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March 2023

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

Volume 8 | Number 2

Welcome to Rise, the voice of Grand Island Senior High alumni and friends. We show up every other month in over 9,000 in-boxes bringing you news, views, and memories of GISH. Rise is a publication of the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation.

Welcome to our eighth year of publishing the only consistent connection for alumni and friends of Grand Island Senior High. That makes this iteration 44 of Rise. We are happy you’re a subscriber and hope you continue to read the comings and goings of Islander alums across the globe. 

Here’s some of what you will find inside this issue: “At the Top'' introduces you to our newest columnist, Sarah Kuta and bids a fond farewell to Abbey Kutlas-Prickett. Sarah uses her column, “The Wandering Writer's World” to introduce herself to Rise readers. Jackie Ruiz-Rodriguez’s “On the Island” sets the stage for Senior High’s spring musical, “Big Fish.” Grand Island Public Schools Foundation Executive Director, Kari Hooker-Leep, writes about scholarships and legacy in her “Making Your Mark” piece. Annual Giving Coordinator, Maggie McDermott, has a run down on the Foundation’s Staff Campaign and Go Big Give, both of which she does with some really fascinating numbers.

As usual, we’ll remember alumni who have passed in the last couple months and keep up on the lives and times of Islanders everywhere in Class Notes. An (e)Mailbag correspondent writes in praise of Mike Monk’s writing. Speaking of which, Mike’s “Distant Mirror” column this issue wonders why college students are avoiding the humanities and what they lose in doing so. Bianca Ayala takes us to the world of girls wrestling at Barr Middle School and GISH. Yours truly draws the distinction between legendary GISH English teacher Mr. Elmer Kral and new artificial intelligence software that can write an essay for you.

Keep in touch, Islanders. And remember: Keep pushing on

  • At the Top

    George introduces you to our newest columnist, Sarah Kuta and bids a fond farewell to Abbey Kutlas-Prickett.

  • (e) Mail Bag

    An (e)Mail Bag correspondent writes in praise of Mike Monk’s writing.

  • Making Your Mark

    Kari Hooker-Leep writes about scholarships and legacy in her piece.

  • Your Legacy. Their Opportunity.

    Maggie McDermott has a run down on the Foundation’s Staff Campaign and Go Big Give.

  • Shining Bright Since 2005

    Bianca Ayala takes us to the world of girls wrestling at Barr Middle School and GISH.

  • I've Been Thinking

    George draws the distinction between legendary GISH English teacher, Mr. Elmer Kral, and new artificial intelligence software that can write an essay for you.

  • On the Island

    Jackie Ruiz-Rodriguez’s sets the stage for Senior High’s spring musical, “Big Fish.”

  • Distant Mirror

    Mike's column this issue wonders why college students are avoiding the humanities and what they lose in doing so.

  • A Wandering Writer's World

    Sarah Kuta uses her column to introduce herself to Rise readers.

  • Class Reunion Updates

    Class gatherings in Islander Nation

  • In Memoriam

    Remembering Islanders who have recently passed

  • Class Notes

    The latest happenings in the lives of GIPS alums

At the Top

Welcoming, Saying Farewell to Writers in Purple

Abbey Kutlas-Prickett

When Abbey Kutlas-Prickett decided that her continued writing for Rise would be too much on her plate, finding another writer with her gifts would be no easy task. Her life is a whirlwind anchored in a new teaching job at Omaha South High School and a new home. To borrow a phrase from the computing world, the solution for her replacement turned out to be more than elegant, however.

Say hello to Sarah Kuta and her new Rise column, “A Wandering Writer’s World.” We’ll let Sarah introduce herself in her column, but suffice to say we at Rise were quite excited when she agreed to join in our bi-monthly forays into all things alumni and Islander.

Sarah Kuta

She travels the world (literally) and writes stories about and from both the faraway and the nearby. Her insight and experience will give readers a new and exciting perspective from an alum on the move. Like Abbey, she is also a gifted writer, blessed with a deft hand and penchant for clarity. Plan to make “A Wandering Writer’s World” a stop as you navigate each issue of Rise.

While we are pleased to welcome Sarah, we are saddened to say adios to Abbey. Her columns were deep and reflective, beautifully written in a voice that made us think. We will miss her.

Sarah and Abbey share two alma maters: Both are graduates of Grand Island Senior High and Northwestern University. Our guess is each has a lot of purple in her closet.

(e) Mail Bag

I just finished reading Mike Monk’s article in the January 2023 Rise titled “Nothing is Fixed in the Universe.” I loved it! So many great points he made about our past, present, and future. Such a positive way to look at the ever-evolving changes in our life.

Jane Plautz Kruse Dreher, Class of 1967


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Making Your Mark

Scholarship Season Time for Leaving Legacies, Building Dreams

Kari Hooker-Leep

Executive Director
GIPS Foundation

Making a mark can mean so many different things to different people. It could be, “Oops I made a small mark on the car,” code for the bumper hanging off. Or, it could be the other extreme, an event that made a mark on me that I will hold on tightly in my memory. 

 As I look back over my time from Kindergarten to graduation in the Grand Island Public Schools, I view the marks left on me from memories of great friendships, and certain events in time but also the unforgettable marks that educators left upon us. 

Think back. Can you name your Kindergarten teacher, your 4th grade teacher, your 7th grade English teacher and of course your Senior High homeroom teacher? I absolutely can: Mrs. Mathews, Mrs. Coates, Mrs. Johnson, and Mr. Harvey. Why can I recall these people so vividly? The memory that they left is an indelible and everlasting mark upon my childhood. I can, with certainty, say that I was honored to have some of the best of the best educators. The same is true now that was true way back then -- teachers are unselfish, giving, sometimes-strict-when-needed souls, who should be held in high esteem. 

The Foundation is currently in “Scholarship Season.” That means not only are we encouraging students to fill out applications, write essays and decide what they want to do following graduation. It also means that we have 90+ people reviewing scholarship applications. We have donors setting up wonderfully generous scholarships for students to take advantage of, as well as our staff planning glorious celebrations to honor donors and students alike. This is a time for students to review the past 13 years and think how they will want to go forward to leave their own mark on the world. It is also a time for the reviewers to read wonderful essays of what the students see in their futures, of how their pasts guided but did not dictate their current life and for the reviewer to see themselves in that time warp. The reviewers can encounter a flood of memories of their own senior year, their dreams following graduation and, of course, the wonderful memories of their teachers. 

Scholarship Season is a time to make dreams come true for so many students. It is a time for students to be awarded for scholastic prowess, but also to give hope to a student who had little hope that college, or any higher education was even a possibility. The Foundation will be awarding scholarships from $250 to $260,000. We will award over $640,000 in total. That is a life changing number. Scholarships are made possible from companies, individuals, families, and of course many are in honor of loved ones. Each one has its own story of why it was established and what kind of student they would like the scholarship awarded to. The diversity of scholarships are wide and they are diverse … as diverse as Senior High, and that is our vision. We envision Grand Island Public Schools as a place where all students experience a rich educational journey with robust opportunities to prepare them to thrive and dream big. 

So what mark was left on you that guided your life? What mark will you leave on others and how will you leave a legacy? Will your legacy be through a scholarship that would honor a loved one or possibly a scholarship that will direct and change a young life?

Build a Scholarship Fund information

If you're going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can't be erased.  - Maya Angelou

Your Legacy. Their Opportunity.

Go Big Give Set for May 4, GIPS Foundation Staff Campaign Ready to Roll

Maggie McDermott

Annual Giving Coordinator
GIPS Foundation

Go Big Give is almost upon us. Mark your calendar for May 4 to join us in the 10th annual Go Big Give 24-hour online giving event to benefit local non-profits. We will have both the GIPS Foundation and the Our Grand Legacy Memorial Stadium Campaign listed on the Go Big Give platform again this year. 

And of course, we will again hold the Decade Challenge contest. Your gift to the GIPS Foundation through Go Big Give will count towards the Decade Challenge. We will record how many gifts and how much was raised for the Purple and Gold Fund by decade. So, if you are a member of the class of 1975 for example, your gift will be attributed to the 1970s decade.

Last year the 1940s showed up to grab the street cred for highest dollar amount at $1,500 while the 1990s and 2000s tied with 3 gifts a piece. Who will take the crown this year?

In 2022 we were very proud of the effort from all of our alumni and supporters who went big and gave to our students through the 2022 Go Big Give effort. Our totals that day grew to $16,783 from 42 donors. Of that total, $2,885 was given to the Stadium Project and $13,898 was given to our general campaign. $4,183.75 came from alumni with seven decades represented.

The Foundation cannot make these investments without your support. Let’s show Grand Island our Purple and Gold pride by participating in GO BIG Give on May 4, 2023


If my decade has the most gifts or gives the highest amount, what do we get? The answer is street cred. We will highlight the decade winners in the May edition of Rise and give your decade the coverage it deserves.

How will you know who belongs to which decade? When you give to the GIPS Foundation through Go Big Give, we get a list of donors. We will match this list with our database and credit the proper decade. Please be sure to list your name as you give to Go Big Give. If you give anonymously, we don’t get your identifying information, and therefore would not be able to credit the gift to your decade.

Can I send a check instead? Yes, but to be credited to this challenge, your check needs to be made out to Go Big Give and sent to our office by April 26. 

Our office address is: 
          GIPS Foundation
          PO Box 4904
          Grand Island, NE 68802

How do I give? The Go Big Give online portal will open for pre-giving on April 24. The day of giving is May 4. To give, click on either of the following links:




We will send a reminder email blast on April 24 and again on May 4 with these links.

Why are you asking alumni? We could really use your help with this effort. Charities that participate in the Go Big Give campaign are eligible for prizes and matching gifts based on number of unique givers, total dollars raised, and number of gifts raised per hour. Talk about a way to broaden our impact. We know there is power in numbers. This Go Big Give Day maximizes the collective impact concept to generate real dollars that in our case translate into opportunities for the 9,990 students who attend our schools. We are excited to participate in such an impactful fundraiser.

9,076: The number of alumni receiving this email newsletter. Just think about the results, if you and each of your fellow 9,075 alumni and friends gave $10 or more to the GIPS Foundation through the Go Big Give effort. The collective impact of your gift, not counting the matching gifts or prizes earned that day would add up to $90,760 for students. That is 200 more scholarships or 90 more grants or 400 more individual opportunities funded. It would be amazing to see this number. We want you. We need you. We hope that you will consider the power of your gift to students.

Watch for Go Big Give results in the May edition of Rise.


2023 Staff & Board Campaign

This spring will kick off year 20 of the GIPS Foundation staff campaign: Add it Up to Opportunity!

The annual staff campaign supports programs like mini-grants, scholarships, and special opportunities for individual students. The Foundation will launch the campaign on March 20 and it will run through April 18. Heading up the campaign are seven co-chairs of teachers from across the district. Together, those seven co-chairs have recruited 49 team leaders in charge of promoting the campaign within each school building.

Our seven staff campaign co-chairs are:

Kent Naylor – GISH

Deb Lawson – GISH

Hannah Schmidt – Barr

Katelyn Weseman – Walnut

Kelsey King – Westridge

Sarah Nedrig – Howard & Seedling Mile

Bailey Aupperlee - Shoemaker

Each year a challenge gift is donated to match all new or increased gifts. This year the challenge gift comes from the Benson Family.  

Public schools hold a special place for the Benson Family, who lost their matriarch, Janet Benson, last March. Janet was a secretary at Senior High from 2001 until her retirement in 2013. Janet wasn’t the only family member with strong ties to GIPS though. In fact, members of the Benson family have been attending, working, coaching, or teaching in the district for an incredible 56 consecutive years and counting. Janet’s 7 children, and 13 of her grandchildren have attended school at GISH.

Janet Benson

Photo courtesy of the Benson Family.

Janet’s children, Jeff Benson, Cheri Brown, Kim Wagner, Kathi Beebe, Kelli Jeffries, Jim Benson and Julie Wooden have graciously chosen to honor their mother’s legacy by pledging $5,000 in support of public education to match all new and increased gifts towards the campaign.

In addition to the Benson Family challenge gift, the Foundation has orchestrated other incentives to foster staff participation like personal day drawings, a drink tumbler, a t-shirt with a custom 20 year anniversary logo, gift cards, and more.

A press conference will be held on May 15 to announce campaign results. Watch for those results in the May edition of Rise. 

I will leave you with a few stats from the last 19 years that will warm your heart:

  • The average gift during the first year of the staff campaign in 2004 was $65.58. The average gift in 2022 was $80.60.
  • In 2004, 39 percent of staff participated in the campaign. In 2022, 90 percent of staff participated.
  • In 2004, $31,100 dollars were raised during the staff campaign. In 2022, staff donated $108,561.97.
  • And finally, over the past 19 years, GIPS staff have invested $1,400,535.12 in opportunities for students.

Those opportunities certainly do add up. Thank you to our GIPS staff. YOU are the gold standard in giving.


Shining Bright Since 2005

Girls Wrestling Comes to Barr

Bianca Ayala

Class of 2005
GIPS Foundation Board

Wrestling is a sport I have always been a part of as my brother, Efrain Ayala, was a wrestler, and I was a manager all through high school at Grand Island Senior High and for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Since then I have missed the sport and volunteered at any meet that I could. I have also volunteered for my brother’s team in Wisconsin. Since February 2020 I have been watching my two nieces wrestle, and that is when I knew I wanted to get more involved in girls wrestling here in Nebraska.

Girls wrestling has become an up-and-coming sport for a few years. GISH sent 10 wrestlers to State this year and placed sixth in the team standings. Also this year, Barr Middle School had its very own team. I knew this was my time to express wanting to be part of the team as an assistant coach or volunteer. I ended up being an assistant coach and loved it. My roles were to teach the girl managers how to keep the book, weigh-ins with all girl wrestlers, monitor the weekly goal sheets, and emotionally support the girls. The male coaches and male managers taught the girls all the moves and how to keep the motivation to continue. 

Barr’s team consisted of 17 wrestlers, 5 female managers, and 5 male managers. Out of all the wrestlers only one female had wrestled before, and she did a great job helping all the wrestlers and then was named team captain. It was truly a joy to spend six weeks with the girl wrestlers as we taught each other many things. They taught me how to be silly between matches, never give up no matter the outcome, and trust each other to build each other up. They expressed that I taught them how to be vulnerable about their feelings, express which moves they still need guidance on, and even if they do not win, to be proud of what they could do during the match. I do believe the bond that was created in the team will always be there. The team was able to fill all spots for weight classes except for one. There were two wrestlers that were able to win five out of their six matches. 

It was a great season and a job well done by all the girl wrestlers on the Barr Middle School team. Best of luck to all of them in their future wrestling endeavors.

2023 Barr Girls Wrestling Team

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I've Been Thinking

AI and the Need for Extra Study Halls

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

Mr. Kral would know. And it wouldn’t be pretty.

Slipping an errant comma or verb tense violation past legendary Senior High English teacher, Mr. Elmer Kral, proved next to impossible. So turning in an entire essay generated by artificial intelligence? No way. Take that ChatGPT and just head to Room 312 after school because you need a lesson in grammar, good manners, and honesty.

ChatGPT is the AI software that can create good high school essays with just a few prompts and in about three minutes. I researched the software when I was writing a piece for an online newspaper last month. In that commentary, I actually generated about 100 words with the software, which produced a couple usable paragraphs. I told my readers they were seeing words written by AI.

Photo courtesy of George Ayoub.

I checked the passage for usage, style, spelling, and sense, typical of the once or twice over Mr. Kral would give our papers. A close read would have revealed the paragraphs, while solid and grammatically fit, were written by someone other than me … in this case a machine.

I’m absolutely sure that had something like ChatGPT been available in 1968 (or simply having a brilliant classmate write essays for me), and had I taken advantage of it, Mr. Kral would have outed my cheating within the first couple of paragraphs. And, for those who remember Mr. Kral, justice would have been swift, severe, but educationally sound.

Here’s what Mr. Kral had that AI algorithms do not: A personal relationship with his students, the kind that you could count on every day, the kind where he knew you and your writing, the kind that gave you the basis for success not simply in his class but in life, too. In the vernacular of high school, Mr. Kral was hard. No two ways about that. But he was good, too, even as I mistook it for being picked on at the outset of my senior year.

Photo courtesy of George Ayoub.

So when I turned in my senior research paper on the Roaring 20s some eight months later, he knew what to look for because he knew me. He knew that I came to him lazy and unmotivated in September. He knew if I spent my study halls working on his assignments rather than shooting the breeze with anyone who was available, I would improve. He knew that I had the chops to be a good writer, maybe even enough to make a living at it some day. And because he spent the time to know my writing as distinct and different from the Islanders sitting in front and behind me in class, his lessons still resonate every time I stare at a blank screen in need of 500 or 700 or 1,000 words that make sense.

The B+ I earned on my senior research paper notwithstanding (I still maintain, as I did then to no avail, that it was at least an A-), ChatGPT is crazy cool and surely revolutionary, but it will never know me and my writing like Mr. Kral did. Nor will it require extra study halls. Nor will it regularly correspond with me when I indeed was making a living as a writer, suggesting stories and subjects and, occasionally, praising me, compliments I always took as an A.

AI may forever alter the high school essay and more, forcing English and history teachers and entire departments and school districts to rethink their curriculums. But it will never be the same as Mr. Kral because he would know.

On the Island

‘Big Fish’ Premiers March 31 - April 2

Jacqueline Ruiz-Rodriguez

Class of 2023
Student Correspondent

Senior High students are preparing to put on a heart-wrenching, drama-inducing, slightly comical musical this spring.

“Big Fish” is a musical that centers around a man named Edward Bloom and his son, William Bloom. William has never known what to think of his father; they have a strained relationship, but Edward becomes ill with cancer and William must decide what he really thinks of his father. William starts to dig deeper into his father’s past and begins to understand the man who raised him.

“In an attempt to get his son to reach for the stars and dream big, Edward Bloom tells hyperbolic stories to his son about his life. As a result, William starts to question who his dad really is,” said Gary Alexander, executive director.

Seniors Simon Javorsky, Ethan Andrade, and Hannah Madison play lead roles in the musical. Javorsky plays Edward, Andrade plays William, and Madison plays Edward's wife, Sandra Bloom.

“Sandra is a very caring mother and wife. I don’t have a family of my own, so it’s tough to relate to her, but her main role is connecting Edward and Will,” she said. 

Madison has been involved in theater for four years at Senior High. She said that she is excited to participate in her first big role.

“I’m very excited because there are a lot of people who don’t do theater that are choosing to participate in this musical. People are coming together to participate in theater and that's really fun,” she said.

Madison added that she thinks the main message of the story is to have fun in life, to not take things too seriously, and enjoy yourself.

Alexander explained that they have a cast of about 65 students in the musical, including the costume department and stage hands. 

“This number fluctuates daily, but our students are working really hard to put on an amazing show for everybody,” Alexander said.

He added that they are working hard to memorize the musical and have been reaching their goal for being more student-led.

“With the guidance of Sammantha Hanks, Jessie Labrie, and Christine Kier, the students are doing a lot of work designing costumes, operating lights, and working on props. Students have also asked to help be stagehands to move set pieces on stage. One parent even volunteered to run the sound for us, which helped reduce the cost of the production,” he said.

Click to purchase tickets

Opening night for the musical will be Friday, March 31 at 7 p.m. The musical will also be performed on Saturday, April 1 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 2 at 2 p.m. 

Alexander explained that they chose “Big Fish” because it has a lot of emotional and heart-warming scenes.

“This musical is very narrative driven. There are a lot of stories within the main story that help move the musical along. It is one of the main reasons why we chose to do “Big Fish.” It’s not a rubber-stamp easy Disney musical, and we wanted to do something that we’ve never done before,” he said.

He added that he thinks that a lot of people will be able to relate to the characters in some way; his favorite scene is when Edward is singing to his wife because it is a big sappy scene.

“Edward goes through a lot of struggles before he realizes that she is the one he is destined to be with. When he finally gets the chance, he comes right up to her and proposes,” he said.

Madison added that her favorite scene is the circus scene.

“There are so many fun costumes and multiple fun songs. My favorite song is in it and it is just a very big and bright scene,” she said. “I hope people like it.”

Alexander said that this cast isn’t as large as casts they’ve had in the past, but that they’ve got a lot of motivated students who are doing their best to put on a good show.

“I just hope people give it an opportunity because it’s not the traditional Disney thing. It’s definitely worth checking out,” he said.

A Distant Mirror

The Precipitous Decline of the Arts and Humanities

Mike Monk

Class of 1967
Rise Contributor

To start, I should note that I majored in English Literature in college. I believe pursuing that degree prepared me with skills to be a good lawyer. But equally importantly, that study provided me with a lifetime passion for literature that is a beloved "hobby," if you will. But over the last few decades, fewer students are studying or pursuing degrees in the arts and humanities.

An article in the January-February edition of Harvard Magazine decries the precipitous decline of college students studying the arts and humanities. Far fewer students are pursuing degrees in literature, religion, poetry, history, biography, or philosophy. The facts are startling. In the last 50 years nationally, the percentage of all bachelor's degrees conferred in the humanities dropped from about 20 percent to below 10 percent. The drop at Harvard, my alma mater, has been even greater, from about 30 percent to about 10 percent. Precipitous drops occurred among those seeking degrees in classical studies, history, religion, foreign languages, and English.

By comparison, the number of degrees conferred in computer science, engineering, biology, physics and economics, has increased by at least 25 percent to 75 percent, with computer science degrees increasing by over 100 percent.  

Why is this happening? These increases are of course a reflection of the extraordinary advances in technology in recent decades. We all realize these majors have great value in the modern world. But most concerning, a recent study revealed that three quarters of high school students believe that education strictly devoted to one job is the best higher education. It appears that students increasingly believe that the arts and humanities are either irrelevant, or merely amusing. The article also details what is lost by this decline in the study of humanities.

I would like to suggest two ideas in this column. First, if you find bliss in the humanities, you can use such a degree to pursue a satisfying and lucrative career thereafter. Secondly, even if your passions tend more to computers, sciences and engineering, taking humanities courses in college (and indeed in high school) will make you more effective in your chosen career.  

Many hesitate to seek humanities degrees believing they will earn more with other degrees. But the statistics show that while those in computer science, engineering and investment banking will earn more immediately after college, in the long run the gap closes. Perhaps more importantly, a decade after graduation, humanities graduates are not less satisfied with their lives. Arts and humanities graduates enjoy frequently lucrative careers in medicine, law, government, business, journalism, consulting, finance and the environment.

From the Harvard Magazine
Illustration by Dave Cutler

As one vivid example, the Harvard magazine article described a student who studied the Classics (Latin and Greek) at Brown University, much to the chagrin of his parents. This person later in life remarked how pursuing ancient literature prepared him for competition, business, and philanthropy. It was Ted Turner, who won the America's Cup Yacht competition, founded CNN, established the United Nations Foundation, and leaves indelible marks on media, conservation, and philanthropy.

Civil rights, labor rights, and women's rights have frequently been propelled by persons deeply acquainted with the humanities and art. Rachel Carson, Mahatma Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, John L. Lewis, and Martin Luther King Jr. all were immersed in literature, religion, poetry, history, biography or philosophy, or several of these. Harry Truman once remarked that reading histories and biographies is essential preparation for leadership. As the article states:

Teaching the arts and humanities well confers proficiencies such as good writing and clear speaking. Critical thinking emerges -- take nothing on authority, absorb but question traditions, conserve in order to reform. Embracing past experience, the arts and humanities put current predicaments in perspective: achievements since ancestors set foot in Olduvai clay, alliances with evil, triumphs over disease, social contracts defeating brute force, -- all represented from the cave paintings of Chauvet to the caves of virtual reality.

Focusing on "good writing and clear speaking" alone, these skills help one achieve the best success, and most happiness in whatever career one selects. They also are the skills that others will always use to judge you.

The arts and humanities are also the lifetime gift that keeps on giving. Whether a computer scientist, a teacher, a builder of bridges, an artist, a mechanic, a nurse, a social worker, a laborer, a lawyer, a barista, a doctor, a farmer, or a welder, the study of humanities provides understanding, perspective, and joy throughout one's life.  

While I have spent nearly five decades as a lawyer, I have had constant joys in my private life from my love of literature, art, theatre, history, and opera. Indeed, I believe the lessons I have learned from Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, Raymond Chandler, John Steinbeck, Georgia O'Keefe, David Hockney, and Mozart have done more than delight and amuse me. They have, I believe, made me a better lawyer, a better friend, a better husband, father and grandfather, and a wiser person. They have without doubt made me a happier person.

I often hear of friends and others who fear retirement thinking they would feel lost. How would they spend their time? What would they do? Now that I am mostly retired, I find constant joy in pursuing my love of the arts. The days do not drag by, but rather are too short to do all the things I love to do.

So fear not the study of the arts and humanities, but embrace them. Even if one chooses not to seek a degree in the arts and humanities, include them in your education. The rewards will be immense.

I can be reached at

A Wandering Writer's World

Adventures from Antarctica to the North Pole

Sarah Kuta

Class of 2008
Rise Contributor

I am an old egg.

I’ve always — more or less — known exactly who I am, what I want to do, and how I want to get there. It may have something to do with the fact that my parents, Larry and Liz Kuta, were nearly 40 years old when they had me. This meant they were already brimming with some of the wisdom that comes with age and experience. And, whether they intended to or not, they subtly peppered my childhood with little life lessons and grown-up sensibilities that helped shape my personality.

But perhaps I was just built this way, born to take things seriously (a little too seriously at times, if I’m being honest) and preprogrammed with a fair share of strongly held opinions and beliefs. Maybe this sense of self is embedded in my DNA. More likely, as is the case with the longstanding debate over nature versus nurture, it’s probably some mix of both.

In the 15 years since I graduated from Grand Island Senior High, I’ve evolved and grown. Of course I have — age and the passage of time will do that to you. But, in many ways, I haven’t changed much — and, when I stop and think about it, that’s pretty cool, too. Brick by brick, GISH helped build upon my natural old-egg tendencies to forge the strong foundation atop which the rest of my life could flourish and blossom. And it has.

I took what I learned in Mr. Hamner’s English class and used it to pursue a full-time career in writing. While acting in plays and musicals with Mr. Ulmer — aka Gu — I became a confident interviewer and public speaker. 

From Mr. Burchess, I inherited a boundless curiosity about the past and what makes us human. From Dr. Watkins, an appreciation for economics (yes, really). From Mrs. Voss, a fascination with the tiny building blocks that make up the world around me and a subconscious awareness that minorities — including women — can, in fact, do science and do it well. These are all topics I now write about regularly as a professional journalist, and the breadth of what I can — and want to — write about all stems from what I learned at GISH. 

So, here’s my re-introduction to the community that shaped who I am today (and a brief rundown of what I’ve been up to since leaving The Island): After high school, I traded in the corn fields and wide open spaces of Grand Island for the high rises of Chicago, the northern suburb of Evanston to be exact. I spent four years learning how to be a reporter, writer, and editor at Northwestern University, a period that included a gig writing about sports for the campus paper and several internships out in the real world. Journalism degree in hand, I ventured west to work for the daily newspaper in Boulder, Colo., where I covered everything from crime to scandals at the university to daily life at the base of the Flatirons. 

Today, I’m a writer and editor based in Longmont, Colorado, who gets to tell stories about travel, food and drink, history, sustainability, science, and nearly everything in between. I’ve had the opportunity to work for publications I’ve long admired, including Smithsonian, Conde Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, NBC News, Travel + Leisure, and many others. My work has taken me as far south as Antarctica and as far north as Svalbard, a remote island not far from the North Pole. And, at least in my mind, I’m only just getting started.    

I plan to share more about my adventures — and the lessons I’m learning along the way — in future newsletters. I hope you’ll join me.

Sarah can be reached at

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Alumni Reunions

Kari Price

Alumni Coordinator

Planning a class reunion?

We can help get you started! 
Contact us for your class list and send us information about your reunion.
We will post it to our website.

NOTE: Reunion information in this newsletter is current as of the publication date. To see Reunion updates and additions go to our Alumni Reunions page.




  • 1956

    The Class of 1956 wishes to extend an invitation to fellow classmates to join them at their monthly gathering. They meet on the 2nd Tuesday of each month at the Ramada Midtown at 6:00 pm.

  • Decades of the 60's
    Decades of the 60's

    The Decades of the 60’s breakfast continues to be held the second Saturday of each month at Tommy’s, 8:30 a.m. This is a great opportunity to reconnect over a cup of coffee and/or breakfast. We would love to have you join us!

  • 1960

    The Class of 1960 has resumed their gathering at Tommy’s Restaurant the first Wednesday of each month at 11 a.m. Local suggested COVID safety measures will be assessed on a monthly basis. Send your email address to Donna Weaver Smith for monthly communications at:

  • 1966

    The class of ‘66 meets for lunch the third Wednesday of each month at the Platt Duetsche, 12 noon. Please join us!

  • 1968

    The Class of 1968 will celebrate its 55th reunion July 28-29, 2023 at Riverside Golf Club. Save the date, watch for mailings, and see more at the Facebook page: “GISH Class of 1968.”

  • 1973

    We will be celebrating 50 years since graduating from Grand Island Senior High School on May 26 and May 27, 2023. We have a great group of classmates working on details. Thursday Night: Celebrate Railside! Downtown GI! for those arriving on Thursday. Friday Night: Celebrate Old Friendships at Tommy Gunz. ( Vicky Briseno Hruby, Bonnie Reiff Brown and Jenny Painter McDermott, Pam Morris Stump). Saturday Activities: tours of GIHS and/or new athletic facilities, renovated buildings downtown (Kim Mettenbrink and Pam Morris Stump), golf (George Bartenbach) and possibly a movie on the cranes (Doug Fry). Saturday Night: Celebrate Us! We made it 50 years! Saddle Club (Rita Luebbe Hand). Details will be mailed, emailed and posted on our class Facebook site. If you have any suggestion or want to help, please let us know! Questions contact Linda Syverson Guild at or Gail Jackson at You can contact us on messenger/Facebook.

  • 1983

    The Class of 1983 is planning its 40th reunion on July 8, 2023. They are asking classmates to "Save the Date" and watch for updates. See more at the Facebook page: "GISH Class of 1983"

In Memoriam

January and February memorial list of GISH Alumni

LARRY P. SMITH, Class of 1955, died June, 15, 2022 in North Platte, NE. He was 85.

CHARLES "BUZZ" DOUTHIT, Class of 1953, died October, 21, 2022 in Grand Island, NE. He was 86.

WAYNE CAMPBELL, Class of 1957, died December 15, 2022 in Olathe, KS. He was 82.

TIM BARTLING, Class of 1990, died December 23, 2022 in Norman, OK. He was 51.

FRANK "TRACI" HERMES, Class of 1973, died January 1, 2023 in Omaha, NE. He was 68.

SHANDA (WEST) WALLACE, died January 1, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 63.

JAMES BERNTH, Class of 1966, died January 4, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 75.

ROGER MINX, Class of 1966, died January 6, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 74.

SHARON (LEWTON) TRAMPE, Class of 1957, died January 9, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 82.

CINDY (KALKOWSKI) MCHARGUE, Class of 1975, died January 19, 2023 in Kearney, NE. She was 65.

KATHY (DIMMITT) DOWTY, Class of 1973, died January 21, 2023 in York, NE. She was 67.

JEFFREY CASE, Class of 1987, died January 22, 2023 in Jackson, WI. He was 53.

JERI (CALLIES) GOODMAN, Class of 1975, died January 23, 2023 in Union, NE. She was 65.

KEN ELSHOF, Class of 1963, died January 27, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 78.

FRANK HAACK JR., Class of 1970, died January 27, 2023 in Hastings, NE. He was 70.

HAROLD HANSSEN, Class of 1944, died January 28, 2023 in Doniphan, NE. He was 97.

FRANK HOSTLER JR., Class of 1955, died January 29, 2023 in Alamo, TX. He was 85.

VIRGINIA (PIERCE) AYALA, Class of 1945, died January 31, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 95.

LYLE FLEBBE, Class of 1967, died February 8, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 73.

DALE GALLAWAY, died February 12, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 84.

HAROLD LANGENHEDER, Class of 1954, died February 12, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 85.

JAMES HOUSE, Class of 1967, died February 16, 2023 in Cheyenne, WY. He was 74.

MALCOLM "BUZZ" RANSLEM, Class of 1940, died February 16, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 100.

LARRY SEIM, Class of 1962, died February 19, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 79.

CONSTANCE (WILLIAMS) BAASCH, Class of 1972, died February 28, 2023 in Omaha, NE. She was 68.

ROGER BENTLEY, Class of 1973, died February 28, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 67.

LENORE (BAKER) STUBBLEFIELD, Class of 1950, died February 28, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 90.


To report an alumni death since February 2023, please send an email with the first name, last name, class year and maiden name if applicable to

Class Notes

Rise wants to help you celebrate your successes with other Grand Island Senior High alumni and friends. “Class Notes” is the place to highlight a birth, an anniversary, a promotion, a college degree, an award, or other notable personal accomplishments and triumphs. Tell us about that new business. That perfect baby … or grandbaby. That Masters degree you earned after years of hard work. That recognition from your company, your cohorts, your community.


  • 1972

    Harold Lucas, class of 1972, and wife, Rebby, celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary on December 31. We celebrated differently than intended because we both were touched by Covid.

  • 1983

    Where would we be without the arts? Peter Palermo (Class of 1983), Executive Director of the Sheldon Arts Foundation in St. Louis, joins "The GIPS Cast" to share his story of art, public education, and celebrating creativity. Palermo affirms the life-changing trajectory that arts opportunities bring to students and urges listeners to remember the power of tapping into our creative side. He also looks forward to coming back for a class reunion this year to see how GISH has transformed. Because when we advocate for the arts, everyone wins.

  • 1998

    How do you transform the internet AND empower students? Ben Pankonin (Class of 1998), CEO & Founder of Class Intercom, sits down with "The GIPS Cast" to share how his time at GIPS shaped his journey to Silicon Prairie. Along the way, he expands on why Class Intercom exists and how it strengthens student opportunities. He also shares a vision for what the future of educational storytelling may look like and why Grand Island has much to be proud of. Because for students the future is now.

  • 2014

    How do you make a difference in your community? Joseline Reyna (Class of 2014), Community Organizer of YWCA and Community Engagement Coordinator for Leadership Unlimited, sits down with "The GIPS Cast" to share her story of immigration, education, and advocacy. Reyna speaks to the challenges and opportunities she experienced as a student. She also shares her passion for building bridges in the community and being proud of where you come from. Because we have the world in Grand Island and that makes us stronger.

  • 2014

    How do you help students see their potential? Mr. Jacob Morrow (Class of 2014), School Counselor at Westridge Middle School, sits down with "The GIPS Cast" to share how unlocking potential is key in the middle school. Along the way, he shares about taking 40 students to their first-ever college visit; the opportunity found in formational years; and the depth of dedication that teachers carry. Because the daily work of inspiring students is no small thing.

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