronquillo - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1994
Photo courtesy of Jon Roncolato
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
RJ Ronquillo grew up in a musical household. His father played piano, guitar, saxophone and drums, and instruments were readily available at their home. At around age 6, RJ took piano lessons along with his older sister. When he was 8 or 9, he learned drums.
“I finally picked up the guitar when I was 9 or 10 years old,” he said. “It kind of stuck.”
His first guitar hero was Marty McFly from the 1985 movie Back to the Future. RJ says he was inspired by his performance at the end of the movie of “Johnny Be Good.”
“That was the first real song I ever played,” he said.
RJ attended the Grosse Pointe Academy from preschool through eighth grade, forming his first band with friends. His freshman year at Grosse Pointe South High School, his first hour class was jazz improvisation. While he never imagined this “would have been a music class in any school setting at the time,” he found it inspiring, as it allowed him to jam with other students.
He met a lot of fellow musicians that year who have remained his friends to this day.
From there, his musical interests expanded into his out-of-school life, from private guitar lessons to playing with his band of friends, to learning on his own.
After graduating from Grosse Pointe South in 1994, RJ attended the University of Miami in Florida, entering as a music engineering major, but switched to studio music and jazz once he realized his heart was more into performance and playing music.
After graduating, he remained in the Miami area for a while, playing in cover bands at weddings and clubs and working his way up to touring and recording. He has worked for nearly two decades as a professional musician.
RJ’s first touring gig was with a reggae band called Inner Circle, known for a theme song on a popular TV show and a few other hits in the 1990s. RJ toured with them for a few years and then other opportunities fell into place. He learned in college that touring and recording opportunities were more readily available for versatile musicians, so he learned all types of popular music, including rock, country, Latin, reggae and R&B — “pretty much everything except classical music,” he explained.
While RJ still goes on the road occasionally to perform when the right opportunity comes up, he mainly quit touring in 2018, opting instead to create music in his in-home studio. He and his wife, Kristina — who met through musical ties while RJ was playing in a rock band in Los Angeles — settled in Nashville with their two dogs, Jolene and Charo, in 2015.
“I’ve kind of transitioned from being a touring guy to staying home and making content for different guitar companies and accessory companies and making YouTube videos for them,” he said. “It’s a perfect match being able to stay home, work in my home studio, and basically play guitar every day, which was the end goal.”
For young people seeking the path of a professional musician, he stresses the importance of networking.
“The landscape of the music industry has changed drastically since I got into the game so it’s hard for me to say what works now,” RJ said, “but I think ultimately the advice I always give to people is to meet as many other people as possible because you never know down the road, they could turn into a producer or an artist or a musical director. They might end up calling you or recommending you. Meet as many people as possible and become friends with them and make as many contacts as you can. That’s how it worked for me. My name got passed around and I started getting phone calls and recommendations. Nowadays it might be a little different, but it might be easier because of social media. YouTube and Instagram are ways to get heard.
“Just getting in front of people is the big thing,” he added.
Find RJ on YouTube and on Instagram @rj_ronquillo.
Akhil Shreeraj Mankad - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2021
Akhil Shreeraj Mankad, Grosse Pointe North class of 2021, is currently pursuing his degree in Mechanical Engineering while serving in the military. He is enlisted with the United States Army Reserves, where he attended both Basic Training as well as Advanced Individual Training and graduated with a score of 99.9%.
So how did he get here? He tells us that his journey could not have been possible without the grace of the divine, which he calls God.
Akhil started in the Grosse Pointe Public Schools in the 9th grade. During that year’s club fair, he was introduced to the Gearheads, the combined robotics team North and South. There is where Akhil says he grew up. He shares that he had mentors who took him in as if he were their own son and taught him about robotics and engineering – but also about life.
Akhil pursued other clubs as well, such as the Poetry Club, the Diversity Club, KNOTS (a peer-to-peer support program for students with special needs), and NHS (National Honors Society). He says, “I am where I am because of their guidance and mentorship. All of my successes can be boiled down to the grace of God and the mentorship of people like Mrs. Kuhl, Mr. Huskin, Mr. Wolfson, Mr. and Mrs. Muccioli, Dr. Santrock, Mr. Rigotti; and so many others.”
Akhil tells us he received a “more than adequate education” during his time at GPN, but that the most meaningful lessons he learned were the life lessons taught by his teachers and mentors on the Gearheads. He was taught how to be compassionate and caring, understanding, how to lead, how to win, and, more importantly, how to lose.
“I’ll be eternally grateful for the school system for providing me with opportunities to grow as a person more than just an academic student. And I probably have learned so much more that I can’t put into words,” Akhil says.
“I would like to thank all of the staff, but more importantly Mr. Kosmas, Ms. Sandoval, Ms. Doss, Mrs. Kuhl, Mr. Skowronski, Mr. Smith, all the teachers involved in the Special Ed program, Mr. Wolfson, Mr. Washburn. These are just the very few that come to mind.”
When asked what advice he has for this year’s graduating class, Akhil says, “Don’t focus only on your GPA, live life, and don’t let it pass by.”
Dr. Shannon D. Simonovich Ph.D, RN - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2005
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Dr. Shannon (Petz) Simonovich graduated from Grosse Pointe South in 2005. After graduation, she attended Loyola University Chicago for her undergraduate degree in Nursing, and then the University of Washington, Seattle, for her Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Nursing.
Today Dr. Simonovich is faculty at DePaul University's School of Nursing in Chicago, Illinois, where her research program focuses on addressing perinatal mental health in at-risk and marginalized childbearing populations.
Her organization, The Maternal Child Health Initiative (www.mchi.org), builds interdisciplinary collaborations with social work, epidemiology, public health, and medicine to improve perinatal population health outcomes. She recently presented her team's study of depression during pregnancy and adverse birth outcomes with Health Affairs. She served as a perinatal mental health expert for national health policy initiatives. Dr. Simonovich is also a member of the American Public Health Association's Public Health Nursing leadership team. She is passionate about improving health outcomes for all childbearing families in America and around the world.
The GPPSS Impact
Dr. Simonovich shares that her experiences in the Grosse Pointe Public School System were pivotal in her development. "I credit the magnet program led by Linda Brock at Kerby Elementary, as well as key mentors at Pierce Middle School and Grosse Pointe South, with my success as an adult. Relationships with teachers who believe in you and nurture your curiosities as a child are truly invaluable," she says.
Asked what advice she has for this year's graduating class, Dr. Simonovich says, "Find a passion you can invest in and a mentor that encourages your growth. Focus on what you love rather than trying to do everything all at once. Don't overwork yourself!"
Scarlett Constand - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2016
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Scarlett C. Constand, a graduate of Grosse Pointe South Class of 2016, has a tall order in her advice to this year's graduating class: "Don't sell yourself short. Don't view your worth as entirely based on how you perform academically. View your worth based on how you treat yourself and how you treat others."
At just 23 years old, Scarlett is acutely aware of the importance of social-emotional learning and support, something that the Grosse Pointe School System takes very seriously today. While Scarlett had good grades in high school, even making the Honor Roll her junior year, she struggled in different areas. But because Scarlett was getting good grades and never had any discipline issues, she sort of “flew under the radar.” In reality, however, she was struggling socially. At the time, nobody noticed, except for her parents.
Scarlett recalls feeling like an outsider, for the most part, at South. She always found solace in the choir room and being surrounded by fellow choir members. The choir program saved her, she feels, from slipping into an even darker place. She credits Former GPS Choir Director Christopher Pratt with subtly giving her the courage to be herself and be confident when standing alone, both physically and emotionally.
Mr. Pratt's first year at South was also Scarlett's first year at the school, so in that way, she feels like they grew together. She wants him to know how wonderful, kind, and supportive he was to her, and so many others. "He advocated for his students each and every time we as a group, we as individuals, or we as an organization faced adversity. He never faltered. He made me feel like I was in a safe space to be my authentic self, and I will forever be grateful to him", Scarlett says.
After High School, when she arrived at Denison University, the pace of study and life hit her like a bus. She thought that if she didn't belong at South, she would also struggle to find her place at the University. But, she did inf act find her place at Denison, with the a cappella group, DUwop (of which she was proudly elected President in her senior year).
Between social, academic, and personal struggles, as well as the pandemic, it took Scarlett 5.5 years to graduate, but she says that is okay with her. She did it, and that is what matters! Right now, she is searching for editing/copyediting entry-level work. Ideally, Scarlett would like to work in a publishing house or newspaper outlet.
Scarlett currently works at BOLD Flow Yoga in the Village, and also at A1 Performance & Fitness. Both spaces are, according to Scarlett, the best working environments in GP, and are genuinely good, welcoming places that encourage the growth of community and self.
Thank you, Scarlett, for sharing your story with us. Sometimes it isn't academic achievement or an impressive career that makes one an "alumni of distinction" - sometimes, it's the willingness to share your story to help pave the way for others to have a better experience than you did.
John Guleserian - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1994
John Guleserian on the set of Happiest Season, a 2020 holiday rom-com starring Kristen Stewart.
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
John Guleserian spent a good part of his childhood in movie theaters. His favorite haunts were a theater within walking distance of his house in Grosse Pointe Park on Jefferson in Detroit called The Esquire, the Woods Theater on Mack Avenue, and The Beacon East near Eastland Mall.
He also frequently rented movies from a video rental store in The Village.
John still loves movies — with a particular bent for horror — but today he is able to share his passion as a cinematographer for major film studios. He has served as director of photography on multiple box office hits, including About Time, Love, Simon, Happiest Season, He’s All That, and the 2021 horror film, Candy Man. His TV credits include Love Vampires, Casual, Transparent and Friends from College.
John’s big break came after Like Crazy, a low-budget film he shot with a small, hand-held camera, premiered in January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize. The movie caught the attention of Richard Curtis, writer and director of About Time, starring Rachel McAdams, Margot Roby, and Bill Nighy. Curtis invited him to London to see if the two could work together.
“About Time is a really special one for me because it was the first studio movie that I did,” John said. “It was surprising to me that something I had done had made it to London and someone had seen it and they liked it and they called me.”
John flew across the Atlantic, he and Curtis discussed locations, and the next thing John knew, he was “in London for six months making this movie with all these wonderful actors and great artists working on it. I thought I was going to get fired every single day, thinking, ‘They’re going to find out I’ve never made a real movie before!’ It was a really special experience for me and it certainly helped my career progress to the next level where I was then trusted by studios to make movies.”
John, whose family moved from Novi to Grosse Pointe when he was in third grade, attended Maire Elementary, Pierce Middle School and Grosse Pointe South, graduating in 1994. He majored in film at Columbia College in Chicago and received a M.F.A. in cinematography at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
His biggest influence while in high school was Julie Corbett, who served as the head of the TV production department and was instrumental in bringing the program to the school.
“Dr. Corbett was someone who believed in me,” John said. “She saw that this was something that I was really interested in and supported me, and let me know this was something I could actually do with my life.”
For students today interested in pursuing cinematography, John says there are several avenues they can take, but what matters “more than anything is being passionate about it.”
One route is the one John took himself: attending film school. However, even after 10 or so years, he cautions students it “takes a while to form those relationships and get those opportunities.”
Another option is joining a union and working one’s way up the ladder.
Still another is making a movie and getting it seen, John said.
“It really depends on who you are as a person. More than anything, it’s about being passionate about telling stories and knowing how to collaborate with people.
"Just doing it is the best way to do it,” he concluded. “I always tell film students that my advice is if you want to be a cinematographer, start saying you’re a cinematographer. An 18-year-old kid could be competing with me for a job. You don’t need any special qualifications. I may have some experience now, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to do it the right way.”
John recently returned from filming his latest movie in Ireland. Yet to be released, the horror/comedy/action film was directed by Elizabeth Banks and is based on a true story.
Before embarking on his next project, he is enjoying time at home in Glendale outside L.A. with his wife, Theresa, and 10-month-old son, Wynton. Theresa Guleserian is a production designer and the two, who met in film school, have collaborated on several movies including Happiest Season and Overnight, and a TV series called Friends from College.
While John’s parents still live in Grosse Pointe Park, they mostly visit him in L.A. and he returns to the Detroit area less now that he is no longer filming movies there — something he enjoyed when there were tax incentives in Michigan. However, he hopes to return in the near future.
“It was a great place to shoot a movie,” he said. “In Detroit, you can get that city feeling and that suburban feeling and everything in between.”
Catherine Santrock - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2009
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
After graduating from Grosse Pointe North in 2009, Catherine Santrock went on to earn her BA in Classics from Wayne State University, with the thought that she would like to work in a museum one day.
After graduating, she decided to take a break before pursuing a Master's Degree and ended up working at a tech start-up doing email marketing and communications for a few years. During this time, Catherine amended her initial ambition of working in museums to something more general-- food marketing. From there, she went to Boston University to earn her MLA in Gastronomy with a concentration in communications.
After working at a marketing agency for a couple of years doing digital marketing for restaurant and hospitality clients, Catherine made the industry switch back to her original dream of Museum work. Today she works in digital marketing at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA.
Curiosity is Key
When asked what GPPSS offered that prepared her for real life, Catherine answered "curiosity."
"I was involved in a breadth of activities during my time in Grosse Pointe Schools. From playing the cello at Monteith Elementary, participating in plays and musicals at North, swimming as a member of the Blue Dolphins (GPN and GPS combined Synchronized Swimming team), to volunteering with Mrs. Murray's freshman assist class my senior year of high school.
I took astronomy, anthropology, Italian, and more - all of which contributed to my tremendous love of learning and discovery. That is part of the reason I find so much value in working at the Museum of Science; being a part of bringing that same joy of curiosity to the community every single day is very rewarding."
Catherine also said that participating in choir and the plays and musicals at North helped her come out of her introverted shell. She says, "Mrs. Scott (Choir Director) was very impactful in that regard."
As for advice for this year's graduating class? Catherine had this offer: "Don't be afraid to explore as many different opportunities as you can. Grosse Pointe Schools are great in that regard; there are so many choices, both in terms of different classes offered and extracurricular activities you can be a part of."
Catherine took that spirit of exploration with her to her post-graduate studies. She worked several evenings a week at a wine bar in Boston and received a level 1 wine certification. "If I weren't happy working at a museum, I would probably work in the wine industry. I also took a cheese certification course at Boston University - because what could possibly be better to pair with a wine certification?"
We agree, Catherine.
Andy Hill - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2000
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Who is the local expert on love, marriage… and money? If there is an expert in our midst, it would be Andy Hill, Grosse Pointe South Class of 2000.
Andy is the host of an award-winning podcast called "Marriage Kids and Money," a show dedicated to helping young families build wealth and happiness.
After 15 years of working in corporate event marketing, Andy decided to pursue a more creative endeavor. His podcast started off as a hobby outside of work and young parenthood - and then, over the years, it turned into a side hustle to make some extra cash. Today, it's Andy's full-time job.
The best part, Andy says, is that he's able to create fun content and genuinely help people each day.
Before both the podcast and his career in event marketing, Andy attended Michigan State University for his undergraduate degree in Communications, focusing on Media & Telecommunications. Upon graduation, he went on to earn his MBA attending night school at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
The GPPSS Impact
Looking back on his time at GPPSS, Andy says one of my favorite classes was TV Production with Mr. Geresy. "With all the resources available to us, and Mr. Geresy's willingness to let us explore our creativity, I was able to create music videos, football highlight reels, and movies," says Andy.
TV Production class with Mr. Geresy opened up Andy's eyes to the joy of content creation. He says he was already interested in the field. Still, the TV Production studio resources and Mr. Geresy's willingness to let his class explore gave Andy a new lease on his interest.
From his own experience, Andy knows it's essential to learn a variety of subjects and interests. His advice to this year's graduating class to is "have a 'try it all' mentality when you're young. Then when you find something you really enjoy, dive deeper. You CAN create a career or a business that doesn't feel like work. Your work can be fun every day."
Next to being a podcaster, Andy has the best job in the world- as husband and father to two kids (ages 9 and 7).
Daniel SantaLucia - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2012
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
A year ago, Daniel SantaLucia never imagined he would move to a different country a continent away to pursue the next stage of his career.
“It just wasn’t on my radar,” Dan said.
Then he received an email from his adviser in his Ph.D. program at University of Wisconsin-Madison informing him about a postdoctoral position at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion located in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.
The email was from Dr. Serena DeBeer, a professor and director at the institute — and a name Dan recognized as an expert in the field of inorganic spectroscopy. The position would give him the opportunity to work under the mentorship of a staff scientist who, according to German requirements, was slated to retire.
Dan knew if he didn’t apply, he would never forgive himself. He sent Dr. DeBeer an email with his curriculum vitae and some of his research publications. After an interview, he was hired.
Dan moved to Germany in August and began work on Sept. 1, 2021. His post-doctoral study position is funded by the Max Blanck Society, world renowned as a leading science and technology research organization, with 37 Nobel Prizes awarded to their scientists. The hope is that the two to three-year post-doctoral study position will lead to a permanent staff scientist position at the institute.
Dan began his education in the Grosse Pointe Public School System. Until his family moved from Harper Woods to Grosse Pointe Woods, he attended Poupard Elementary School, then spent fourth and fifth grade at Ferry Elementary School. He went on from there to Parcells Middle School.
As a freshman at Grosse Pointe North, he was first interested in engineering — “mainly because I didn’t understand what engineering entailed,” he said. He fell in love with physics and chemistry his junior year when he took honors classes in both subjects, followed by advanced placement courses. He took AP Chemistry with Steve Kosmas, who retired last year, and physics with Don Pata. He has good memories of cardboard boat races in Mr. Pata’s physics class, even though at the time he found it stressful.
The class he found most challenging, however, was AP Language and Composition. His teacher was Kate Murray, now North’s principal, whom he describes as “tough but fair.”
“It really pushed me to my limit,” Dan said, “but I really value that course because it definitely pushed me to be a better writer, and ultimately that had a positive impact on being a good scientist. You have to be able to communicate your results effectively.”
As his first advanced placement class, it also served as “a wake-up call to what a college course would be,” he added.
For college, Dan made a difficult choice between the University of Michigan and Hope College, ultimately deciding the small liberal arts environment would be good for him. He also chose Hope because of its strong chemistry program.
After graduating from Hope in 2016, he spent the next five years pursuing a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also served as a graduate student research assistant.
“It’s an absolutely perfect place to live for a young 20-something starting their career,” Dan said. “The town is really charming. I personally enjoy water sports, canoeing and things, and there are lots of lakes and rivers. It was an absolutely perfect place to do my five years in graduate school.”
Moving to Mulheim was an adjustment, but Dan has enjoyed some of the lifestyle changes, which include the ability to walk or take public transportation everywhere and, for the first time in his adult life, not depend on owning a car. Among challenges has been meeting new people, especially during the pandemic, and learning the language. Three years of German at North with Madeline Salonen, now retired, and a semester in college provided some preparation, but after nearly a half year, Dan is still managing basic conversation with German people.
The best advice Dan says he can offer future North graduates interested in pursuing science as a career is to try to build resilience.
“Science is, oftentimes, very difficult and most of the time things that you try don't work,” he said. “You have to become very comfortable with failing or being wrong; in fact, this is basically an everyday occurrence, if not multiple times per day. You have to just keep pushing until, finally, something works. If you can overcome these types of challenges, then it is an extremely rewarding feeling to push collective human knowledge forward; it's addicting.”
The other advice he has “is to be open minded and objective: embrace being a scientist. For me, sometimes I measure spectra for compounds, and the data just doesn't make any sense. Sometimes there is something wrong with the instrument or the sample you're measuring. But sometimes, you've ruled out any issues with the spectrometer or your sample, and you're just left with data that tells you something that doesn't make sense to you. It's in these moments that you have to be willing to be imaginative, because this is when something you thought was true about the system you're measuring in fact wasn't. Often, when you find out you're wrong, it leads to very exciting — and potentially groundbreaking — discoveries. If you're dogmatic about what you think is true, adamant that the data must be wrong, then you're going to miss important insights.”
P.J. Palen - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2003
P.J. Palen, pictured with his wife, Jennifer, served as Grand Marshall in Grosse Pointe South’s homecoming parade.
by Mary Anne Brush, Fully Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Grosse Pointe South social studies teacher P.J. Palen has been in every building in the district and says he feels at home in all of them.
In addition to attending Kerby Elementary, Brownell Middle School and Grosse Pointe South, where he graduated in 2003, he has taught sixth and eighth grade social studies at Parcells and Pierce. He also worked as a substitute custodian throughout the district as a summer job when he was in college.
P.J. says he had “about as local an education as you can get.” After graduating from South, he attended the University of Michigan, majoring in history. He received a master’s degree in the art of teaching from Wayne State University in 2011.
Before returning to school for his M.A.T. degree, P.J. admits he was “kind of clueless” about his career prospects with a history degree. His first job out of college was at Quicken Loans. While he learned a lot through the training and sold a few mortgages, he realized the field was not a good fit. After less than a year, he quit and accepted a five-day substitute teaching job in a kindergarten classroom at Kerby.
Substitute teaching allowed him to pursue his M.A.T. at night. In 2012, he was offered a full-time position in the district. Teaching middle school social studies “has been fantastic for the trajectory of my career,” he said, as learning where middle school students are in their development gave him a lot of perspective to go on to teach high school students.
While at South, P.J. has taught the gamut, including government, advanced placement and regular U.S. history and, for the past two years, AP European history, which he says has become his new passion. He particularly enjoys incorporating film clips, music and a variety of tools and resources into a multimedia experience to bring history to life for his students. He also has coached South’s mock trial team for 10 years and Quiz Bowl team for six, and is the social studies department chair.
P.J. credits his positive experiences as a student for inspiring him to pursue education as a career. He has a list of teachers to thank, beginning with Regina Gersch, his first-grade teacher at Kerby, who turned him into a reader at a young age.
Steve Gulian, a long-time teacher at Kerby and Richard, was “one of the most fun teachers imaginable,” P.J. added. Maureen Bur, now GPPSS Director of Secondary Instruction, was his middle school science teacher. Carl Justice taught him math in high school.
Several of his former teachers are now colleagues, including English and drama teacher Meaghan Dunham.
“It’s been really cool to teach along with my former teachers,” P.J. said. “I feel that the teachers at South really take bringing the next group of teachers up to a higher level very seriously. (Principal) Moussa (Hamka) talks about that a lot — passing the generational torch. We’re really proud of that.”
Becoming a father — he and his wife, Jennifer, have a 2 ½-year-old, Lola, who is in preschool at Barnes Early Childhood Center — has added to his range of experiences in the district.
“I feel like I was just a young teacher, but now I’m moving into a different role,” P.J. said. “Being a dad has also totally changed my perspective. It’s a real trip to be connected to the whole cycle of education.”
Robb Bigelow - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1995
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Copywriter
Music brings people together. This is what Robb Bigelow, class of Grosse Pointe North 1995, learned as a young Head Chorister at Christ Church Grosse Pointe, taking piano lessons at the Center for Creative Studies, crashing Christmas parties with "The Bowties", and singing with tons of GP friends in the basement of his parents' home on South Oxford.
The world of North musicals only cemented this belief for Robb. He truly believes that the "stars" of musicals are important, but so is everyone else---from the people who make and design the sets to the orchestra to the chorus. Just like in life itself, everyone matters.
Robb shares that his roles of "Joseph" in "Joseph in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and Archibald in "The Secret Garden" at North are still some of his favorite life experiences. Not surprisingly, Robb loved the spotlight---but, more importantly, he loved the friends and friendships that he made.
While at North, Robb was accepted to Interlochen's All-State Musical Theater Camp. It was at Interlochen where he was recruited by and ultimately fell in love with Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, Robb was proud to be the President of its only all-male a cappella group (The Dodecaphics) and, while at the law school, was Student Body President.
Robb has now lived in Nashville for over 25 years, and he owns a law firm that represents people who have been discriminated against and sexually harassed. The lesson Robb learned through his family and through music---that everyone matters---is a lesson that shaped his career.
But, make no mistake, Robb still loves music. In addition to singing in the West End United Methodist Choir, Robb has used his background in music to help his own kids (Anna, now 17, and Peter, almost 14) to raise money for their schools. He knows that good public schools are vitally important, and so he has volunteered his time with several PTOs.
Looking back at his own time in school, Robb expresses a deep appreciation for Mr. Ben Walker, the Music Director at GPN who convinced him to dedicate himself to musicals instead of soccer.
At a GPN Choir Reunion a few years ago, Robb was honored to sing a duet with Sandra Joseph, who played Christine in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera. She said he sounded "fantastic", and her kind words meant the world to Robb. He admits that even as a man in his 40s, he was starstruck by the experience.
When asked what advice he would give to this year’s graduating class, Robb said “You are currently in a GP School---sit back, know how lucky you are, and take advantage of the opportunity. As Hamilton says, ‘Do not throw away your shot’.”
Tom Fitzgibbon - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1972
Tom Fitzgibbon during his senior year at Grosse Pointe North and today.
by Mary Anne Brush, Fully Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Grosse Pointe North alumnus Tom Fitzgibbon is a member of what he and his 1972 classmates call “the premiere class.” It earned this moniker as the first class to attend all four years at North.
“We started in 1968 when the school opened,” Tom said. “I was there the first day the school opened.”
After graduating from North, Tom attended Hillsdale College, where he majored in public and community relations. He then did a stint at Harvard University in a non-profit leadership certification program.
For the next 40 years, he worked for the Boy Scouts of America. He and his wife, Mimi Fitzgibbon, spent 10 years in Detroit before moving around to Iowa, followed by New York, Colorado, Arizona and, finally, Texas. In that time, Tom was the market manager or chief executive officer for the Boy Scouts markets in New York, Iowa and Colorado before “the boss brought me in to manage 65 of our markets west of the Mississippi,” Tom said.
Finally, Tom served as assistant CEO nationally in the Boy Scouts of America home office in Irving, Texas, near Dallas.
Tom retired seven years ago, although he remains active in what he refers to as “more of an avocation vocation than a 40-hour job” as the chief agriculture engineer and CEO for Fitzgibbon Farms. The company has two properties in northern Michigan and is in partnership with the United States Agricultural Department in improving habitat and timber on those properties.
What he did for love
It was 10 years after he graduated from North that Tom met his future wife at the wedding of a friend who graduated from Grosse Pointe South. When he decided to propose to her, he wanted to come up with some grand gesture. He was living in Grosse Pointe Woods at the time and landed on the idea of creating a parade-like environment, complete with a marching band and balloons. He began by speaking with North’s band director, Nate Judson.
“He brought it up to the kids and they thought it was a great idea,” Tom recalled.
The pomp and circumstance of the proposal was reported on the news wire service and got picked up by TV stations, the Detroit News and USA Today. According to the Nov. 9, 1983 Detroit News article, it took Gail Marie “Mimi” Malloy about 10 minutes to collect her thoughts and say “yes” after the 70-member Grosse Pointe North band showed up at Tom’s house playing What I Did for Love.
USA Today reported, “Band director Nathan Judson said Fitzgibbon asked if the band could serenade while he popped the question. ‘The kids thought it was romantic,’ Judson said. ‘Their first reaction was, Aw, isn’t that sweet?’ So the band played and, as Fitzgibbon placed a diamond ring on Malloy’s finger, a truckful of helium balloons was released into the air.”
Married in 1983, the couple currently lives in Trophy Club, Texas in the winter and Harbor Springs in the summer. Both are golfing communities, but it is Mimi who is the golfer in the family, according to Tom. In fact, she recently won the championship at the Birchwood Golf and Country Club in Harbor Springs.
Tom and Mimi have four children. The oldest, Kate, is married to a Navy Corpsman serving in the Carolinas who has been deployed several times. Their second, Kim, lives in Boston and just delivered their first grandchild, Alexander Fitzgibbon Metcalf, last week. Their son, Dan, and youngest child, Christine, both live in the Dallas, Fort Worth area.
The couple also enjoys traveling, in particular to spots where they can fly fish, including Montana, Key West, Florida and, of course, Michigan.
Tom is on the 50th reunion planning committee for the Class of 1972, to be held on Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, with events planned from Friday through Sunday. For more information, contact reunion chairwoman Cindy Gohlke at (586) 703-3027, or Tom at (480) 296-6282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Rieth - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1985
You might want to enjoy reading the following Alumni of Distinction profile with a nice beer. Might we suggest a Dirty Blonde or a Vanilla Java Porter?
For craft brewer Mark Rieth, the story starts as a 1985 graduate from Grosse Pointe North. Mark believes his Grosse Pointe Public Schools education prepared him to study at Michigan State University. It was at MSU that he found his passion for all things automotive (no, not beer - yet.)
After graduation, Mark accepted a position with Toyota Motor Sales USA in California. He transferred there in 1989 and then moved to Boston in 1990. After Toyota, Mark was recruited by Mitsubishi Motors to open the Phoenix, AZ office from 1994 to 1997. It was in Boston, though, that Mark found his next passion and started home-brewing.
In 1997 he decided to bring his newfound passion for brewing back to Detroit, where he was then introduced to Atwater Brewing. He invested in the company in 2002 and then bought the business outright in 2005. Mark grew Atwater from a small brewery and taproom doing 120 barrels a year to over 20,000 barrels and 3 tap house locations distributing in 30 states. Mark sold Atwater Brewing to Molson Coors in 2020 but continued to run the day-to-day operations.
When looking back on his time at GPPSS, he credits the district with teaching him the importance of hard work and determination. He also learned how to be competitive in a healthy way by playing multiple sports. Mark fondly remembers the lessons basketball coach, Mr. Ritter, taught him.
Mark also considers himself a coach at heart. In the 1990s, Mark sent a letter to Coach Jud Heathcoat, asking how to become the next coach of MSU. Coach Heathcoat responded, "Don't quit your day job!"
So, instead of quitting the brewery business, Mark has dedicated time to coaching youth sports and plans to get back in competitive coaching next year.
When asked what advice he has for this year's graduating class, Mark offers, "Take your time. Take classes to see what you have an interest in. Find your passion, and go for it!"
Beth Moran - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1966
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in School Pointes
Beth Moran has a long history with the Grosse Pointe Public School System. Her father graduated from Grosse Pointe High School in 1936. Beth, too, graduated from “The High” along with her husband, Joe, both members of the Class of 1966. All four of their children graduated from what is now Grosse Pointe South — Megan in 1995, Matthew in 1998, Elizabeth in 2001 and William in 2004.
Childhood sweethearts, Beth and Joe began dating between eighth and ninth grade. Beth attended Pierce Junior High School, while Joe was at St. Clare of Montefalco Catholic School through eighth grade, then attended Austin Catholic Preparatory School for ninth grade before starting at The High in 10th grade.
Upon graduating, Beth attended Western Michigan University for one year, then transferred to Wayne State University, where she remained to complete a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in special education. She and Joe got married in 1973 after dating through high school and college.
Beth began her career teaching third and first grade at Highland Park. She spent the next 22 years at Grosse Pointe Pre-Kindergarten as a preschool teacher, the last 10 as director of one of the two campuses.
In 2000, she started at GPPSS as a special education teacher when Barnes reopened its doors as an early childhood center. After 40 years, she retired.
Beth and Joe split time between their homes in Grosse Pointe Farms, Harbor Springs and Florida. Beth enjoys golf, biking, pickleball and, recently, playing Wordle. Their children live in Chicago, Jupiter, Florida, and between Juno, Alaska and Seattle. They have five grandchildren ages 11, 8, 6, 5 and 4.
Beth’s next passion after teaching is serving on the Board of Directors of the Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education since 2012.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s the best board I’ve ever been on. I love the camaraderie and the different professions that people come from. We all have direct strengths.”
For example, her expertise in special education was especially instrumental in her role as a member of the grant committee. Another benefit of reviewing grants is that it allows her “to see all the wonderful ideas that are presented from the staff. Our teachers are innovative and creative and our children are truly benefiting from their dedication.”
Beth is known around town for a multitude of other volunteer work, including volunteering at the gift shop as a member of the Beaumont Assistance League and at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
She also stays connected with Grosse Pointe South by giving tours to reunion classes and enjoys sharing the school’s rich history, crediting South’s Preservation Committee for doing “such a beautiful job.”
“I see the beauty of the school and all the wonderful changes they’ve made,” she said. “You appreciate it more now of course than you did. As a kid, you don’t care about the rosettes in the ceiling.”
During one of those tours a few years ago, she was able to take the group into South’s tower where a tradition is for students to write their names on the walls. There she located her own and her husband’s names.
“We wrote it in chalk, but it was still visible,” she said.
Beth has fond memories of her teachers, including her choir teacher at both Pierce and The High, Herman Clein. Many of the friendships she forged through her school years continue today.
“I loved high school,” she said. “All of my friends still are the friends I had in high school. We just had such a good time. I loved everything about it.”
Kristin Button Wright - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1988
Photo: Kristin Wright with her father, Bob Button, about five years ago. Courtesy photos
by Mary Anne Brush, Fully featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Kristin Wright doesn’t remember a time in her childhood when she didn’t accompany her family to Grosse Pointe South at least once a week.
Her father, Bob Button, a South teacher and adviser to the student newspaper, The Tower, from 1966 to 1994, took her and her younger brother to basketball games, football games, and school concerts regularly.
“Our whole family life revolved around the high school,” she said.
Kristin attended Defer Elementary and Pierce Middle School. By the time she went on to high school, she already felt at home. Seniors on The Tower staff took her under their wing, treating her “like a little mascot,” she said.
During her time at South, her father was named National Teacher of the Year, adding to his legendary status.
“People always ask what it was like to go to high school with your dad, and I always say I don’t know how to answer that because I never went to high school without my dad,” Kristin said.
While she refused on the first day of her freshman year to drive to South with her father, choosing to assert her independence and ride her bike from Buckingham in the Park instead, she quickly “realized that was ridiculous.”
“He was so popular as a teacher that a little bit reflected back on me,” she said. “Students loved him and the students who loved him the most were kind to me, too.”
She did draw the line on enrolling in his journalism classes or participating on The Tower staff, however.
“I lived in fear of having him grade my papers in front of me in the family room in front of the TV,” she said. “Again, I needed that independence. I have thought many times in my adult life that I should have been a teacher and I would have been good at it. But he was such a giant in that field, I didn’t think that I could measure up to the success that he had.”
At the same time, she benefited from his writing expertise, as her father passed on to her at home the same writing skills he taught in the classroom, she said.
This continued up until his death on Dec. 23, 2021; when Kristin started writing fiction around age 40, her father was her copy editor, marking up her manuscripts with a red pen, just as he did for his students each night in the family room all those years ago.
After graduating from South in 1988, Kristin majored in history at Michigan State University. Initially she planned to pursue television broadcast production, viewing it as a more practical field of study.
Her AP U.S. History teacher, Mary Miller, now deceased, was the major influence behind her decision to change her major.
“She was such a brilliant teacher,” Kristin said. “She made history sound like gossip. It was just riveting how she told stories like it was something that happened at a party the night before. I don’t know how she did it, but if I was going to be a teacher, that is how I would do it. She was probably my favorite teacher at South.”
After graduating from MSU in 1992, Kristin worked for a while before attending the University of Michigan Law School, graduating in 1997. From there she headed to a firm in Washington D.C., and completed a federal clerkship before going into private practice at a small town in Virginia, where she handled legal affairs from criminal proceedings to divorce and child custody.
The move to Virginia made sense for Kristin personally as well as professionally, as her parents had moved there during her first year of law school.
While still working full time — for the last 15 years, she has been a staff attorney for Campbell County, Virginia — Kristin started exploring creative writing. As her two sons — Austen, now a high school senior and Matthew, a junior — became more independent, she discovered she had time for her writing, even if it was in her car while waiting for one of her boys to finish soccer practice.
Eventually she found an agent and then a publisher. Her first novel, a small press romantic suspense novel titled Lying Beneath the Oaks, was published in 2019. She later found a larger publisher, an Amazon imprint, to publish a duology of legal thrillers. The first one, The Darkest Flower, came out in 2021 and the sequel, The Darkest Web, is due out in April.
All the while, her father was her biggest fan and continued to edit her manuscripts with his red pen.
Kristin’s advice to high school seniors is to not expect to “have it all figured out in high school. You can find your way to what you’re meant to do in its own time. Life is long. You get a lot of chances to be who you want to be.
“Getting to go to Grosse Pointe South is a gift,” she added. “The preparation there is honestly second to none. I don’t think I realized while I was there just how astonishing it was.”
This first dawned on her when, having taken advanced placement English classes at South, she passed out of MSU’s requisite freshman English class.
“The girls on my floor used to bring me their papers to read,” she said. “I realized I had not appreciated the rigorous grounding I got at South because these girls had not gotten the same at their high schools. They had not been taught to write like I had. Kids who go to South are extremely fortunate to have the education that they have.”
Go to kristinbwright.com to learn more about her fiction.
Jeremy Schroeder - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1990
by Andrea Daniell, Copywriter and Volunteer
For the Schroeders, a Grosse Pointe education is a family affair. The Schroeder family has lived in the Pointes since at least the 40s, and most family members came up through the public school system. Our latest Alumni of Distinction, Jeremy Schroder, grew up in Grosse Pointe City/Farms and attended Richard and Kerby Elementary Schools, Brownell Middle School, and graduated from South High School in 1990.
A Passion is Born
As far back as Jeremy can remember, he has always been interested in filmmaking. Throughout his childhood, he made 8mm films and later VHS videos. In 1988, Grosse Pointe South High School started offering the Television Production classes taught by Julie Corbett, and Jeremy enrolled in the first class.
During his senior year in high school, Jeremy decided to make filmmaking his career and go to Ithaca College, where he studied Film and Photography. When he graduated in 1994, Jeremy recalls randomly moving to New York City. He says it was never his intention to make that move, but several of his friends from film school were going, so Jeremy decided to tag along. From there, Jeremy says he pretty much wandered around New York until he found a job working on a movie– which then kicked off the next 15 years of his life living in the city and working as a motion picture lighting technician.
Jeremy mostly worked on lower-budget film projects, music videos, and TV commercials during the next few years. He says his real break came in the fall of 1996 when he was hired on to the crew of the TV series "Law & Order." Jeremy then spent the next ten years working as the "best boy grip," which is a job in the lighting department on a film crew.
From 'Law and Order' to 'Enchanted'
In all, Jeremy helped shoot about 250 hour-long episodes of "Law & Order", from season 7 until season 16, when he was offered a department head position on a film called "Griffin & Phoenix." At that point, Jeremy left "Law & Order" and focused on working on feature films. During this period of his career, Jeremy had the unbelievable fortune to work with many talented directors, including Arthur Penn, Kirk Jones, Helen Hunt, Lasse Hallsltröm, and Steven Soderburgh; and amazing actors - his favorites being Sigourney Weaver, Bette Midler, Jimmy Marsden, Amy Adams, Robert DeNiro, and Colin Firth. For Jeremy, the highlight of this time was spending the summer of 2006 working on the Disney film "Enchanted." His position on the crew was the 2nd Unit Key Grip, and he and his crew helped shoot all the special effects, stunts, and animals needed for the film.
The project was particularly fun because every day, Jeremy would go to work and have conversations that revolved around seemingly far-out issues, such as "today we are shooting Jimmy jumping off a bridge in central park where he promptly gets runs over by a bunch of bike racers" or "how are we going to make Susan Sarandon emerge from a manhole cover in Times Square?"
Along with "Law & Order," "Enchanted" is the project Jeremy is most proud to have been a part of - especially now that he's a Dad – seeing how much his daughter and her friends enjoy the film gives him a sense of pride that can't easily be described.
Back to the Pointes
In 2009, after 15 years of hustling for 60-70 hours a week and living in hotels for months at a time, Jeremy decided to hang up his career in NYC, and so he and his family moved back to Grosse Pointe Farms. He and his wife Lindsay were looking for a slightly quieter life with their daughter Eleanor and wanted family around them as she grew up.
Being back in the Metro Detroit area, Jeremy had to reinvent his career. He reconnected with his High School production teacher Julie Corbett who was just gearing up to shoot a documentary and ultimately worked as her cameraman. That project led to Jeremy's current career as a non-fiction cinematographer and the formation of his company Motor City Grip Supply, which provides all the equipment needed for non-fiction production.
Since 2010 Jeremy has shot numerous documentaries and other small projects. To give back, he became involved with many projects to raise money for schools and other educational settings. He likes to think of it as "using his powers for good."
The GPPSS Difference
Jeremy credits the television production classes he took at South for starting his career. But it wasn't only the production classes that got him where he is today.
Throughout his time in the Grosse Pointe Public School System, Jeremy was involved in the music program as a percussionist. He was in every band, and orchestra class offered - especially at South. And although he chose not to pursue music as a career, the time Jeremy spent in the music program has had a lasting effect on his life. He still actively plays several instruments and has been involved with numerous bands and other musical endeavors over the years. The music director at South - Ralph Miller - is one of Jeremy's all-time favorite teachers. He says that Mr. Miller's encouragement of his music pursuits is directly responsible for his ongoing musical development.
The production classes at South led Jeremy not only to his career but to his best friend and future wife Lindsay, whom he met in those first classes. In fact, there's a picture of the two of them in the media classroom at South to this day!
And of course, South is also where he met another favorite teacher, great friend, and future colleague Julie Corbett. She had a profound effect on Jeremy's life both as a professional and as a person- the two remained close until she passed away a few years ago.
For This Year's Graduates
When asked what bit of advice he might offer to this year's graduating class, Jeremy had this to say, "Do not underestimate the value of a diverse education and lifestyle. Study everything. Take many different classes and try many different things. My career and how I go about it have been influenced by many different aspects of my education and experiences - not just my film studies. My thought process is influenced by art, music, science, math, English (you have to be able to communicate!), sailing, and even cutting the grass when I was a kid believe it or not!”
Dr. Kristina (Seago) Case - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2003
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Writer
When we graduate from high school, many of us enter into a period of self-discovery to figure out our path forward. When Kristina Seago, now Dr. Kristina Case, graduated from Grosse Pointe North in 2003, she already knew what she wanted to be when she “grew up”– a dentist.
Following that path, Dr. Case went to the University of Dayton as a biology major and was accepted to dental school before graduation. From there she moved to Philadelphia in the summer of 2007 to start dental school.
Dr. Case moved back to Grosse pointe summer of 2012, after spending a year in Boston. During that summer, she met her husband, who also went to North. They were introduced by a mutual friend and were married in 2014. In 2015 they welcomed their first daughter, and then their second in 2016. In 2018 the family welcomed twin daughters - which seems to be a family trait - Dr. Case is herself a twin, and her fraternal twin sister, Meghan Zeldes, also has twins!
Now she and her family of 6 live in Grosse Pointe Shores, and Dr. Case works full time at not one but two (do you see a theme here?) dental offices– one in Detroit and one in St. Clair Shores.
Dr. Case recalls her time at Grosse Pointe Schools fondly, sharing that she would go back and do it all again if she could. She says that all of her teachers were just wonderful.
When asked what advice she has for this year’s graduating class, Dr. Case answered, “take lots of different classes to help figure out what you are really interested in! Study hard because your grades really do matter!”
Michael Sacchetti - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2015
by Mary Anne Brush (fully featured in GPPSS School Pointes)
Michael Sacchetti is the first to admit the field of medicine is crazy right now — but there’s no place he would rather be.
On a visit on Dec. 21 with Grosse Pointe North students enrolled in Sue Speirs’ Applied Medical Research with Clinical Investigation and Liz Michaels’ Physiology classes, Michael talked about his educational background, his clinical experiences, in particular with COVID-19, and why he chose to become a doctor.
Michael’s original impetus to pursue medicine came from losing his grandmother to cancer when he was in elementary school. Later, the 2015 North graduate was inspired by his high school science classes, including Microbiology, Physiology and Honors Biology with Mrs. Michaels, Applied Medical Research with Mrs. Speirs, and Advanced Placement Chemistry with Steve Kosmas (now retired). Another teacher who influenced him was English teacher and Student Association adviser Jonathan Byrne. Michael took several of Mr. Byrne’s classes and served as an SA Senator for four years.
Relating to the students sitting in the same seats he sat in not that long ago, Michael encouraged them to take advantage of what they were learning today. His teachers pushed him “to the max,” he said, preparing him for the rigors of his studies to come. Skills they learned in their classes, in particular researching, graphing, and creating posters, would be invaluable for their future tests and professional pursuits, he assured them.
Michael attended the University of Michigan, receiving a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. After he graduated in 2019, he decided to delay applying to medical school. Instead, he remained at U of M, enrolling in a master’s program in hospital and molecular epidemiology with a minor in public health genetics.
“The main difference between clinical medicine and epidemiology is clinical medicine is the study of an infectious disease on an individual and epidemiology is the study of infectious disease on a population level,” he explained.
He decided to study the field of hospital and molecular epidemiology because he knew he could apply it no matter what field of medicine he decided to go into.
“I started my master’s in fall of 2019 and COVID hit in February 2020,” Michael said. “That first semester we had just studied Intro to Viral Diseases and I remember a PowerPoint where we talked about different viruses and at that time coronavirus was just a regular virus out there that my professor is showing on a slide.
“Fast forward a couple months later and I’m sitting at home finishing up my master’s and I turn on the TV and it’s Governor Whitmer. I look up and there’s my professor at the press conference talking about COVID.”
While completing his degree at home, Michael took advantage of the opportunity to work in the emergency room at Beaumont Grosse Pointe, where he began volunteering his junior year at North.
“I remember my parents were hesitant about me going in and working and I was like, ‘No, if I want to be a doctor, I’ve got to be able to do this night or day, no matter what the disease, no matter what is going on’.”
During his time there, he witnessed things he never imagined possible. He described the experience as “surreal,” as he was studying and writing papers about COVID while also working with patients dealing with its harsh realities.
After completing his master’s degree, Michael applied to more than 20 medical schools, interviewing at several before choosing Central Michigan University College of Medicine.
While he acknowledged the challenges of getting accepted into a medical school, he had words of encouragement and advice for the students.
“My advice for those entering the medical profession is that it is a long and very challenging road ahead so don’t lose sight of the path you’re on and the goals you have,” he said. “Because once you reach those goals, all of the hard work is well worth it. While the healthcare profession is demanding, the ability to help people is incredibly rewarding.”
He encouraged students to seek research and clinical experiences and opportunities to volunteer and demonstrate leadership to strengthen their applications. He also urged them to focus on developing good study habits.
Sue Speirs was pleased her former student had the opportunity to model these qualities for her current students.
“They learned what is possible for a hard-working Norseman like Michael, like them,” she said. “They imagine themselves taking a similar journey. What an inspiration Michael was, and still is, to North’s learning community. Our past and current Norsemen are so blessed by Michael. I am certain that the medical field, with its vast array of professionals and patients, is lifted up by Michael’s tenacious enthusiasm, empowering empathy, and intellectual insights.”
Picture: Michael Sacchetti with his parents, Valerie and David, during his White Coat Ceremony at CMU College of Medicine on Aug. 13, 2021. Valerie Sacchetti is a 1981 alumna of Grosse Pointe South and David Sacchetti is a 1980 alumnus of Grosse Pointe North. Courtesy photo
Alexander Fedirko - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1996
by Mary Anne Brush - Originally featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Little did Alexander Fedirko know, when he took art at Brownell Middle School with Margaret Rose (now Margaret Reese), that he would one day be a juror for an art show and award his own former teacher an honorable mention.
The juried show, “Feast for Your Eyes,” was hosted by the Grosse Pointe Artists Association. Alex, who is the assistant art director at The Parade Company, served as a juror along with a co-worker. During his gallery talk at the opening of the show, he talked about the influence of his art teachers on his career path, crediting the late Gene Pluhar and Jack Summers, longtime teachers at Grosse Pointe South, for his love of art. Meanwhile, he noticed “Miss Rose” in the audience.
The judging process was blind, so Alex was as thrilled as his former teacher when he realized she was the recipient of one of the awards.
Alex’s family moved from Chicago to Grosse Pointe when he was around 3, primarily for the schools, he said. He started kindergarten at St. Paul Catholic School and, according to his mother, he “loved school so much” he attended St. Paul in the morning and Kerby Elementary in the afternoon.
By sixth grade, he followed his best friend to Brownell Middle School, where he continued to pursue his love of art, in particular in Miss Rose’s art room.
“Miss Rose was an amazing teacher,” Alex said. “She was energetic, she was always happy. I had a natural talent and she encouraged me. She definitely gave me a good beginner arts education to get the ball rolling to push my artistic interests.”
When Alex went on to Grosse Pointe South, his former teacher recommended he bypass the introductory art class and enroll in Drawing & Painting I with Jack Summers.
“I was thrown into class with juniors and sophomores and other creative people,” Alex recalled. “That was really cool for me to see older kids who were really talented.”
Jack Summers was another “amazing teacher” as well as an established artist in Detroit, who let his students know “there was more to the world than this little Grosse Pointe community.”
Alex also took Gene Pluhar’s ceramics classes later in his high school career.
“I fell in love with ceramics too and I spent so much time between those two classes,” he said. “I can’t speak highly enough about the arts program.”
After graduating from South, Alex spent some time finding the right fit to pursue his artistic and academic interests. He spent a year at Ferris State University to study architectural design, then took art classes at Wayne State University, where he also encountered “some amazing teachers.”
Ultimately, he decided he wanted to do more than fine arts, so he transferred to the University of Michigan, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in architecture and Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
After college, Alex did an internship in Holland, then traveled around Europe before returning to the U.S. and landing a job in Chicago as a project manager at an art design firm in 2006. In 2008, the economy went flat and he fell victim to layoffs. He moved into an art studio and spent the next few years in a loft on the south side of Chicago. During this prolific time in his career, his artwork was featured in national magazines and prominent exhibits, including in the lobby of the Sears Tower.
“It was an artist’s dream,” he said. “It was very raw, but it was in the middle of this artists’ community. We could have art shows every second Friday of the month. I started my personal art career living out of my live/work studio and did that for the next four or five years. I was a full-time artist, which was a lot of fun and a great experience.”
In 2010, Alex met his wife, Martha, at one of his art shows. She also grew up in Grosse Pointe, so after they got engaged, they decided to move back to the area. They bought a house and Alex started working full-time at The Parade Company. The couple has three daughters — Olivia, 7, Josephine, 5 and Greta, 18 months. The two older girls attend Maire Elementary School.
As an artist, Alex said he has the rare privilege to “apply everything I learned in school to my current job.”
He has some words of advice for students interested in applying their own artistic skills and interests in their careers.
“It’s such a different world now,” he acknowledged. “Social media seems like it’s really — for better or for worse — changed things up a lot. I think immediate gratification is something a lot of people are looking for. If you are looking for that in the arts, there are ways you can find it. But for me, it’s more the slow and steady approach: working through things, becoming a better artist through the work, gaining skillsets and being patient with who you are as an artist. Know that if you put in the hard work, it’s going to pay off. Just be patient and keep believing in yourself. Embrace the great school system you have in Grosse Pointe.
“Keep on making stuff,” he added. “That’s what a teacher told me. Keep on working.”
Find out more about Alexander Fedirko at alexfedirko.com.
Paulina (Perakis) Jayne - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2014
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Writer
Before she was touring urban country artist Paulina Jayne, she was Paulina Perakis, Grosse Pointe South class of 2014.
Paulina started her GPPSS journey at Richard Elementary, taught by "arguably the best fifth-grade teacher ever to exist, Mr. Gulian". She goes on to say, "I loved my way through my middle school years, puberty and all, at Brownell Middle School with Dr. Dib, Mrs. Dempsey, Mrs. Case, Mr. Abel, Mrs. Currier, Mrs. Rose, Rufus, Cherry (who not only kept the hallways clean, but kept me smiling), and the list goes on."
Paulina recalls her time at South fondly; playing basketball on an undefeated team, enjoying her classes, and traveling back and forth from Nashville. It was hard work but worth it. "My teachers made working hard feel like I was hardly working. I can't imagine a schooling experience quite as rich", she says.
After High School, Paulina went to college at Belmont University, where she earned her degree in Music Business. During her time at Belmont, she started a record label with an artist management branch for her artist career, bringing on five other girls at Belmont University for the infrastructure. In their senior year, they landed a Ford Motor Company sponsorship, released a full EP/album, released several singles, booked a summer tour, and reached a million streams on a song Paulina co-wrote and performed.
From Grosse Pointe to Nashville
Paulina recalls it was in the 8th grade when she signed her first management deal after playing at the Brownell 6th grade talent show and then the local Hayloft Bar. By High School, Paulina was spending one week a month in Nashville recording and co-writing. She's written songs with #1 writers Shane McAnally, JT Harding, and Danny Orton.
Now Paulina is the opening act for headliners such as the Rascal Flatts, Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley, and Old Dominion. She says she still writes daily, and she's created an artist management company, Girl King Co., that she manages.
"Music is a vehicle for me to love people, to help them feel known and seen through song and lyric, and to create a moment that both entertains and envelops an audience for the short time I share with them." – Paulina Jayne
The GPPSS Difference
When we asked Paulina what she learned at Grosse Pointe schools that prepared her for life after school, she had this to say, "Within the GPPSS, there are off-the-charts intelligent students and high achievers. I loved growing up alongside some of the smartest kids out there. I felt challenged, and my work ethic was honed, which was arguably one of the greatest preparations for every area of adult life."
Paulina also has a deep appreciation for the community that supported her and made her who she is today. She tells us “I play shows all over the country, and when I come back to my home state, I am always blown away at the turnout from my former teachers and classmates. I am so grateful to have grown up with the finest, kindest, most caring, and supportive teachers a student, child, and parent could ask for. I would not be living out my dream if it weren't for the teachers who saw something in me from the very start."
Bob Schmitt - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1976
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Writer
Bob Schmitt considers himself incredibly fortunate to have had an extensive and memorable career in Federal Law Enforcement. We'd say he’s had an awe-inspiring career that he has obviously worked very hard for.
After graduating from Grosse Pointe South in 1976, Bob attended Western Michigan University, earning his Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree. After WMU, Bob landed at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), where after graduating from the Academy, he served as a Special Agent from 1984 to 1988. Bob was assigned to a small office in southern Illinois. Due to the nature of being in a smaller office, he was able to work on a variety of cases, including bank fraud, public corruption, bank robbery, extortion, and narcotics trafficking.
Next, Bob went to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), serving from 1988 to 2011; and then the United States Secret Service (USSS), from 2017 to the present.
In 1988 when Bob joined the ATF, he returned to Detroit, living in Grosse Pointe Farms with his wife and two sons.
While assigned to the ATF Detroit Field Division, Bob worked on various investigations, including narcotics trafficking, firearms trafficking, and arson and explosives cases - all targeting violent criminals.
Ten years later, in 1998, Bob and his family left the Detroit area again and were subsequently transferred several times. Bob retired from the ATF in 2011 as the special agent in charge of ATF’s Internal Affairs Division.
After retirement, Bob and his wife stayed in the Washington DC area. He took on several new challenges, including conducting national security background investigations, private investigations, internal investigations for corporations, and consulting on security and investigative matters.
In 2017, Bob was presented with a unique opportunity to return to service in the Federal Government as a Special Agent for the Secret Service. And although Bob actually exceeded the mandatory retirement age of 57 for any Federal government special agent/criminal investigator, he was brought back anyway. Since being on board with the Secret Service, Bob has assisted with the protection of presidents, vice presidents, and countless visiting foreign dignitaries. He has also been involved in national security background investigations and criminal investigations, including violations of the Federal fraud and counterfeit statutes. He is also involved in the training and mentoring of younger agents.
Although Bob admits his Federal Law Enforcement career has been very demanding at times over five decades, it has been equally rewarding. He considers himself very lucky to have had such a supportive wife and family through it all.
The GPPSS Impact
Looking back on his High School years, he credits a lot of his success in life with learning to manage his time properly. He recalls that he always held a job during High School - but that having a job did not mean leniency from teachers when it came to homework or grades. He had to learn to use every moment wisely.
Bob fondly remembers his 9th-grade Civics class, taught by Mr. Coury. He says he learned a great deal about the U.S. Government, what it meant to be a U.S. citizen, and how lucky we are to live in a democracy. Those lessons stuck with him, and he believes they helped inspire him to pursue a career in public service.
When asked what advice he has for this year’s graduating class, he offered, “To obtain true success, one must have a good work ethic and integrity beyond reproach.”
We think he’s a shining example of the success he speaks of.
Gary Bennett - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1971
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Gary Bennett is a life-long Grosse Pointer and a longtime Norseman. Born at the old Cottage Hospital, he attended Mason Elementary and Parcells and graduated from Grosse Pointe North in 1971 as a member of the second graduating class in the school’s history. He taught math at North from 1983 to 2014 and is in his 39th year as head coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team.
Gary grew up in Grosse Pointe Woods and he and his wife, Teresa, the secretary to the athletic director at North, chose the Woods to raise their own family. Their children, Brian, Andy and Caitlin, all attended North, graduating in 2004, 2005 and 2006, respectively. Gary also had “the good fortune” to coach all three of his children, his boys as an assistant coach and his daughter as a head coach.
“Caitlin understood when we were off the court, I was her dad, but when she was on the court, I was her coach,” Gary said. “She was really good about it.”
The longtime basketball coach began his own basketball career on the court at North. He went on to play basketball at Alma College, graduating in 1975.
His first teaching and coaching jobs were in the L’Anse Creuse district, where he remained for eight years, two at L’Anse Creuse Middle School South and six at L’Anse Creuse High School North. When he and a number of other teachers were let go as a result of declining enrollment, he was quickly hired as a math teacher at North.
Gary started out coaching boys’ basketball, but once he switched to coaching girls, he never looked back. A major highlight of his career was winning the Class “A” state championship in 2008 — a feat no other Grosse Pointe basketball team has achieved. That same year, he was named Detroit News & Detroit Free Press Coach of the Year.
“I had a great group of kids,” Gary said. “They were talented, but they were also really good people. I think the key for them was they had great chemistry. They enjoyed each other and they worked hard for each other and, for me, that’s what high school sports are all about. On top of that, they were fun to watch and people wanted to come see them play.”
Gary is equally proud of other teams who reached their potential in other ways.
“That team had the potential to win a state championship and they did that,” he said. “I had other teams that didn’t have that potential, but they exceeded expectations with a lot less talent. Every year is different and you get really good kids. It’s the kids and how hard they work that make it memorable and meaningful.”
In 2012, Gary enjoyed his 500th career win, but he doesn’t count success in wins and losses.
“I don’t measure a season by winning,” he said. “I measure how hard they compete. That way it doesn’t matter what kind of talent you have, you can still be successful. In 39 years, we’ve gotten a variety of talent that has come through and our expectations for the kids are the same. Whoever walks through the door, we work with. That is probably one of my proudest things is that we’ve been able to do it at a public school with a variety of talent. When people come to watch a game, they know what to expect.”
One of the secrets to Gary’s coaching success is that he has kept his goals for the program the same over four decades: work hard, play as a team and sustain your effort.
Sustaining effort became “kind of a motto of ours,” he explained. “When I was younger, I realized the difference between the teams wasn’t so much the talent, but how hard someone was willing to work until the job was done.”
Gary has no immediate plans to retire from coaching and, while he misses the classroom, he remains connected with kids on the court and as a math tutor. He particularly enjoys the one-on-one interaction of tutoring.
“I like seeing the light go on,” he said. “I love teaching and I thought I would miss it, but I still feel connected.”
Rockim Williamson - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2018
by Mary Anne Brush, Fully Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Rockim Williamson has been writing music since he was in kindergarten, performing since he was in third grade, and releasing music since the sixth grade. His music has played in over 20 different countries on a variety of streaming platforms, including iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube.
The Detroit Entrepreneur called the 21-year-old R&B and hip hop award-winning artist “the real deal.”
An article in Medium credits him with “keeping real hip hop alive.”
“One thing I’ve realized through every stage and every phase I’ve been through so far in my life, music has always been there,” Rockim said. “Besides my relationship with the Lord, music is the only thing that moves me. It is the thing I want to keep around with me throughout the rest of my life.”
Nurturing this love from a young age was having music as a constant presence in his household. He also attended Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts Elementary School in Detroit from kindergarten to grade 5, transferring to Pierce Middle School when his family moved to Grosse Pointe Park.
The transition did not go well.
“My sixth-grade year I wasn’t very open to people as I am now,” Rockim explained. “Coming from the Academy, I didn’t want to make the transition at all. I loved my school. I loved my friends at the school. When I transferred to Pierce, it was not my choice. I was very closed off in a lot of ways.”
One teacher — English teacher Jan Brengman, now retired — “kept sticking it out with me,” he said. “There were many times in her class where I was so disobedient, not doing what I was supposed to do. She saw right through that. She kept disciplining me. She was very goofy and I loved that. She made a big impact.”
Rockim added that Mrs. Brengman is still a big part of his life. In fact, she was influential in putting him in touch with a mentor in the music industry, opening up resources and connections he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Another teacher who impacted him was his math teacher at Grosse Pointe South, Amanda Orban.
“She was a phenomenal teacher,” Rockim said. “She knew how to connect with her students. Math was a subject I succeeded in. I also needed help at times. She always allowed me to come in to her class and work on math. Through that we would have these side conversations and formed that teacher-student relationship.”
Another bond he formed freshman year was with South Principal Moussa Hamka. During a float party in the fall, Mr. Hamka challenged Rockim to a one-on-one basketball game. The story of the game — and its outcome, with Mr. Hamka winning by one point on a lay-up — is one the principal “will never get tired of telling,” according to Rockim.
“It was the most fun game of basketball I have ever played in my life to this day,” he said. “We went back and forth. It almost felt like an NBA game. If we made a shot, everybody went crazy.”
At each float party through the rest of his high school career, Rockim challenged Mr. Hamka to a rematch.
“I am still waiting for my rematch to this day,” he said, adding that Mr. Hamka “is a super genuine guy, super cool. Whenever I needed anything, he always looked out for me whenever there was an opportunity. Throughout the experiences I had, I have nothing but good reviews for him. I love him to death.”
While Rockim received a scholarship to his dream school, Full Sail University in Florida, which specializes in the entertainment industry, he ended up turning down the opportunity to remain closer to home. The youngest of six boys and three girls, Rockim describes himself as “a momma’s boy.”
“My mom is very protective over me and she wanted to keep a close eye on me out of the house,” he said.
Instead of going out of state, he attended Oakland University and has no regrets about the people he met and the connections he made as a result.
In fact, his band competed in the university’s Battle of the Bands and won, earning the opportunity to open for the headliners at the 2019 spring concert. In April that year, Rockim’s band opened for rappers KYLE and Blackbear at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre on Oakland’s campus.
“The experience of it all was absolutely beautiful,” Rockim recalled. “That was my first concert I’d ever gone to and that itself was great. All throughout my life growing up I’ve said my first concert will be my first concert (performing). I had many opportunities to go to concerts over the years but I always turned them down.”
Rockim’s band, Confidence, has had numerous opportunities to perform since, including on the R&B stage at the Arts, Beats & Eats Festival in Royal Oak on Labor Day weekend. They also performed in Miami after winning the Coast2Coast competition.
Rockim chose the band name because it is an extension of his brand, Confidence Creates.
“I started it back when I was at South,” he said. “Confidence within itself is very important to me. I call it ‘Confidence Creates’ because confidence creates everything — resources, jobs, music. Confidence can literally create anything and I believe anyone who has at least a little bit of self-confidence within themselves can go on and achieve the most incredible things. I believe after each achievement, after each accomplishment, your confidence grows, especially if you don’t let it go to your head. Confidence for me literally saved my life. It has stopped me from doing things. It has helped me do things. It has allowed me to do things and if people choose to judge, it had given me the confidence to not care.”
Rockim hopes to continue to grow his brand and is in the process of creating a clothing line. He also hopes to create a record label.
“Confidence can save lives and impact people and that’s what I’m big on,” he said.
Mary (Colombo) Mancus - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1987 and Maddie Mancus - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2016
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer Writer, Grosse Pointe Alumni & Friends
What’s better than one dynamic Grosse Pointe Public Schools graduate to profile as one of our 100 alumni of distinction celebrating 100 years of GPPSS?
Two, from the same family!
Mary (Colombo) Mancus and Madeleine Mancus, the mother-daughter team behind the Village’s newest boutique, Glitter & Scotch, are our latest graduates of distinction.
Fashion and shopping have always been Mary’s passions. Graduating from Grosse Pointe South High School in the class of 1987, her first job was at Jacobson’s in the Village! She went on to earn her Fashion Merchandising degree from Western Michigan University but didn’t put it to work immediately after college. Instead, she took a 13-year detour as a preschool teacher here in Grosse Pointe.
Even though she loved being a teacher, retail was calling her back. That’s when she and daughter Maddie decided that there was no time like the present to take the leap and continue the family tradition of being entrepreneurs—and just like that, Glitter & Scotch was born!
Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Maddie graduated from South in 2016. After high school, she packed up and moved across the country to attend The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), where she obtained her degree in Fashion Merchandising & Marketing.
After working in local retail pre- and post-college life, Maddie decided to take the plunge with her mom and open their own store. Their mission was clear: to help diversify the shopping experience in The Village of Grosse Pointe.
When Maddie started to tell friends and family about opening Glitter & Scotch, no one was super surprised that it was happening—what surprised them was that they were doing it when Maddie was still so young. But Mary and Maddie both know there is no better time than now to be involved in a community that has been so warm and welcoming to them.
The GPPSS Difference
When asked what impact Grosse Pointe Schools had on them, they agreed that they were taught to be independent and to go after what they wanted in life. Mary and Maddie both look back at their time in Grosse Pointe Public Schools fondly, recalling the many teachers and staff members that made a difference in their lives.
As for advice to this year’s graduating class, Mary had this to say: “We both feel that students should not be afraid to go after what they want. Step outside of the ‘GP Box’ and pursue whatever your heart tells you to do as far as college path and career choices.”
Craig Spencer, MD, MPH - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1999
by Mary Anne Brush, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Had Craig Spencer not spent his last year and a half of high school at Grosse Pointe North, his life might have taken a completely different direction.
“I undoubtedly wouldn’t have had the academic foundation or the people to push me if it weren’t for Grosse Pointe North,” he said. “It may sound a little cliché, but as someone who didn’t spend all my time there but transferred in, I immediately felt the difference. The support I had from Kate (Murray) and other people was essential. I don’t know if I would even have gone to college. No one in my family had gone to college. There was no one who had gotten a career after high school. I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but I had no idea how to get there.”
Craig grew up in Redford. Halfway through his 10th grade year, his family moved to Grosse Pointe, mainly due to the school system.
“I had a brother and a sister and my parents were looking for a different place for schooling, which obviously a few years later I greatly appreciated,” he said.
His initial plan was to be a sharkologist — until he discovered no such thing existed.
Later he set his sights on becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“That was my passion and that was why I went to medical school,” he said. “That’s not at all where I ended up, but that’s what got me into medicine.”
While an undergraduate at Wayne State University, Craig studied medieval history — “as all budding physicians do” — because of his passion for the subject after taking advanced placement European history at North with Crosby Washburne.
He describes Mr. Washburne, now retired, as an “absolutely incredible teacher.”
“He got me interested in doing my undergraduate degree in something I’m still interested in,” Craig said. “Now I have melded my history background with public health. I now teach a history of public health in a humanitarian setting. I think there’s a direct line with the people I met at North and what I am doing now.”
Another influential teacher at North was Guido Regelbrugge, “an unmissable force,” who died in 2005.
“He was absolutely amazing. He both humored me and pushed me and gave me a hard time because he could tell I wasn’t the student I was capable of being. I wasn’t the best student, but I wasn’t the worst student. I was good enough. He was absolutely essential, one in learning French and also pushing me to be better.”
Craig went directly to WSU’s School of Medicine after he graduated, and his first summer of medical school he embarked on an international project. It was his first time out of the country and he loved it.
“That summer I started thinking about how I really liked this and wanted to do more international work,” Craig said. “Shortly after that I talked with my adviser and he said that was a horrible idea.”
He didn’t listen to his advisor; his third year of medical school he went to China, mainly to learn public health, but picking up Mandarin Chinese along the way.
He also met his wife, Morgan, who is from Cincinnati and was also studying in China.
Craig completed his final year of medical school, then worked a few months in Guatemala and Costa Rica before moving to New York City, where he completed his residency in emergency medicine from 2008 to 2011.
While working in West Africa seven years ago as part of Doctors Without Borders, Craig became infected with Ebola. He returned to the U.S. for treatment.
“Thankfully I was lucky enough to survive thanks to great medical care, unlike a lot of the people I was treating in West Africa,” he said. “I am just very grateful to be here since certainly the odds were not in my favor.”
He continues to suffer from some long-term memory loss — a challenge he wrote about last year in the Washington Post, in which he shared his personal experiences, comparing it to long-term symptoms resulting from COVID-19.
While he spent most of 2014 in the hospital, in 2015 he ran the New York City marathon, setting a personal record. Overall, he considers himself “lucky to survive relatively unscathed” from the disease.
Craig currently teaches public health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in northern Manhattan and works clinically at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
For students who are interested in pursuing medicine as a career, Craig acknowledges there is rough terrain, but the job is rewarding.
“I tell people I have the best job in the world,” he added. “You never have to ask if you’re making a difference, but it really is difficult. Being an advocate for healthcare is under attack and has been under attack during the pandemic. We need help in bolstering health care or we’re going to be in trouble the next time a pandemic hits, whether it’s in a couple years or a decade.”
Craig has shared his medical expertise in a variety of forums, including in a special streaming special on Aug. 6, 2020, in which he talked with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as part of a report on “Resetting Our Response: Changes Needed in the U.S. Response to COVID-19.”
One of his biggest concerns is equitable access to healthcare.
“I don’t want to say the medical system in the U.S. is broken because you can great really great care if you have access, but it’s really inequitable.”
It was access to a good education that made all the difference for him.
“We sometimes forget this is the biggest priority for families or the biggest priority for students, but there isn’t always the access,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for North, I might not have gone to college and my trajectory would have been different. I’m grateful for that.”
Thomas A. Van Tiem Sr. - Grosse Pointe High, Class of 1949
by Mary Anne Brush, GPPSS, First Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Before Thomas Van Tiem attended Maire Elementary School, he watched it being built. There was a big, muddy pond where water was pumped into during the construction, he recalls. When he lost his shoe in the mud, his mother made his older brother go find it.
“At that time during the war, WWII, you got only one pair of leather shoes every year,” he said.
After attending Maire from first through sixth grade, he went on to Pierce Junior High School for seventh through ninth grade. Students were placed in split classes at the time known as A and B, remaining in these groups from first through twelfth grade. Judge Van Tiem graduated from The High with his class in January of 1949, while the other class graduated in June.
One formative memory was from his days at Pierce, where he served as president of the Pierce Pencil Company. To sell maroon and gold pencils, the class elected a board of directors. The board of directors then selected the president. Judge Van Tiem was chosen for this distinction after having to write and submit his qualifications, he recalls. One of his other duties was to advertise the business on the public address system.
“It was a regular business just like the big corporations,” he said. “It was quite a learning experience for all the ninth graders.”
While in high school, he got up at 5 a.m. each morning to deliver papers for the Free Press, serving 100 customers on St. Clair and Notre Dame in the City of Grosse Pointe, where he lived. He also recalls getting in a bit of trouble when he skipped school. One of his friends had a sailboat, and “every time he had the sails over his shoulders, I knew we were going to skip school,” Judge Van Tiem said.
He was the first in his family to go to college, using his newspaper savings — $1,300 — to attend Michigan State University. When the money ran out, he volunteered with the draft and served two years as a company clerk in the Army’s Third Armored Division at Fort Knox.
In December of 1953, on a seven-day leave, he married his wife, Helen, after meeting her on a blind date. The couple were married 64 years and had seven children. Helen Van Tiem died in 2018.
Judge Van Tiem completed the final three semesters at MSU on the GI Bill, graduating in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in police administration, now known as criminal justice. While enrolled at Detroit College of Law, he worked midnights at the Ford River Rouge Plant. He earned a juris doctor degree in 1960 and, in 1965, he was selected to appear in the edition of Outstanding Young Men of America “in recognition of his outstanding ability, accomplishments and service to his community, country and profession.”
From 1981 to 1992, he presided as judge in the 36th District Court in Detroit, receiving a master’s degree in judicial studies in 1994 from the National Judicial College and University of Nevada. He later became a visiting trial judge, administrative law judge and mediator before officially retiring in 2013.
Judge Van Tiem currently lives on Jefferson in the City of Grosse Pointe, only blocks from where he was born.
He sums up his nine decades as follows: “I have been a lucky guy all my life.”
(Some of the information in this article was adapted from a Feb. 28, 2019 Grosse Pointe News Pointer of Interest.)
Armani Williams - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2018
by Andrea Daniell, Grosse Pointe Alumni & Friends Volunteer
Armani Williams, Grosse Pointe South class of 2018, is currently studying mechanical engineering at Oakland University. He also happens to be a professional race car driver.
The 21-year-old is a professional stock car driver, currently competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, racing the #33 for RBR, Reaume Brothers Racing.
Armani is also the first professional driver in NASCAR openly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The GPPSS Impact
Armani was diagnosed with Autism when he was two years old. Throughout his time at Grosse Pointe Public Schools, Armani had an assistant named Christina Reygaert who would attend classes with him. She helped him stay organized, worked with him to figure out tasks, and gave him the confidence he needed in himself. Armani says she is the reason he was able to become who he wanted to be.
Armani always loved cars and racing as a kid. He knew early on that racing was a passion and one that he wanted to be a part of his life for years to come. When he was eight years old, Armani began competing in go-kart racing, then bandolero-style vehicles, and quickly progressed to professional series. He raced in the ARCA Truck Pro Series in 2016, signing with SPEAR MotorSports. He broke records by becoming the highest finishing African American in a series race and the highest finishing African American in the series championship.
The same year, Armani was invited to compete in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine and returned to the competition for the second year in a row. The year 2017 saw Armani move up to a higher level of competition to hone his skills as a race car driver and gain confidence in the former NASCAR Canadian Tires Series, now the NASCAR Pinty’s Series of Canada. He was coached by the team general manager and driver Joey McColm, along with NASCAR Cup series driver D.J. Kennington.
To date, Armani has 18 wins and two championships.
For Future Generations
Now Armani uses his career in racing as a platform to further Autism awareness in the community and inspire kids, individuals and families to find their dreams. He wants all kids to believe that there is a path in life with Autism, and to never give up.
When asked what advice he has for this year’s graduating class, Armani says, “Stay positive, continue to work hard at what you have to do, and what you want to do, because it will help you in the long term. Just have as much fun as you possibly can, because that is what's important.”
Armani was nominated for the Alumni of Distinction honor by friend Irena Politano, our association's president!
Ryan Foster - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2007
by Mary Anne Brush, Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Ryan Foster knew since she was 7 years old that she wanted to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.
What planted the seed was watching a TV sitcom called A Different World about a group of students at a historically Black university who struggle to make it through college. While the show was set at a fictional college called Hillman, it was shaped by showrunner Debbie Allen’s time at Howard University.
“The show followed young Black people around campus and showed their experiences,” Ryan said. “Everyone was Black. That was something I hadn’t experienced before.”
The characters also were all different, she added — from nerdy to Bohemian.
“I thought it was the coolest show and the coolest school,” she said.
Another inspiration was Howard alumna, Zora Neale Hurston, author of the 1937 Harlem Renaissance classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston has been Ryan’s favorite author since she was introduced to her by her English teacher at North, Geoffrey Young.
“So many influential Black people went there, I just felt that was where I needed to go,” Ryan said. “And there I went. Everyone was applying to seven schools. I literally only applied to Howard and got in and was like — done!”
Ryan has no regrets about her decision. In fact, the experience was so phenomenal, she said, she wants her sons — 7-year-old Conner, and she is expecting a second boy in early March — to go there.
She also worked with two other North alumni and Howard University graduates to make this dream possible for others. Ryan along with Deontay Morris, also from the class of 2007, and 2006 graduate Korene Jones Smith, created a scholarship for a North graduate to attend a historically Black college or university.
While at North, Ryan and Deontay worked together on the student newspaper North Pointe, and went on to work together at Howard on The Hilltop, the nation’s oldest Black collegiate newspaper co-founded by Zora Neale Hurston in 1924.
According to Ryan, journalism was her “thing” during her time at North. She started at North Pointe as a reporter, then was features editor and, by her senior year, she was one of three co-editors-in-chief. Her first mentor was Elizabeth (Penny) Soby, a longtime GPPSS teacher whose last position before retiring in 2006 was serving as North Pointe adviser. Fresh off this experience, Ryan started off her college career as a journalism major, working for The Hilltop as a writer and editor.
Her experience with North Pointe prepared her for the rigors of working on a newspaper that came out five days a week, she said.
However, halfway through, she decided to switch from journalism to public relations, noting that the skills she developed in the one field carried through to the other.
After graduating from Howard in 2011, Ryan went on to pursue a master’s degree in public relations and organizational communications from Wayne State University. Following a stint in marketing for General Motors, she did marketing and communications work for a variety of non-profit organizations, serving as the communications director at the American Heart Association for Michigan for a few years. She is currently a press secretary for Mayor Mike Duggan.
Ryan credits her teachers at North for her educational and career trajectories, in particular Mrs. Soby and Mr. Young.
“Mr. Young was literally my favorite teacher,” she said. “He was the first Black teacher I ever had. He recommended so many readings to me and so many authors I had never heard of. He made it his business to get to know the students personally. It wasn’t just the coursework we discussed, but he took note of the things I was interested in — what I would talk about in class — and recommended authors I should look into and opened up my eyes to more things than we talked about in class. I was a voracious reader. It was so great to have a teacher who took note of that and suggested things that I probably wouldn’t have run into myself.”
In fact, every time Mr. Young recommended a book, Ryan said her mother would purchase a hardcover copy for her to keep.
“Reading is so important,” Ryan said, adding she still has those books in her home in Grosse Pointe Woods.
Lynn McGarvah Kurtz - The High, Class of 1969 & Harry Kurtz - The High, Class of 1968
by Mary Anne Brush, Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
In their nearly 36 years of marriage, Harry and Lynn Kurtz have experienced one minor point of marital contention.
Which one of them was a member of the last graduating class at The High?
Harry, who graduated in 1968, claims his class was the last class to graduate from what was then Grosse Pointe High School, the spring before the newly built Grosse Pointe North High School opened its doors to freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
Lynn, a member of the class of 1969, said if she didn’t in fact graduate from The High, then she is owed another diploma; printed on the one she received 52 years ago is “Grosse Pointe High School.”
Harry points out that the Board of Education officially renamed what was once the only high school in town in November of 1967, so technically neither he or Lynn graduated from The High.
“There was so much confusion about it that the board that was in power at the time kind of screwed things up,” he said. “It was perhaps already South when we were going there and North hadn’t even opened yet, which was nonsense. We ended up lobbying the school board to officially state that the Class of 1968 was the last class to graduate from Grosse Pointe High.”
On Sept. 17, 2018, the school board unanimously approved a resolution declaring the Class of 1968 the last class to graduate from Grosse Pointe High. This, in turn, makes the Class of 1969 the first to graduate from Grosse Pointe South.
Harry and Lynn grew up on opposite sides of town. Lynn lived in Grosse Pointe Shores, attending Ferry and Parcells. Harry grew up in Grosse Pointe Park and went to Trombly and Pierce. Today, after living in the City of Grosse Pointe for a while, the couple live in the Shores, where they raised their two daughters, Sarah and Lindsey. Both girls attended Grosse Pointe North, graduating in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
“They got a great education at North, which we were very pleased with,” Harry said. “They were both presidents of their student associations and spoke at their commencements.”
Sarah studied journalism at Northwestern University and received an M.B.A. at the University of Michigan, and Lindsey attended Vanderbilt as an undergraduate, going on to earn a M.Ed. in Community Development and Action there as well.
While Lynn and Harry graduated one year apart and knew each other in high school, sharing mutual friends, they didn’t start dating until eight years after Lynn graduated.
One of Lynn’s strongest recollections from high school was how crowded the hallways were. She believes she was in the largest graduating class on record and partly attributes her choice of Olivet, a small liberal arts college in Michigan, to this fact.
“I needed to find myself after being in a sea of classes,” she said.
After receiving a master’s degree from Michigan State University, Lynn went on to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. She has provided expert witness testimony in social security disability hearings and served for a number of years as a sentencing consultant on Grosse Pointe area DUI court cases.
Lynn also has been active in the Grosse Pointe Shores Improvement Foundation, serving in a variety of capacities as a board member, officer, project committee chair and president while working on and leading several major community improvement projects.
Harry attended Macomb Community College, Wayne Community College, Detroit School of Technology and Wayne State University. Initially, after working at a funeral home during college, he thought he wanted to be a funeral director. Then he decided to go into business for himself, starting out with pinball machines.
After his foray as a pinball wizard, he went into the specialty trailer business. His company, Triune Specialty Trailers, develops mobile exhibits, mobile marketing and mobile defense and health care vehicles.
Harry has been involved in producing civil rights and Black history exhibits, along with a traveling exhibit of Abraham Lincoln that made its way to a number of Grosse Pointe schools.
One of his most formative memories from his high school days was when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Grosse Pointe to speak at Grosse Pointe High School in 1968. Harry was among a group of teenagers who took it upon themselves to protest against the protestors. One of them even threw a snowball at the protestors, causing the police to tell them to go home “or they would tell our parents.”
That experience, and witnessing the Detroit Rebellion the year before, had a profound effect on Harry.
“It opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he said. “It gave me a sense of appreciation for Black history and certainly Dr. King, who has been featured in some of the exhibits that I produced.”
Today, Lynn enjoys retirement while Harry still keeps himself busy with work, admitting he “has a little trouble with retirement.” They have two grandchildren, as Sarah and Lindsey each have a daughter.
Lynn celebrated a birthday on Nov. 9, and Harry gave her a gift he’s not so sure she appreciated — a Grosse Pointe South sweatshirt.
Claire (Urbiel) Hunter - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2002
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer for Grosse Pointe Alumni and Friends
Some heroes wear capes; some wear a nurse's cap and a teacher's hat simultaneously. Claire (Urbiel) Hunter, Grosse Pointe South, class of 2002, does just that.
After graduating with her nursing degree in 2009, Claire worked as an RN with adults until a position opened up at Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit. Children have always been Claire's passion, and in 2010, she accepted a pediatric RN position on a Neurosurgery/Endocrinology/Medical and Surgical unit. There she took care of a population with various complex diagnoses and provided family-centered care to her young patients and their families.
Claire married her husband in 2012 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial (they met after applying for the same job!) and had their first son in 2013. Their second son followed in 2015, and third in 2019. During this time, Claire lost her mother after a battle with cancer. Claire says her mother was a true fighter and an inspiration to her nursing career and role as a mother.
Over the years, Claire has worked on several floors throughout the hospital and found her home in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The Level IV NICU at Children’s Hospital of Michigan provides the highest level of neonatal care for the earliest, most high risk, and sickest infants. While being a NICU nurse is challenging and sometimes heartbreaking, Claire says it is also the most rewarding and fulfilling job that she could ask for. Watching some of the tiniest or weakest patients defy numerous obstacles and health issues and see them grow each day as little fighters and eventually go home with their families is something she always hopes to be a part of.
Despite all of her experience, Claire never imagined being a nurse during a pandemic, or having to navigate homeschooling her two school-age children while chasing a toddler and working in the hospital. But with the help of her husband, she says they did it, and that this experience has made her a better mother and nurse.
The GPPSS Impact
Claire believes that each Grosse Pointe public school teacher impacts their students and helps to mold their life experiences. "Just like each nursing experience and patient I encounter helps me to shape my nursing practice and become a more well-rounded nurse," she says.
Claire's two school-aged children, Ben (8) and Will (6), attend Defer in Grosse Pointe Park. She says that as a family, they are so grateful for the tremendous effort, support, and education from their teachers and school staff throughout transitions between virtual and in-person learning.
As for her own experiences, Claire recalls that Mr. Briske had a talent for teaching US History and its past events while applying his lesson to current events and real-life situations. He allowed his students to think critically and apply themselves, encouraging them to take action to make the world a better place.
Asked what advice Claire has for this year's graduates, she offers, "You do not need to know what your career is in high school—many students don't, and that is okay. It can be overwhelming with all of the college applications and essays, and as long as you challenge and apply yourself to do the best that you can, you will figure it out along the way."
Charles Paul - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2013
by Mary Anne Brush, Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
After a rigorous audition process beginning in May of 2021, Charles Paul became the newest member of the Cleveland Orchestra. The last time a bass player was hired by the Cleveland Orchestra was 10 years ago.
Charles had played an instrument of some kind since he was 8, beginning with wind instruments when he attended elementary school in New York City. When he was 10, his family moved to Grosse Pointe after his father was offered the position as the president and artistic director of Detroit Music Hall, where he remains today.
Charles began playing tuba and trombone at Pierce Middle School.
“I got really interested in playing electric bass when I was 11,” he said. “My dad plays guitar, so I wanted to jam with him. I was learning rock tunes in my parents’ basement for most of middle school.”
He also got into jazz and played with the Pierce jazz band. When he started high school, he wanted to join South’s jazz band, but there were already bass players, both seniors. The band director at the time, Dan White, suggested he learn the upright bass, putting him in touch with James Gross. Charles enrolled in the orchestra class his freshman year and “pretty instantly fell in love with it,” he said. “From then on it was all bass all the time.”
Charles took advantage of any and all opportunities to play bass through most of his high school career, including joining the jazz band and playing with the Blue Devil pep band. He recalls wheeling his bass on a cart to the bleachers, then carrying it up the stands and duct taping the cord so no one would trip on it. He also played with the pit band for choir productions.
“I did basically everything that I could,” he said. “I really just wanted to play bass all the time and do it with as many people as possible.”
Charles went on to study classical music at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He attended for six years, earning both a B.A. and M.A. in music.
In June of 2019, after he graduated, he auditioned for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and was hired for the next season in September. He ended up beginning in February 2020 — right before the pandemic. He spent the next year and a half playing with fellow musicians and recording in the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.
“While we very much missed our patrons and making music normally, it meant everything to me to make music with my friends,” he said.
When the opportunity came up in May of 2021 to audition for the Cleveland Orchestra, “I figured, why not?” Charles said. “It had been a couple of years since I auditioned. I had no idea what would happen; none of us do.”
He auditioned and was offered the position. He was “over the moon,” he said.
“You wake up in the morning one way, and you go to bed and your life is different.”
Charles remains grateful for the early influence of his former teacher at South.
“James Gross is one of the biggest reasons that I am playing music professionally today,” he said. “There can be no doubt. I’ve met all kinds of musicians and teachers over the last decade and in my travels as a professional musician, and I have really not yet been able to match the level of positivity and enthusiasm that James Gross brings to teaching music to students.
“I spoke with other teachers who met my desire to become a professional musician with some doubt,” he added. “Understandably, it’s a very hard career and very hard to be successful, but James Gross never doubted me for a second. I cannot say enough about how special of a teacher he is and how rare it is to see somebody who, no matter where a student comes from or what their attitude is or who they are, he approaches them with open arms and an open door. It is completely and totally inspiring.”
Eva Dou - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2008
by Mary Anne Brush, Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Joining GPPSS from Seoul, South Korea, Eva Dou appeared in the district’s latest episode of “Voices.”
Eva Dou was a student at Grosse Pointe South High School when she decided she wanted to become a journalist. Today she is an award-winning reporter covering China news for the Washington Post.
Eva joined the Tower newspaper for one semester “because it seemed like fun. Gradually I realized it was my favorite thing to do and so I decided to go on and study journalism in college.”
She served as editor-in-chief on the Tower her senior year. After graduating in 2008, she attended the University of Missouri, receiving a bachelor of arts dual-degree in economics and journalism. From there, she worked for the Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal in Taiwan covering electronics companies.
While at the Wall Street Journal, Eva was part of a team that won the 2018 Loeb award for international reporting for a series on China. The series, according to Eva, was about “how China is implementing surveillance technologies in a very rapid way, including facial recognition and surveillance cameras, and building the most closely surveyed place on earth.” The team worked on the project for about a year.
Eva remained at the WSJ for seven years, joining the Washington Post at the beginning of last year — right when the pandemic was starting. Throughout her career she has worked as a foreign correspondent, reporting from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, India and Belgium. Currently she is the Washington Post’s China business and economy correspondent based in Seoul.
Eva said her favorite part of being a journalist is “you get to satisfy your curiosity about how the world works. You get to ask people questions and go places that people otherwise might tell you, you have no business being. You’re trying to write on behalf of the people, trying to think what things are important for the public to know and then trying to find a way to report it out and write it.
“This past year of course, no matter where you’re based as a journalist, the pandemic has been the story we’ve been covering,” she added. “For us covering China, a lot of this past year has been about China’s policies, including the search for the pandemic’s origins, for which still there is no clear answer. A lot of us — me included — haven’t been able to go back to China because with the trade war and the pandemic, they’ve suspended visas for a number of American journalists. It’s really been a challenge: from the outside, from another place, you have to think of new ways to report.”
Recent headlines with Eva’s byline include a Sept. 7 article, “Inside the Wuhan lab: French engineering, deadly viruses and a big mystery,” in which the reporters explored how, after decades of researching agricultural pests, the Wuhan Institute of Virology was seeking to make its mark with a new high-security lab. Then the pandemic erupted.
For students considering a career in journalism today, Eva advised not waiting “for someone to tell you that you’re old enough to do this or that you now have permission to do this.”
For example, in her own high school days with the Tower, she recalls “it feeling so amazing as a student. We would get together and debate the school’s policies and then write this editorial that expresses our views.”
“If there’s something that really speaks to you as far as a profession or a hobby or something you just want to try out, you’re not too young as a high schooler to start doing it,” Eva said. “Just give it a try.”
Carly Piper - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2001
by Mary Anne Brush, Featured in GPPSS School Pointes
Carly Piper Ryan first dreamed of going to the Olympics when she was 7. She had just won a trophy at a summer swim meet in Dearborn and was on her way home to Grosse Pointe Woods with her father when she turned to him and told him her goal.
It wasn’t until college that the dream began to seem achievable, and during her second time at the 2004 Olympic Trials — her first was in 2000, when she was still a student at Grosse Pointe North High School — it became real.
She knew to be an alternate in the relay in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, she had to place between first and sixth.
“When I touched the wall and realized I made fifth, I knew I could make it,” she said. “I got out of the pool and ran over to my teammates and was celebrating.”
Carly, along with those teammates, Natalie Coughlin, Kaitlin Sandeno and Dana Vollmer, went on to win gold in the 4x200M freestyle race at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. They also broke a world record.
That moment on the podium was one Carly will never forget.
“After the final swim, it was awesome,” she said. “USA had seats right across the pool. My coaches at UW were on the left side of me and my parents were on the other side of me. Everywhere I looked I knew somebody.”
After the Olympics, she finished her senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned Big Ten Conference swimmer of the year accolades in 2003 and 2005.
Carly has been swimming “from birth, basically,” she said. Her parents — her mother also was a swimmer — put her in the pool when she was just a baby. She began swimming competitively when she was 7 and swam with Pointe Aquatics, the Grosse Pointe Woods Warriors in the summer, and Grosse Pointe North.
After her success at the Olympics, Carly continued training through 2008. While she went to the trials again, she didn’t make the team. After that she “bounced around a little bit,” she said, adding, “The swimming world moved me to a lot of different places.”
Carly Piper Ryan with her husband, Shane, and daughters, Piper and Harper.
After some time in Tennessee and then back in Grosse Pointe Woods, where she coached for a time with her former coach, Mike O’Connor, she settled in Wisconsin. She and her husband, Shane, have two daughters — Piper, 5, and Harper, nearly 3 — and own the Madison Aquatic Club, which offers classes for all ages and abilities, from parent-child swim classes up to high school and collegiate level training. Carly also works part time at Group Health Cooperative coordinating patient referrals.
Similar to her own parents, Carly and Shane — also a collegiate swimmer — put their daughters in the pool when they were just weeks old, continuing the family tradition.
Peter Maxwell - Grosse Pointe South
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer, Grosse Pointe Alumni and Friends
Although Peter Maxwell didn’t graduate from Grosse Pointe South (he transferred to a boarding school his junior year), he is still a Blue Devil at heart.
These days, Peter is a news reporter for WXYZ-TV, Channel 7 in Detroit. He joined the team in August of 2021. Previously, Maxwell worked for KHQ-TV in Spokane, WA, as an anchor and news reporter. Peter is also a recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award as part of the KHQ Local News team. He is known for his aggressive reporting style, often breaking stories, landing exclusives, and holding the powerful accountable.
Peter grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, where he discovered his love for news and television at a young age. At South, he learned the ins and outs of television news production and what amount of work goes into a show. He credits teacher Stephen Geresy with allowing him to pursue his passion for television and journalism during the morning announcements.
Peter studied at Lake Forest College before transferring to Curry College in Milton, MA, majoring in Broadcast Journalism. During Peter's senior year, he was awarded the Television Student of the Year award by the college's communication department. Peter also has a Master's in communications and media studies from Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL.
For two consecutive summers, Peter interned for WCBS-TV in New York City. He also was a booking/producing intern with MSNBC during the 2012 presidential Election. In 2013, Peter was NBC News Correspondent Kerry Sanders's Associate Producer during the Boston Marathon Bombing.
After graduating from Curry College, Peter worked for Fox News Channel in New York City as an overnight desk assistant. While at Fox News, Peter broke several major national and international stories.
During graduate school, Peter worked for Red Alert Politics/Washington Examiner and for The College Fix covering politics and higher education issues surrounding free speech.
Peter’s work has been featured on NBC News, Fox News, New York Post, Daily Mail, and the Washington Post, just to name a few.
In the fall of 2019, Peter's youngest brother Hampden Meade Maxwell was diagnosed with stage-3 testicular cancer. Meade, as many knew him by, put up a courageous fight. However, on September 26th, 2020, Meade passed away from the disease.
In 2021, Peter along with several of Meade's close friends founded the Nice Matters Foundation a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization. The mission is to raise awareness for men's health specifically testicular cancer.
No matter the size of the task, Peter is always ready and willing to accept any challenge that is given to him.
When asked what advice he has for this year’s graduating class, Peter responded, “Follow your dream and believe in yourself.”
Susan Fattore Schucker - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1979
by Andrea Daniell, Volunteer, Grosse Pointe Alumni and Friends
Susan Fattore Schucker, our latest Grosse Pointe Public Schools Alumni of Distinction, is an Executive Vice President Global Controller at a major advertising agency in Detroit supporting the Ford Global account. But she’s more than that—she’s also an avid swimmer, half-marathon runner, and even knows how to ride a unicycle! She loves to travel and has enjoyed many places around the world, thanks to her global responsibilities.
While at Grosse Pointe North, Susan enjoyed student government, as well as the numerous clubs and activities that the school had to offer. After graduating from Grosse Pointe North in 1979, Susan went on to the University of Michigan, where she earned her Bachelor of Business Administration, majoring in Accounting, and then the University of Detroit, where she got an MBA, majoring in Finance.
She went to work at Arthur Andersen ,where she earned her CPA accreditation.
She credits Grosse Pointe Public Schools’ amazing role models and counselors, who helped her get on the right path. She acknowledges that there was a lot of competition at the high school level at Grosse Pointe North, with many bright, college prep students, which prepared her for the world ahead.
As Susan remembers teachers that influenced her, plenty come to mind: Mr. Harchuk (English), Mr. Gordan Morlan (Science), and Mr. James Haskell (Math) were amongst the teachers that challenged her, but at the same time made learning fun. Susan was Senior Class President and gives great thanks to Mr. Thomas Smith for being her class’s sponsor all four years.
Asked what advice she has for this year’s graduating class, Susan answered “Stay focused, work hard, surround yourself with friends that love you for who you are, and trust your instincts—all of these will help you now and in the future. Life has so much to offer; find your passion and everything will fall into place.”
Olivia Martin - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2018
by Andrea Daniell, Grosse Pointe Alumni and Friends, Volunteer
A theme runs subtly through many of our 100 alumni profiles to celebrate our district's 100th anniversary: that the path we choose for ourselves during our school years might not ultimately be the one we travel down.
Olivia Martin, Grosse Pointe North class of 2018, gives us another example of this, describing where she started and where she is now.
After graduating from North, Olivia thought she would go to college and major in biology, on a pre-med track, or go into nursing. She had no idea that she—as she puts it—would come to her senses and pick journalism.
While she was attending North, Olivia chose yearbook and journalism as electives for three years. She enjoyed all of her English classes, so when she got to college, it wasn’t hard for her to “put it all together.” Olivia is currently a senior at Central Michigan University and plans on attaining her BAA in journalism with a minor in communications in May 2022. After that, she plans to continue with her education, in hopes of becoming a professor.
“I’ve always admired teaching and learning. I’m currently on track for planning for graduate school, and I’m sending off applications soon. I was also able to receive an internship with the magazine company MEFeater, and I was able to make amazing connections with people all around the world,”she shares.
Olivia is currently working on campus, taking five courses as a full-time student, and managing two organizations: Collective Action for Cultural Unity (CACU) and Phenomenal Brown Girl (PBG). She is currently the President of CACU and Vice President of PBG.
Olivia tells us that her journey has been a lot of trial and error and a lot of realization of what she truly enjoys and the things she wants to do. She credits her time in the Grosse Pointe Public School System with preparing her for college and real life. The biggest life lesson she learned is to "never let anyone or something diminish you—never let anything or anyone dim the light inside of you."
Two particular teachers who inspired Olivia throughout her time at North were her Biology teacher, Mrs. Micheals, and her Spanish teacher, Mr. Spears. “Mrs. Micheals inspired me to want to go back to school and pursue a higher education. Mr. Spears inspired me because he helped me realize that everyone deserves another chance. Mr. Spears was always there for his other students and me. He never gave up on us. These are qualities I enjoy having instilled in me because of the two of them,” she says.
One piece of advice Olivia would give to students today is "not to let anyone tell you that you are doing too much, that you shouldn’t feel how you feel, or that you’re too sensitive. Don’t let anyone stop you from caring about something or someone. Don’t let anyone stop you from being passionate about something, such a Black Lives or climate change. Keep being passionate about the issues important to you, and keep demanding change. Don’t let anyone silence your voice.”
Thomas Steen - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1975
by Andrea Daniell, Grosse Pointe Alumni and Friends, Volunteer
Thomas Steen, Grosse Pointe South class of 1975, didn’t follow your average career path. After graduating from Central Michigan University, he went to work for Chevrolet—but quickly realized that wasn’t his passion. So he left the automotive industry unsure of what his future held.
Soon after, he was offered a freshman football coaching opportunity at South by his former head coach Russ Hepner. But coaching alone isn’t enough to pay the bills, so...Thomas obtained his real estate sales license, with the intent to earn enough money to go to graduate school to earn a teaching degree.
Thomas had always enjoyed working with kids, but teaching wasn’t in the cards. In fact, he is now approaching 40 years selling real estate, primarily in the Pointes. Selling real estate gave him the flexibility to coach football for 13 years at South.
In addition to coaching, Thomas has inherited the responsibility to run his class reunions (every 5 years except for 2020, due to Covid), and being the administrator for the class website.
Thomas credits his years in the Grosse Pointe Public School System with preparing him to be a leader when necessary, and not back down from important stances.
Playing sports has always been a big part of Thomas’s life. There are many coaches that he respected. Going from playing for them to coaching with them has given Thomas a different perspective on what it means to be a coach and a leader.
Thomas tells us he learned a lot from Russ Hepner, Jon Rice, and Chuck Hollosy, among others. He also remembers enjoying Mr. Walter Mackey’s Math class, which he had for two years—even though he admits now to sometimes giving the teacher a hard time. Thomas also has fond memories of John Bruce, who was his middle school English teacher, 8th-grade football coach, and 9th-grade basketball coach. Thomas went on to coach baseball with him in Babe Ruth and in the CYO.
When asked what advice he has for this year’s graduating class, Thomas answered, “Grosse Pointe Public Schools will give you a great education, if you take advantage of it. Get involved with extracurricular activities by participating or supporting. Don't be afraid of trying something new. Always think about the consequences of your actions, as social media has become a long-term watchdog.”
Dana Chicklas - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2003
BY GROSSE POINTE ALUMNI AND FRIENDS
Dana Chicklas's story is one of advocacy through storytelling itself. A common thread throughout her career is what she calls copowering, which she describes as building relationships with people and empowering them with tools and a platform to share their own story in their voice, change hearts and minds, and further their mission.
Dana, who graduated from Grosse Pointe North in 2003, attended the University of Michigan, where she earned a dual Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology. After her time at Michigan, she moved to Oakland, California and worked as a member of the Oakland Teaching Fellows, teaching special education for five years. During her time in Oakland, she earned her Master of Arts in special education from Alliant International University.
While advocating for her middle school students, Dana caught the news bug and decided to hone her writing skills by interning at a Bay Area television news station. This launched her on-air career. Over the next seven years, Dana was a TV journalist in Maryland and then back home in Michigan. Many of the investigations she broke revealed her passion for protecting our civil rights and liberties.
To deepen her ability to advocate, Dana transitioned to the other side of the camera as a Communications Strategist for the ACLU of Michigan, where she manages the organization's digital and earned media strategy. Today, Dana also runs her own business, Copowering Media Consulting LLC, where she empowers clients to hone their public relations strategy and ace their interviews and presentations. She provides individualized spokesperson coaching to improve clients' confidence while interviewing or speaking with reporters and the public.
Grosse Pointe Public Schools offered Dana what seemed to be limitless opportunities to become incredibly well-rounded: from playing Varsity Girls Ice Hockey to the violin to participating in numerous AP classes. This, she recalls, helped her make several significant professional transitions after college and trust in her ability to adapt, teach and learn within new fields.
When asked which teachers made an impact on her, Dana had this to say "First, I'd like to thank Coach Tim VanEckoute, who paved the way for a first-class Varsity Girls Ice Hockey program at North that I was proud to play on throughout high school. Between my skating skills and the lifelong friends I've made through our Norsemen team, I gained a certain level of grit, dependability, and power that have shaped the person I am today. I also have to thank my Honors English teacher Brendan Williams. Thanks to his encouragement and opportunities to present our projects in his class during my sophomore year, I realized how powerful my writing skills were, and that it was a path I should pursue professionally. This ultimately led me to become a journalist, where I investigated and wrote my stories and scripts on lightning-fast deadlines for seven years."
To this year's graduating class, Dana offers the following advice: "Explore as much as you can and get uncomfortable: from volunteering to traveling the world to enrolling in a diverse course load, to getting out of your comfort zone to learn from different communities and cultures, do as much as you can. Stretch and learn from people outside of your own community."
Rebecca (Eltervoog) VanBrienen - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1995
BY GROSSE POINTE ALUMNI AND FRIENDS
From Master Gardener to Pilates Instructor, for Rebecca (Eltervoog) VanBrienen, Grosse Pointe South Class of 1995, success looks different than what she thought it might.
After working in the nonprofit sector for years, Rebecca took a leap and started teaching Pilates. From there, she took an even bigger leap, opening her own studio last year in the middle of the pandemic.
Sculpted by Bee is a virtual library website full of classes you can take from home. Rebecca also offers in-person private and semi-private training at her home studio.
Rebecca serves on the Grosse Pointe Garden Center Board as Vice President and Membership Chair, putting her gardening talents to use. She loves attending the Board Meetings at the War Memorial, where she once danced at Middle School "War Dances" and her senior all-night party. Being back at the War Memorial surrounded by all those memories still puts a smile on her face.
Thinking back on her time in the Grosse Pointe Public School system, she feels grateful for her opportunity to explore her wide range of interests. From advanced Science classes and diverse language opportunities such as classical Latin to artistic delights such as ceramics, Rebecca remains impressed with the breadth of courses available and the encouragement from teachers to really broaden their horizons. (She credits her fantastic spelling prowess to that Classical Latin class, by the way.)
As far as favorite teachers go, Rebecca says that she will forever be grateful for Mr. Pluhar at South and for Mrs. Fraser at Maire. During Rebecca's childhood, divorce was rare, and there were occasions when growing up without her father's presence was hard for her. Both Mr. Pluhar and Mrs. Fraser made Rebecca feel valued, safe and excited for school.
Rebecca's advice for this year's graduating class: "Be young but work hard. It's true that you can always learn new things and change your mind in the future. However, the more you do now to lay the foundation to succeed later in life (success is not monetary; it's fulfillment), the better. Enjoy youth and make mistakes, but take advantage of your age and the clean slate in front of you. Don't waste this time in your life. Some people never get that chance to age into their dreams."
Thanks to Judy Latcha for the Nomination
Rebecca was nominated for this alumnus of distinction profile by friend Judy Latcha who had this to say: "Rebecca has a huge heart that she shares in the community. She continuously volunteers through the various garden clubs as a Master Gardner, and her home/garden is a butterfly habitat. Becky's passion is fitness, and last year she founded Sculpted By Bee, an exercise, health, and wellness program. Rebecca is a shining example of utilizing her education and passion for helping others, all the while continuing to thrive in the area she grew up."
Chris Lee - Grosse Pointe High School, Class of 1964
BY MARY ANNE BRUSH AND FEATURED IN GPPSS SCHOOL POINTES
Dr. Christopher Lee’s family represents three generations in the Grosse Pointe Public School System. Dr. Lee’s father, Howard A. Lee, attended The Cadieux School, now the home of the central administration offices at 389 St. Clair. According to the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, the school, built in 1905-1906, was named after the Cadieux family, and Francis Cadieux served as the District No. 1 School Inspector for 33 years.
The Cadieux School was the second school building built for the Grosse Pointe schools, known then as District No. 1. The original two-story building was home to eight classrooms and approximately 240 pupils.
Howard A. Lee was one of those pupils who attended through sixth grade. He then went on to what was then known as Grosse Pointe High School, starting seventh grade when the school opened in 1928.
Howard Lee’s brother and two sisters also attended GPHS, followed by Dr. Lee and his two brothers. Dr. Lee’s nine children all attended Grosse Pointe public schools, with six graduating from and three currently enrolled at South. Twins Matthew and Charlotte are in ninth grade and Mary is a junior.
After graduating from GPHS in 1964 — “I was part of the 1964 Roar,” he said — Dr. Lee attended the University of Michigan College of Engineering, then attended the Wayne State University School of Medicine. He completed his surgery residency at WSU and his fellowship training in pediatric orthopedics at Stanford Children’s Hospital. He has had staff appointments at St. John Ascension, Henry Ford Macomb and Beaumont Grosse Pointe, as well as practiced with St. Clair Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. He served as Chief of Orthopedics at St. John from 2008 to 2018.
“I’ve been in orthopedic practice in Grosse Pointe from 1977 to the current time,” Dr. Lee said. “I’m still working. Just about any kid who broke his arm or leg somewhere in the last 40 years, there’s a good chance I took care of them.”
Dr. Lee was elected to the GPPSS Board of Education in November 2018. He and his wife, Cathy, live in the City of Grosse Pointe.
Matt Morawski - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 2001
BY GROSSE POINTE ALUMNI AND FRIENDS
You may not see his face everyday, but Matt Morawski, Grosse Pointe North class of 2001, is the "man behind the curtain" at Local 4 News Today at WDIV-TV in Detroit, working as an Executive Producer.
Matt discovered his love for TV production in high school at North. He started with one class on the basics of television production, then he went on to take so many more TV production classes that they didn't even have names for the courses!
His "study hall" classes became TV 5, 6, 7, 8, etc. He could have spent his entire day in Brian Stackpoole's TV production classroom. Mr. Stackpoole motivated Matt and gave him the freedom to create some great (and sometimes, by his own admission, awful) projects.
One of Matt's favorite memories was getting to cohost the 30+ hour fundraiser telethon for Grosse Pointe Public Schools under Mr. Stackpoole's and Steve Geresy's leadership. He was also given the incredible opportunity to host his own show called "Matt and Pat's Corner" along with Pat Ballew during his senior year.
GPN's TV production classes helped Matt get in touch with his creative side and put him in a classroom with people he found similar to himself. Not only did Matt make lifelong friends, but he discovered his career path.
After high school, Matt went on to Wayne State University, where he earned his B.A. in journalism. During that time, he interned at WWJ and WDIV. Matt was then offered an Associate Producer opportunity at WDIV, where he wrote for newscasts, assisted in undercover projects, and operated the camera in the helicopter. (What an incredible experience!)
Matt's next move was to Saginaw, Michigan, where he was a news producer for the evening newscasts. He spent two years working for WNEM TV5 in Saginaw before returning to WDIV Local 4 as a weekend morning show producer. Matt spent several years working on climbing the ladder at Local 4 before eventually becoming the Morning Show Executive Producer—a job he's now held for nearly eight years.
Matt considers himself incredibly lucky to be in the position he is in now, and he shares that he's honestly not sure if he'd be here if he hadn't signed up for his first TV production class at Grosse Pointe North.
Outside of work, Matt loves to play guitar and drums. He was even signed to an independent record label with his band Spoonfed when he was just 15 years old!
When asked what advice he has for this year's graduating class, he had this to say: "Be inclusive. That person you might otherwise ignore could be someone who inspires you to become something great. Give everyone a shot, because we all deserve one."
Megan Grano - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1995
BY ANDREA DANIELL, GROSSE POINTE ALUMNI & FRIENDS VOLUNTEER, AND FEATURED IN GPPSS SCHOOL POINTES
Comedian, writer, public speaking coach, rug collector.
Those are just of the few of the titles Megan Grano, Grosse Pointe South class of 1995, wears.
After graduating from South, Megan attended college at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. From there she found herself living in Chicago and pursuing a career in improv and sketch comedy at Second City. She toured with their national company for 3 years before becoming a member of their resident ensemble.
Megan later moved to Los Angeles, where she continued to write and act. She has appeared on TV shows like Parks & Rec, Veep, and Love, as well as movies including This is 40 and Bombshell. She was also a writer for shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live, many YouTube channels, and Snapchat.
In 2013, Megan was introduced to the COO of a Fortune 500 company that was looking to add more humor in public appearances. She was referred by this executive to many other executives and now, nine years later, Megan has a wide array of corporate clients whom she assists with speech writing as well as speech delivering. Her clients include Disney, Boston Beer, Instagram, Facebook, Alteryx, the WNBA, the Washington Mystics, Google, Notion, Niantic, and more.
While in high school, Megan was part of the “Second Suburb” comedy troop. She credits this experience with influencing her life and giving her the desire to pursue a career in the performance world. At the time, Second Suburb was constantly on the brink of being canceled — and actually was canceled Megan’s sophomore year — so she thanks Vice Principal Bernie LeMieux for agreeing to keep the program around. Megan feels that comedy is such an important outlet for all humans, but especially teenagers, and especially in this image-conscious, cancel-culture world.
As far as advice for this year’s graduating class, Megan says, “Work hard, but don't take yourself too seriously.”
Football Teammates - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1971
BY MARY ANNE BRUSH, FEATURED IN GPPSS SCHOOL POINTES
Roger Ulmer had a message for Grosse Pointe North’s football team before their game against the Roseville Panthers Sept. 17: Play as a team.
Ulmer, along with his 1971 classmates Doug D’Agostino, Bob Friedhoff, Clay James and Bob Reynolds, was visiting North as part of their 50th reunion. As the first class to spend their high school years at North, they were honored at the football game during the coin toss, with James flipping the coin at the 50-yard line.
“We were here for three years,” Ulmer said. “The first year the school opened, we didn’t have any seniors. The second year we were supposed to kill everybody because our whole team came back. The second year we didn’t play as a team. The third year, we gelled and we played as a team. Nobody was a great superstar but we played as a team and we won.”
Their record was 8-1 senior year and they won the league. Their other claim to fame was their defense. The former players boast of winning five shutouts in a row and playing 24 scoreless quarters.
D’Agostino was a full back, defensive back and on special teams. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business. A certified public accountant, he owns his own business, D’Agostino Tax, and lives in Troy, Michigan.
An All-League second team outside linebacker, James earned a bachelor degree in business administration from the University of Southern California. The former owner of Huntington Beach Dodge in Huntington, Calif., he is currently semi-retired and lives in Corona Del Mar.
Friedhoff was the team trainer/manager. He attended the Wayne State University School of Medicine and lives in Rochester, Minn., where he works as an anesthesiologist for the Mayo Clinic.
Reynolds, an All-League center for North’s team, earned a BBA from Eastern Michigan and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University. He had a long career as a sales manager for Blue Cross/Blue Shield and is currently retired and living in Grosse Pointe Farms.
Ulmer was an offensive tackle and defensive end, earning All-League and All-State honorable mention during his time at North. He also played as an offensive lineman at Western Michigan University. He has a BBA degree from Western and B.S. degree in engineering from Lawrence Technological University. He currently lives in Grosse Pointe Woods and works as an automotive quality engineer for the ARaymond Corporation.
On the sidelines before the game, the four former players and former trainer/manager reminisced about their days at North, including praising their coaching staff, in particular head coach Jim Krucki, a longtime math teacher who was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Association Coaches Hall of Fame in 2006 and retired from coaching in 1980. The classmates agreed they would have invited their former coach to join them in the festivities if he was still alive.
“Coach Krucki was a class guy and he inspires me to this day,” James said, adding he learned about teamwork from a coach who designed a defense based on the team’s strengths.
“We weren’t the biggest team in the league,” he said. “We weren’t the fastest. But the defense he developed was very unorthodox and the other teams just couldn’t figure out how to stop it. He taught me a lot about life and adapting to your strengths rather than trying to force things.”
North Principal Kate Murray assured her guests the football team was in good hands with the current coaching staff — head coach Joe Drouin, assistant head coach Dennis Pascoe, defensive coordinator Lucas Lanzon, offensive coordinator Kevin Shubnell, and assistant coaches Richard Cooper, Eric Eplin, Steve Plieth, Mike Kohler and Paul Sahadi.
“I just want to reassure you that I’ve never felt prouder of a team of coaches than these young men here who are taking care of our boys,” she said. “Most of them are on staff in the building. They teach English, social studies, phys ed. When they’re on staff in the building like that, it really makes a difference. And they are fantastic and they know every end of the game. They play as a team and are developing young men of character. Hopefully they are carrying on the tradition.”
Carly Copus - Grosse Pointe South, Class of 2003
BY ANDREA DANIELL, GROSSE POINTE ALUMNI AND FRIENDS
Carly Copus is the embodiment of a “community leader,” without ever having asked for the title.
Carly, who graduated from Grosse Pointe South in 2003, lives with her husband and three kids in Grosse Pointe Park. In March of 2016, she launched the Grosse Pointe Park Community Page, a hub on Facebook with more than 4,000 members.
Her goal in creating the group was to “create a village” here in Grosse Pointe, both for the adults and our children. Carly believes there is an infinite value in a strong community and working together, and she works daily to curate a space to make that possible.
Carly spent most of her time in the Tower Room in High School, working on the newspaper. She credits this experience in how she learned so much about working together for a common goal and how to move ideas in a positive direction.
As far as Carly’s favorite classes and teachers go, she loved both choir and the newspaper. And her AP U.S. History class with Mrs. Norris started a passion for history that still has her reading 50-plus books per year to this day.
The late Jeff Nardone, the Tower Advisor, was a constant mentor and friend, and Carly misses him still.
Carly also recalls that Carolyn Gross (then Paravano) was so incredibly influential in her life as a young teacher during middle school. She fostered Carly’s voice and confidence in ways that still help her today.
In addition to managing the GPP Community Page, Carly has helped bring Grosse Pointe Pride to fruition since 2018. She also runs a business doing custom embroidery artwork and jewelry called Hanging By A Thread With Carly.
When asked what advice she’d give to current GPPSS students, she answered, “Do things for people they can never repay you for; I promise it will come back tenfold.”
Kate Rigney Callas - Grosse Pointe High, Class of 1968
BY MARY ANNE BRUSH, FEATURED IN GPPSS SCHOOL POINTES
Kate Callas was a member of the last graduating class of what was formerly Grosse Pointe High School — affectionately known as “The High.” This was the last year there was one high school in Grosse Pointe before Grosse Pointe North opened its doors in September 1968.
Having grown up in Ypsilanti, Kate moved to Grosse Pointe in 1965, first attending ninth grade at Brownell Middle School at a time when the high school housed only 10th through 12th graders.
Kate recalls her June graduation among nearly 1,000 classmates on the football field, walking between two students she had never seen before.
Among other memories is participating in a community service group known as “Y teams” affiliated with the YWCA, eating lunch in Cleminson Hall — “quite a fancy lunchroom!” — attending driver’s education classes in a Quonset hut, and being required to wear skirts.
One of her most memorable recollections was attending Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech in the school gymnasium on March 14, 1968.
“What I remember was just being blown away by the crowded gym,” she recalled. “I was up in the balcony with my parents and a couple of my other siblings. When we were trying to get in there, there was that Breakthrough group with (leader) Donald Lobsinger trying to prevent us from getting in. That was my first experience with something like that in Grosse Pointe.”
A lasting academic memory was taking a humanities class, in which teachers from history, art, music and English collaborated in an integrated studies approach — a new concept at the time, she explained. Among her favorite teachers was Robert Bradley, who was part of that humanities group.
“He was one of those guys who was just so committed to the students,” Kate said.
Kate and her husband, Jack, both now retired, raised their three daughters — Beth, Elena and Robin — in Grosse Pointe Park. All three attended Defer, Pierce and Grosse Pointe South, graduating in 1996, 2005 and 2000, respectively.
“They had a great experience in the Grosse Pointe schools,” Kate said.
Over the nine years she was involved with the Defer PTO, Kate was active in a number of volunteer activities, but her proudest accomplishment was applying for the school building to be listed in the State Register of Historic Sites, the state’s official list of sites worthy of being preserved.
The application was approved on Aug. 29, 1996.
Peggy Thompson Bonbrisco - Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1976
BY MARY ANNE BRUSH, FEATURED IN GPPSS SCHOOL POINTES
According to Beth Rainbolt, Peggy’s daughter and a literacy coach at Monteith, Grosse Pointe North is a bit of a family tradition. While Peggy’s mother graduated from Grosse Pointe High School, she and her sister and brother all graduated from North. Her three daughters, including Beth, also graduated from North and Peggy has seven grandchildren, all of whom attend a Grosse Pointe public school or will when they are of school age. Peggy deeply supports Grosse Pointe schools as a parent and grandparent and currently works as North’s student activities director. Among her many responsibilities, she runs the student union, which “offers a fun and safe place for kids to hang out,” Beth said. She also plans homecoming and graduation.
“She connects, and continues to connect, with current Grosse Pointe North students and alumni,” Beth said. “She also makes the students feel connected and pride for their school.”
Most recently, Beth added, her mother planned the all-staff launch for the start of the 2021-22 school year, held in North’s gymnasium. It meant a lot to Beth to see her mother be recognized for her hard work in front of all the district staff. She was particularly struck by the number of shout-outs Peggy received for creating such a warm, welcoming and comfortable environment for everyone.
“I was just so happy for her because it’s been such a challenge for her to do this job during COVID,” Beth said. “I think the district has done a great job of recognizing how much work goes into the job.”
A comment Beth said she heard often during the staff launch was, “The room looks great because Bon knows how to throw a party.”
Nadia Tremonti: Grosse Pointe South, Class of 1994
There is no doubt that Grosse Pointe Schools have produced alumni who are not afraid of hard work. There are GPPSS graduates working in all areas of law, medicine, serving in the military, working in government, and doing all sorts of important things. But at the very top of the "grads with challenging and demanding jobs" list, you will find Dr. Nadia Tremonti.
As a children's palliative care doctor, when Nadia checks in to work each day, she knows that she'll be seeing a child in their most vulnerable condition. And she understands that the care doesn't end with the child - that there is also a family going through the very worst emotional pain and it’s her goal to help them as well.
"A lot of people would consider my role extremely depressing, and that's the furthest from the truth," Nadia told Crain's Detroit, "I see a lot of unconditional love and people showing remarkable strength in difficult times."
What is Palliative Care?
specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness, focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of dealing with illness, with the goal to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family
Palliative Care offers support for patients and their families who are facing complex medical problems. The goal of palliative care is to enhance the quality of life for patients suffering from a wide range of conditions and injuries. Palliative care recognizes that each family is unique, and so there is a wide range of services available to help families. It can be appropriate at any time during an illness or injury and can be provided concurrently with treatment aimed at a cure.
The GPPSS Impact
Nadia cites the teachers who had the most significant influence on her as those who "created space," allowing her to explore who she was and who she wanted to become.
She recalls Mr. Pluhar's ceramics class as just that - a place where she felt safe exploring interests and personality traits outside of academics. Mr. Pluhar's class was also where she met her future husband, Mike Gentile (South, 1993).
Nadia also looks back at her AP Bio class as having been instrumental in shaping her path into medicine. Mr. Geisler, as she recalls, always made science fun and silly, which spoke to Nadia's personality.
Lastly, she fondly remembers her time in Mr. Yacup's class. She remembers his flair for the dramatics, which often included him standing on a desk to recite poetry. He also loved to exclaim that his pet peeves are "like an icepick through the eye" - something that Nadia has since adopted with her medical residents, she tells me with a laugh.
Graduating from Grosse Pointe South in 1994 and Wayne State in 2002 from the University School of Medicine, Nadia is double board-certified in pediatrics and hospice/palliative medicine. She completed her internship and residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Michigan and Wayne State University before becoming the chief resident.
After her residency, Nadia completed her fellowship in hospice and palliative medicine at the Detroit Medical Center. She also trained at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio and Children's Hospital Boston.
Nadia started the palliative care program at Children's Hospital of Michigan in 2007. Engagement among caregivers, patients, and families is at the heart of her practice. She has recruited physicians, nurses, social workers, child life specialists, music therapists, and chaplains to be part of the palliative care team. Most recently, she has invited parents of children who have received palliative care to team meetings.
In the News
Nadia's work is the focus of the 2019 film "Palliative," shot by Denver-based Triage Films LLC. The 37-minute documentary won several awards, including the 2019 People's Choice Award for Best Short Film at the Denver Film Festival.
Robert Friedhoff: Grosse Pointe North, Class of 1971
For our newest Alumni Spotlight, we spoke to Dr. Robert Friedhoff, who was in the second class to graduate from Grosse Pointe North after the Grosse Pointe High School split in 1968 to become Grosse Pointe South and the new Grosse Pointe North. Before attending North, Dr. Friedhoff attended Ferry Elementary School and Parcells Middle.
Some of the teachers who had a positive influence on Dr. Friedhoff go back to his elementary days. He recalls Miss Rehill in kindergarten, Miss Ambrose in 1st/2nd grade, and Mr. Kurtell in 5th/6th and Mr. Cooper. During his time at Parcells, he points to Mr. McNew, Minor, Sumula, Harris and Miss Stuart as all being instrumental in his success and from North; Mr. Ritter, Fenech, Schneider, Morehead, Gray and Herold.
His favorite subject was always math, and he knew later in high school that he wanted to be a doctor. High school wasn't only about academics for Dr. Friedhoff, though. He was also the team manager for three sports—football, baseball, and basketball and was active in the band.
After high school, Dr. Friedhoff attended Western Michigan University, later Emory University and then Wayne State School of Medicine. He completed his internship at St. John Hospital in Detroit, his residency in anesthesia at the Mayo Clinic and Pediatric fellowship at Children’s National Medical Center.
Dr. Friedhoff holds positions both as an anesthesiologist and Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at the esteemed Mayo Clinic. The most rewarding part of his career, he says, is working with children. "Pediatric patients are the most vulnerable, and it's gratifying to be able to help," he tells us. He also has participated in medical missions in Asia, South America and Africa.
When asked what he believes makes Grosse Pointe Public Schools so special, he cites the expectation of the faculty to complete advanced degrees and the community's support of the students. From the Little Leagues to Scouting, the individual GP parks and recreation, the Arts and community churches. They all lend a hand in the wonderful way students are brought up in our district.