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May 2023

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

Volume 8 | Number 3

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.

We are smack dab in our eighth year of publishing the only consistent connection for alumni and friends of Grand Island Senior High. That makes this iteration 43 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'' details all things May, as in graduation, GIPS staff changes, spring sports wrapping up, prom etc. Jackie Ruiz-Rodriguez’s “On the Island” is her farewell column and for us at Rise, it’s a beauty and it’s bittersweet. Jackie has been a part of the Rise family for three years. Grand Island Public Schools Foundation Executive Director, Kari Hooker-Leep, writes about the hope and optimism brought about by graduation in her “Making Your Mark” piece. Annual Giving Coordinator, Maggie McDermott, has all the results of Go Big Give, the annual community fundraising effort of which the GIPS Foundation is a part.

Mike Monk's “Distant Mirror” column this issue takes a deep dive into one the best known phrases from English Literature. Bianca Ayala writes about the naturalization ceremony that recently took place at Barr Middle School. Sarah Kuta embraces her inner scientist as she details her recent trip to Antarctica. Yours truly, once again offers some unsolicited advice to the Class of 2023.

Two former Islanders and one Board of Education member recently received statewide recognition for their civic involvement. Read what they did in Milestones.

As usual, we’ll remember alumni who have passed in the last couple months, let you know which classes are gathering for reunions or just a monthly confab, and keep up on the lives and times of Islanders everywhere in Class Notes.

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

  • At the Top

    George details all things May, as in graduation, GIPS staff changes, spring sports wrapping up and prom.

  • Milestones

    Two former Islanders and one Board of Education member recently received statewide recognition for their civic involvement.

  • Making Your Mark

    Kari Hooker-Leep writes about the hope and optimism brought about by graduation.

  • Your Legacy. Their Opportunity.

    Maggie McDermott has all the results of Go Big Give and the annual GIPS Staff Campaign.

  • Shining Bright Since 2005

    Bianca Ayala writes about the naturalization ceremony that recently took place at Barr Middle School.

  • I've Been Thinking

    George offers some unsolicited advice to the Class of 2023.

  • On the Island

    Jackie Ruiz-Rodriguez’s offers her farewell column for us at Rise.

  • Distant Mirror

    Mike takes a deep dive into one of the best known phrases from English Literature.

  • A Wandering Writer's World

    Sarah Kuta embraces her inner scientist as she details her recent trip to Antarctica.

  • 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

Graduation only part of big month

May holds a special place in the ten months that comprise a typical school year. Grand Island Senior is no exception to that principle.

Of course the biggest event of all the events is graduation. Members of the Class of 2023 made their way across the stage to receive their diplomas yesterday, May 14. For thousands of Islander alums, graduation spurs a series of memories, endings and beginnings, startings and stoppings, even happiness and sadness. Whatever graduation means to a particular Islander, the act of completing high school carries -- if seen through optimistic eyes -- with it a sense of hope. Maybe that’s why we call it “Commencement” rather than “Conclusion.”

Aside from graduation, May brings district and state competitions for spring sports, the culmination of hard work in the weight room, the efforts during long and arduous practices and, perhaps most difficult, the difficulty to deal with the cold and unpredictability of a Nebraska spring. Surely former Islanders have hundreds of stories to tell from a district track meet run with snow on the ground (May 3, 1968) to a double-header at Creighton Prep with flurries accompanying the first pitch (2019). Moreover, for years now scores of frozen fans, parents, and classmates decked out in purple and gold showed up in soccer fields to tennis courts to golf courses to cheer on their beloved Islanders. Every sporty alumni who repped GISH in competition probably has a spring sport story where the elements were at the center of the narrative.

May also is time for one-act plays on the GISH stage, end-of-the-year vocal and instrumental concerts and the completion of art projects that were simply ideas five months ago. The school district announces changes this time of year too, adding new faces in classrooms and administrative offices while saying goodbye to those who have played a role in those graduates’ lives. Those changes can be found on the GIPS website.

May brings changes and chances and a lens trained on the future. And then, in August, Islanders show up to start the process all over again.

(e) Mail Bag




Three Islanders Honored by Civic Nebraska

A couple of Senior High grads and one GIPS Board of Education member were recognized for their contributions to democracy by Civic Nebraska.

  • Eric Garcia-Mendez, GIPS Board of Education member, was honored with the Civic Nebraska Community Builder Award for creating Elevate, which empowers a new diverse set of young leaders.

  • The groups’ Young Civic Leader award went to Islander Kendall Bartling, Class of 2021 and a former Rise columnist, for his work in urging young people to be involved in the democratic process.

  • Civic Nebraska’s Jan Gradwohl Memorial Defender of Democracy went to Joseline Reyna, Class of 2014, for her work on voting rights and ballot access. Jan Gradwohl is an Islander alum and member of the school’s Hall of Honor.

For more on their work and recognition go to

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Making Your Mark

Investing in the Future

Kari Hooker-Leep

Executive Director
GIPS Foundation

What does May mean to you? First thing that comes to my mind is graduation and all the wonderful things that lay ahead for those taking their next steps into adulthood. This step as a 17 or 18 year-old looks like freedom. It could be exciting or terrifying. Did we all have a plan for what was coming next, or did we shout “Freedom! I will figure out my next step soon"?

Do you recall what your thoughts were as you donned your cap and gown, as you listened to your graduation speaker, as you moved your tassel from right to left? I thought I absolutely knew what I wanted to do. First, enjoy summer, then off to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I had these glorious dreams of what I thought lay ahead. I was gloriously naïve and yes, I think that is what life at 17 or 18 should be.

Every graduate should be blissfully naïve of all the great things ahead of them. They should be filled with hopes and dreams of college life, taking a gap year, finding a great paying job, or moving to some “big city life.” The reality of adulthood should be hidden from their summers.

I had the honor of participating in awarding almost $640,000 in scholarships this year. I saw beautiful faces filled with enthusiasm to take the next step. I also saw students who were receiving life-changing scholarships see the possibility of their dreams coming true. Along with the students comes the donors who are investing in our future doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers, welders, the list goes on and on. What a blessing it was for both givers and receivers. This is an ongoing theme with Islanders, the Grand Island Public Schools, and the Foundation. We invest in the students.

What does May mean to you? I can tell you that it means something different to me today than it did when I graduated. It means something different today than it did last year. I look forward to seeing how these graduates of 2023 see May this year and what they will see in 5, 10, or even 20 years from now. I look forward to seeing all the amazing things the Islander Class of 2023 accomplishes.

My advice to all is to take in those graduation parties to see these fresh faces of hope. Take in the summer where you can be slightly naïve, even as an adult, on weekends. Adulting is not the easiest thing we do, but when you see the opportunities that you can provide to graduates by investing in them through scholarships, emotional support, or even employment opportunities, adulting is pretty darn spectacular. 

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.

Campaigns reflect giving spirit

Maggie McDermott

Annual Giving Coordinator
GIPS Foundation

2023 Staff & Board Campaign Closes on Big Numbers

Earlier this afternoon, the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation held a press conference to announce the results of the 2023 staff and board giving campaign. This year was the 20th anniversary of the Add It Up To Opportunity! staff campaign and the final numbers warranted a grand celebration on the Jack Martin Field at GISH’s Memorial Stadium. In attendance were the campaign’s seven co-chairs, many of the 52 team leaders, as well as staff and board members from across the district and Foundation. More notably, members of the Benson Family, who gave this year’s challenge gift, joined the celebration.

The campaign ran from March 20  to April 30 with some lofty goals in mind. For the third year in a row, the campaign topped the $100,000 mark. 

$111,142 to be exact! 

Even more incredible, for the first time ever, the staff campaign hit 93% staff and board participation.

These numbers reinforce that our GIPS staff and board are the gold standard in giving. 

We couldn’t do all this hard work without some friendly competitions to liven things up: 

T-Shirt Challenge
The T-shirt challenge encouraged individuals to pledge $72 or more. This dollar amount earned the individual a staff campaign T-shirt. The team with the highest percentage of gifts at this level won $100 for a gift to be determined by its team leader. The winner this year with 79% of team gifts qualifying for the T-shirt challenge was:

Barr Sixers
Team Leader, Lacy Biberos

Benson Family Challenge
The Benson Family pledged $5,000 to match new and increased gifts to the campaign this year. The team with the highest percentage of gifts qualifying as new or increased won $150 for a gift to be determined by its team leader and the staff campaign trophy. The winner this year with 100% of team gifts qualifying for the Benson Family Challenge was:

Walnut Team 1
Team Leader, Erin Brooks

Benson Family Challenge Gift
Public schools hold a special place for the Benson Family, who lost their matriarch, Janet Benson, in March 2022. Janet was a secretary at GISH from August of 2001 until her retirement in June of 2013. She continued to sub as secretary in the district until 2017. Janet isn’t the only one 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, with one grandchild, Reagan Wooden, even returning to teach at the high school.

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. Benson family members have participated in and supported the staff campaign since its inception in 2004 and wished to encourage the staff and board of Grand Island Public Schools to continue giving to the Foundation.

The challenge gift was used to encourage staff to give new or increased gifts to the campaign. 588 staff donors qualified for this matching opportunity. This was 40% of the gifts received.

Proceeds from the campaign are used to expand Foundation programs such as the Academic Aristocrat Scholarship program and the Teacher of the Year program. The funds are also used to support Foundation operations and endowment and the Classroom Grant program.

Thank you to the Benson Family for their generosity and love of public education.

Thank you to the GIPS Staff for supporting YOUR Foundation!

Thank you to the Board of Education and the GIPS Foundation Board for your generous gifts and unwavering support.


2023 Go Big Give a Success

The 2000s and the 1980s had an epic battle play out during Go Big Give day. If you followed our social media on May 4, you witnessed both decades take the lead at different intervals. Now it’s time to reveal the winner of the 2023 Decade Challenge:

2000s……and the 1980s!

Wait, what?

The 2000s took home the crown for highest dollar amount raised, but the 1980s managed to tie it up for the most gifts given alongside the 2000s. Congratulations to both decades. Both get street cred this year. Congratulations to both decades. Thank you for some added excitement to Go Big Give.

Go Big Give 2023 was a success thanks to our alumni and supporters who gave over $13,000 across 42 donors. 

Every dollar makes an impact. The Foundation is incredibly thankful to alumni and community for supporting our efforts to help every student thrive. Together, we can do big things.

Shining Bright Since 2005

Barr Newcomers help with Naturalization Ceremony

Bianca Ayala

Class of 2005
GIPS Foundation Board

On Thursday, April 27, 2023, the English Learner (EL) Newcomers at Barr Middle School served as greeters for a United States naturalization ceremony. The ceremony consisted of 25 people from 13 countries receiving their U.S. citizenship. As attendees walked into the building, the Newcomers said, “Welcome to Barr” and waved their US flags. After the ceremony, many of the guests thanked the Newcomers for the great welcome to Barr on the day they became U.S. citizens.

A naturalization ceremony is a public event that brings together new U.S. citizens. During the ceremony, they take an oath and swear their allegiance to the United States and then receive a naturalization certificate. Once a person has their certificate, they can apply for a U.S. passport and vote in national, state, and local elections.

I enjoyed being able to observe the ceremony because it helped me understand the process my parents went through when receiving their naturalization citizenship. My father immigrated from Leon, Mexico, and my mom immigrated from Juarez, Mexico. I was a child when my father received his citizenship, but luckily I was able to help my mom prepare for hers.

My hope for the EL Newcomers attending the ceremony is for them to make connections to when they received their naturalization certificates and, for those who have not, to want to put the effort into receiving it.

A big thank you to Yolanda Nuncio for organizing the ceremony and having the students be part of the ceremony. A special shout out to the current principal at Barr Middle School, Josue Covarrubias, for his speech and for sharing about receiving his own naturalization citizenship certificate. We all enjoyed waving the USA flag.

English Learner (EL) Newcomers at Barr Middle School served as greeters for a United States naturalization ceremony

For over three decades, the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation has helped support the students and staff in our community. We fund additional opportunities for students and staff through programs such as Classroom Grants, Teacher of the Year, Scholarships, Legacy Grants and other needs as they arise.

This fall, the GIPS Foundation plans to host our annual fundraising gala in hopes to expand our programs. We are asking that you make an in-kind and/or monetary donation to our auction. Our goal is to raise $130,000 so we can be agile in our approach to meet the needs of our students.

With your help we will be able to build a memorable and successful silent and live auction. Our goal is to have around 120 silent auction items and 10 live auction items. 

All gifts of goods, services or dollars are tax deductible as allowed by law. The GIPS Foundation’s 501(c)3 number is 47-0735201. All donations will be receipted.

There will be more information on this event announced in July. In the meantime, please mark your calendars for September 28, 2022! We look forward to partnering with you on this event!

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I've Been Thinking

More Unsolicited Graduation Advice -- Still Ignored

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

At the risk of being redundantly redundant, below is some advice for Grand Island Senior High’s Class of 2023, surely a talented and terrific lot. In another life, when I had three or four newspaper columns to write per week, too many Mays to count, I would offer unsolicited advice to grads of every stripe and mortar board. That included high school, college, and pre-school although counsel for the latter usually consisted of play nice, eat your vegetables, and be generous. Come to think of it, that’s good direction for any age.

As you might have guessed, rarely did someone actually ask for my advice. Rarer still were invitations to speak at a graduation … “rarer” defined here as “never”. Undeterred -- and apparently unable to learn from my experience -- I’m back this spring with some recycled life hacks from previous columns of suggestions as well as some new insights, given our changing world and the one in store for Islanders about to finish this chapter of their lives.

The product of these feverish forays into guidance-giving is below. They are in no particular order, carry no significant weight, and will neither change the course of history nor alter the storied history of Grand Island Senior High. All of which will more than likely be repeated a year or two or five from now.

So, without further ado or pomp, I offer the following words of pseudo wisdom:

  •  You are no longer young enough to know everything. Deal with it.
  •  Swim upstream in the river of life if you must, but going with the flow is much more efficient.” (Either way, you’re going to get wet, my friend.)
  • Embracing AI is embracing the future, but having ChatGPT or Bard write your college essays is still good old-fashioned cheating.
  • Sometimes, eye contact, body language, and a firm handshake are better than your sparkling resume.
  • Tell someone you love that very thing at least once a day.
  • When two roads diverge in the woods, take the one your GPS suggests.
  • Have good manners. Being a jerk rarely happens by mistakes.
  • We are adrift in an ocean of misinformation. Surviving requires strong sails, favorable winds, and a seriously good crap detector.
  • Misinformation, Part B: Social media is designed for socializing, not the dissemination of peer-reviewed research.
  • No extra credit for overbooking your life. You’re not a human doing; you’re a human being.
  • Hate is too valuable an emotion to waste on someone you don’t even like.
  • Actions have consequences. If you tint your car windows and no one waves back, that’s on you.
  • You can’t control life. You are in charge of your response to it, however.
  • Comparing your insides to others’ outsides is like comparing apples to wooden shoes.
  • This above all: to thine own self be true. And it follows, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man. (Borrowed, obviously. If you don’t know from whom, then perhaps majoring in English Lit. is a bit of a stretch.)
  • Sure, life is indeed an adventure, YOLO, and all that but it’s still OK to check your chute.
  • Why tempt fate? When the forecast is rain, skip the suede jacket no matter how fabulous you look.
  • Love unconditionally. Your family and friends need the break.
  • Have a plan B. The PB&J usually falls peanut butter side down.
  • If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.
  • If you miss the lesson of a loss, you lose twice.
  • Exercise your body, exercise your mind, exercise your soul, exercise your spirit.
  • Integrity, dignity and compassion are more than just words in a commencement address.
  • And, finally …. From Jonathon Swift … Live all the days of your life.

On the Island

I’ve learned a lot over the years

Jacqueline Ruiz-Rodriguez

Class of 2023
Student Correspondent

Saying goodbye is never easy; actually, leaving is even harder.

Since I am graduating from Senior High this May and will be starting a new chapter of my life next fall, I am leaving the Rise newsletter. I’ve been a part of Rise for three years now, and it’s been such an amazing and wild experience.

As a sophomore in high school, I never thought that I could be a voice for my fellow peers, but the Rise staff saw my potential and took a chance on me. They showed me how beautiful it can be when our community comes together and why it’s important to support others.

I feel lucky to have been part of a team that is bigger than I’ll ever be. Through Rise, I’ve been able to meet so many amazing students, teachers, and mentors.

Jittery feelings came to me in waves when I had my first interview for Rise. They asked me my name, my schedule, and if I had done any previous work. At the time, I wasn’t 100 percent sure about the job, but I took a chance and accepted it when they offered it to me.

The first few stories I wrote were rough because I didn’t know how to format the information that I gathered. I honestly thought that my stories weren’t good enough for anyone to read, but to my surprise everyone was encouraging and supportive.

They told me that I had a knack for writing, but I never believed it or more accurately, I chose not to. My teachers’ and parents’ praise did nothing but push me away from the idea of becoming a journalist. 

During my first semester of my senior year, I still hadn’t decided what to study in college, and I was running out of time to apply to some schools. I looked back at my life and asked myself what I couldn’t live without, and I came to the conclusion that it was writing, that it had always been writing.

Conducting student and teacher interviews, learning how to write meaningful stories, and writing for a community that I have learned to love through its flaws were all things that I was going to miss by leaving journalism behind.

Although I’m scared to leave high school and go to college, I know that I’ll be back because I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. I’m attending the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to hopefully double major in broadcasting and journalism.

My end goal is to come back to Grand Island and work for a local news station or radio station to tell the stories of our community. I don’t want to forget about writing though and hope to continue my writing career by becoming an author or writing columns.

I have my teachers, the Rise staff, and the Grand Island Independent to thank for seeing the potential in me and giving me opportunities that not all students get to have. I especially want to give a big thanks to Roger Holsinger, my first journalism teacher, who introduced me to journalism and showed me that I could achieve big things.

Junior Avery Rogers will be taking my place this July as the new student reporter for Rise. I know she will do an amazing job portraying the student body and hope she has as much fun as I did getting to know everyone.

I never expected journalism to take me this far, but it has and I am very grateful for the immense support that I’ve received for these past three years. This isn’t goodbye because I’ll be back one day to write or report the stories of Grand Island, but for now, it’s time I leave to learn new things that will help me be better in the future.

A Distant Mirror

What a Piece of Work is a Man

Mike Monk

Class of 1967
Rise Contributor

In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2, lines 305-309, Hamlet speaks to his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, saying:

"What a piece of work is a man, 
how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form 
and moving how express and admirable, in action how 
like an angel, in apprehension how like a god:
the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals."

In the rush and confusion of the modern day world, seeing the strident political and cultural differences, the disputes, the wars, and the strife of so many humans, we lose sight of the extraordinary accomplishments of humans on this planet.

In this complex, turbulent world, I think it is more valuable than ever to explore history to keep a perspective on the events of today. It is uplifting and inspiring to recall and appreciate the astounding accomplishments humans have made over past millennia. At all stages of history, in every era, in every age, there were humans who were brilliant, ingenious, determined, and remarkable. There were humans who accomplished the seemingly impossible. My quick review on Google reflects the achievements described below.

The earliest known Egyptian pyramids were built around 2630-2610 BC, roughly 4,600 years ago. The most famous Egyptian pyramids are those at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo.  Several of these pyramids are to this day counted among the largest structures ever built. The Pyramid of Khufu is the largest Egyptian pyramid. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence, despite its being the oldest of such "Wonders" by about 2,000 years.

The method of construction of the Giza pyramids is fascinating. The ancient Egyptians had no pulleys, no wheels, and no iron tools. While there are different theories about how the pyramids were built, it is generally believed that the stones were taken from quarries, using copper chisels and drills. The harder stones, such as granite, granodiorite, syenite and basalt were worked with time consuming methods like pounding with dolerite, drilling, and sawing. Blocks were transported by sledge likely lubricated by water. The Twelfth Dynasty tomb of Djehutihotep has an illustration of 172 men pulling an alabaster statue of him on a sledge. These stones were estimated to weigh up to 35,000 pounds, about 16 tons.  

Historians have speculated that the Great Pyramid at Giza involved a workforce of between 30,000 and 50,000 men. The engineering acumen, the organization of the project, and the determination to take decades to complete the structure, are all extraordinary. Further, the dimensions of the pyramid are extremely accurate. The site was leveled within a fraction of an inch over the entire 13.1 acre base. This is comparable to the accuracy possible with modern construction methods and laser leveling. With their rudimentary tools, the pyramid builders of ancient Egypt were about as accurate as we are today with modern Twenty-First century technology. The vision alone reflects great genius.

Some historians believe Stonehenge, the circle of massive slabs of stone on the Salisbury Plain in England, was constructed about 4,500 years ago, roughly at the same time as the pyramids. Others estimate Stonehenge was already 500-1000 years old when the pyramids were built.

Stonehenge is striking for the great distances over which its materials were transported. Some of Stonehenge is constructed of igneous "Bluestones," which weighed about two tons. These rocks are believed to have been quarried in southwestern Wales and transported 220 miles. But the really big stones are the Sarsens, which form the iconic circle. These stones weigh about 20 tons, were made from sandstone, and came from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles to the north.  

A large Sarsen on an oak sledge, following a route taken by over 70 other stones, would have broken the soft ground making a wooden track necessary. This is at best an arduous journey.  Once at the site, historians speculate that the large stone would be lifted upright by repeatedly rocking it from side to side with levers, each time carefully placing small stones (or wood) underneath the lifted side. Slowly a rubble mound grew beneath one end of the rising head until, when it was nearly upright, a gentle tug on some ropes finished the job. 

The statues on Easter Island are equally striking and mysterious. The earliest statues are believed to have been created around 700-850 AD. By the middle period, from 1050-1680 AD, the sizes of the statues increased until they reached stupendous dimensions. The largest was about 32 feet tall and consisted of a single block weighing about 82 tons. A head-dress, or "pukao" of about 11 tons, was somehow placed on the statue's head.

Traditions, supported by archaeology, suggest that the Easter Island statues represented important personalities who were deified after death. From one to a dozen completed statues would stand in a row on a single site, always facing inland.  Modern day experiments suggest that 12 islanders were able to lift a 25 ton statue about 10 feet off the ground and tilt it on end at the site. This work took 18 days with no tools other than two wooden logs that were used as levers. 

The numerous cathedrals of Europe are similarly magnificent. From Notre Dame to Chartres, and others constructed in Medieval times, they are gorgeous, large, and breathtaking. A wonderful book by Ken Follett called “The Pillars of the Earth” tells a fictional story of the construction of a great Gothic cathedral. Set in the twelfth century in feudal England, the completion of the cathedral takes several generations. It required successive generations of builders, engineers, artists, and laborers, not to mention the financial and cultural support of a small community.

The achievements of the early explorers who set off into unchartered vast oceans seeking new lands are stunning. One of my favorite James Michener novels is "Hawaii."  The book traces the history of Hawaii from the very creation of the islands by the volcanic eruptions, to the discovery and development of the Islands. Michener posits that the Islands were discovered and first settled by Polynesians who sailed north on crude rafts and canoes across vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean. Later DNA evidence suggests the Islands may have been discovered by humans sailing west from South America. In either case, the achievement is difficult to comprehend. To set out on a sail of months, not knowing where you were headed or even the existence of the Islands, is extraordinary.

In the last few centuries humans have also made unthinkable progress in science, medicine, engineering, aviation, and archeology, among other areas. Even the now commonplace television, radio, and internet seem in some respects like magic.  My grandchildren now take for granted the iPhone. But just a few decades ago, few would have imagined a small slab of metal that functions as a phone, a connection to the internet, a computer, a camera, a source of GPS for driving, a weather gauge, a flashlight, a calculator, a compass, a word processor, and so much more. A few weeks ago I was having a texting conversation from California with a friend who was in Sydney, Australia. We had a real time conversation across the world.

What motivated or sustained some of these accomplishments? Often faith and religion are involved. The pharaohs of Egypt created the pyramids to prepare for the afterlife in which they believed. The structures were viewed as a ladder on which the souls of the pharaohs could ascend to heaven. The pharaohs' desire for self-aggrandizement was also a motivation. Religion also appears part of the passion that inspired Stonehenge. Stonehenge was also created to be a celestial calendar. The configuration of the stones marks the equinoxes and the solstices. Clearly, religion and a sense of community were the passions that helped create the glorious cathedrals of Europe. Michener, in "Hawaii", suggests that the Polynesians who reached Hawaii were fleeing persecution and murder and had no choice but to leave their homes.  

Many of these achievements took not just a single human, but hundreds or thousands of humans to work in concert to achieve the goals. Some workers, like those who built the pyramids, may have been slaves. Some, as with the builders of the cathedrals, had a mutual strong religious belief that first envisioned and later supported the complex projects. Many of these projects would only be completed after decades of work.  The willingness to delay gratification to create a monumental work is impressive.

The intelligence, ingenuity, persistence, and steadfastness of these humans are astounding. They are, in their way, noble and often inspiring. There always have been, and always will be, humans who are less than noble. But it is wise to remember that over the  millennia, at each stage of history, there have been brilliant humans whose achievements amaze us even today. So indeed, "What a piece of work is a man?"

Note: For those of you who enjoy “A Distant Mirror,” I want to let you know that the first 38 of these columns have been published as a book, entitled “A Distant Mirror Anthology.” The book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I can be reached at

A Wandering Writer's World

Embracing My Inner Science Nerd on a Cruise to Antarctica

Sarah Kuta

Class of 2008
Rise Contributor

On my first night aboard the Viking Polaris, I walked out onto the ship’s bow and bumped into Michael Schrimpf, an ecologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Gazing through a pair of binoculars, Schrimpf pointed out a Magellanic penguin bobbing in the water below. We were sailing southwest through South America’s Beagle Channel—named for the HMS Beagle, the British ship Charles Darwin sailed aboard while circumnavigating the globe from 1831 to 1836—on our way toward the Antarctic Peninsula.

A gentoo penguin at Cuverville Island.

Schrimpf was onboard—and helpfully identifying birds for travelers like me—through a partnership between Viking and Cornell, home to what is arguably one of the best bird research labs in the world. As part of his ongoing postdoctoral fellowship, Schrimpf is joining several of Viking’s Antarctic sailings to study how cruise passengers’ bird sightings, recorded on the citizen science platform eBird, may be able to help researchers map the distribution of various seabirds in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

He was one of the many researchers I met onboard the 378-passenger ship, which Viking built and launched last year specifically to support real, white-lab-coat science — and, of course, make the bucket-list journey to Antarctica as comfortable as possible for travelers. When most people imagine a cruise, they likely envision palm trees, umbrella drinks, and lazy days at the beach. I like taking these kinds of turn-off-your-brain-and-relax trips as much as the next person, but on this trip to Antarctica I was also reminded of how much I enjoy learning something new on vacation. Throughout the entire 13-day voyage in mid-January, I fully embraced my inner science nerd and reveled in the ability to attend lectures, strike up casual conversations with PhD scientists and learn more about the fast-changing environment all around the vessel.

A Weddell seal lounging on an iceberg near Damoy Point.

A few days after my encounter with Schrimpf, crew members and travelers gathered on the ship’s upper deck to release a weather balloon into the sky. As it soared high through the Earth’s troposphere and stratosphere, the balloon recorded weather and climate data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service. Later, while I hiked among skuas, Adélie penguins, and Weddell seals at landing sites like Petermann Island and Damoy Point, the ship’s sophisticated FerryBox system measured the Southern Ocean’s salinity, turbidity, temperature, and other details to send back to the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA). And as I relaxed in the spa on our two trips through the Drake Passage — first, as we headed south toward the Antarctic Peninsula and again as we sailed back to port in Ushuaia, Argentina — special equipment filtered thousands of gallons of water to help scientists better understand the prevalence of microplastics in the Southern Ocean.

Each afternoon, after whale-watching from the deck, scientists and passengers gathered in one of the ship’s many cozy lounge areas to submit their photos of the massive marine mammals to Happywhale, a citizen science platform that identifies whales by their unique markings and tracks them around the globe. In addition to noting bird sightings on eBird, the crew also encouraged guests to post their photos and observations of Antarctic creatures on iNaturalist, another citizen science project run by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. In the Aula, the ship’s lecture hall with floor-to-ceiling windows offering 270-degree views of the icebergs and glaciers outside, onboard scientists gave daily talks on everything from thermohaline ocean currents to ice sheet dynamics to isotopes.

Sarah and her partner, Russell, take a selfie while diving in a submarine off the coast of Cuverville Island.

While aboard one of the ship’s two onboard submarines, I also learned that passengers on previous submarine dives had spotted and photographed an elusive giant phantom jellyfish—a mysterious, 30-foot-long creature that typically lurks in the darkest depths of the ocean. Up to that point, there had been fewer than 150 total sightings of giant phantom jellyfish, and Viking’s researchers published a paper on the passengers’ observations. Whether they intended to or not, those travelers became citizen scientists during their cruise, contributing to what little marine biologists know about these rarely seen beings.

This was a luxurious cruise, don’t get me wrong, complete with an onboard spa, gorgeous Scandinavian design and fine dining. In the end, what stood out to me, however, was how the cruise line offered these and other amenities to guests while simultaneously supporting serious science.

Though I hadn’t previously considered it, this partnership between tourism and science made total sense. The ship itself can give scientists a ride to Antarctica, which is typically expensive and logistically challenging to reach. And, with each new group of travelers during the November to March season, the vessel repeatedly crosses the Drake Passage and returns to the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula over and over again, which allows researchers to gather longitudinal data and track changes over time. The partnership also represents a promising new funding model: Instead of relying solely on limited grant dollars, scientists and institutions can partner directly with private expedition cruise operators like Viking that are eager to support research and have both the cash and the facilities to make it possible.

The emphasis on science also undoubtedly makes travelers — myself included — feel a tiny bit better about visiting one of the most vulnerable places on the planet amid human-caused climate change. The stream of tourists visiting Antarctica is unlikely to slow down any time soon, but at least passengers can feel good knowing their cruise fare is contributing to research that could ultimately help with conservation. And, ideally, they’ll go home with a newfound appreciation for the White Continent — and Earth’s seriously impressive biodiversity — and will feel motivated to help protect it. I know I did.

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:

  • 1965

    The 2nd Annual Meet and Greet for the Class of 1965 will be August 26th. Please circle the date and plan to attend. This is the first weekend of the Nebraska State Fair. Seniors only pay $5 for admission to the Fair. Hosting us will be Wave Pizza and Bonsai Beach Club from 1:30 pm until.... There will be a cash bar and stone fired pizza, compliments of the Reunion Committee, all in a patio setting. Can’t you hear Jerry Ewing and Gene Baker’s band playing “Help me, Rhonda” and "California Girls?” Wave Pizza and Bonsai Beach Club is at 107 N. Walnut. More information will be coming on Facebook at Class of 65 GISH and by email. If you have ideas, suggestions or questions contact us at Last year’s attendees all said they had a great time. This casual relaxed setting really lends itself to wonderful conversation and a fun time.

  • 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 Frey). 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

March and April memorial list of GISH Alumni

JULIE (BUETNER) POKORNEY, Class of 1973, died on March 3, 2023 in Doniphan, NE. She was 67.

LA VONNE (WIESE) WISSING, Class of 1950, died on March 3, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 89.

PAUL ARELLANO, Class of 1968, died on March 3, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 73.

VAL JEAN (MILDENSTEIN) HIDE, Class of 1952, died on March 4, 2023 in Houston, TX. She was 88.

EVERETT (MOE) POOL, Class of 1950, died on March 8, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 90.

FRANCIS SCHAAF, Class of 1953, died on March 10, 2023 in Hall County. He was 88.

LARRY HOBBS, Class of 1965, died on March 11, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 76.

DENNIS GARRELS, Former GIPS staff member, died on March 12, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 82.

BETTY BURCH-SPANJER, Class of 1959, died on March 14, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 81.

SANDRA (ARMSTRONG) HOSTLER, Class of 1954, died on March 16, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 86.

IONA EVANS, Class of 1979, died on March 18, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 61.

KAREN (ARP) MILLER, Class of 1961, died on March 23, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 79.

LINDA (DITTMAR) DIBBERN, Class of 1966, died on March 23, 2023 in Overland Park, KS. She was 74.

KATHRYN PAPE, Class of 1980, died on March 23, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 60.

MERNA (CARSTENS) CLAYTON, Class of 1947, died on March 31, 2023 in Colorado. She was 94.

ARTHUR QUANDT, Class of 1961, died on April 1, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 79.

LAVERNE (IRWIN) RING, Class of 1956, died on April 2, 2023 in Lincoln, NE. She was 85.

RONALD HANSEN, Class of 1958, died on April 2, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 82.

MAX BACHMAN, Class of 1970, died on April 2, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 70.

GARY HUEBNER, Class of 1974, died on April 5, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 67.

DAVID JELINEK, Class of 1958, died on April 7, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 83.

CHARLES COLLINS, Class of 1956, died on April 8, 2023 in Wilber, NE. He was 84.

P. TERRY MANOLIDIS, Class of 1964, died on April 9, 2023 in Phillips, NE. He was 77.

STANLEY CONWAY, Class of 1949, died on April 10, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 91.

LARRY DAHLSTEDT, Class of 1964, died on April 10, 2023 in Kearney, NE. He was 77.

LAURA (GANOW) GANOW, Class of 1995, died on April 11, 2023 in Columbus, NE. She was 46.

DAVID LARSON, Class of 1953, died on April 12, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 88.

CHARLENE (TILLMAN) MYERS, Class of 1978, died on April 13, 2023 in North Loup, NE. She was 62.

KALA (SUNTYCH) MEYER, Former GIPS staff member, died on April 14, 2023 in Lincoln, NE. She was 33.

LEE STRATMAN, Class of 1952, died on April 14, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 88.

DAVID MEYER, Class of 1969, died on April 20, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 71.

PHYLLIS (SHRINER) FRIDLEY, Class of 1958, died on April 21, 2023 in Columbus, OH. She was 82.

JOHN GALVAN, Class of 1988, died on April 22, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. He was 76.

MARILYN (REIMER) GREEN, Class of 1951, died on April 24, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 90.

GLORIA (BOLTZ) MCCOUN, Class of 1955, died on April 26, 2023 in Grand Island, NE. She was 85.

WILMA (DUNKEL) LESSIG, Class of 1951, died on April 27, 2023 in Omaha, NE. She was 89.


To report an alumni death since April 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.


  • 1956

    Milan Murphy (Class of 1956) retired after working with adults with mental illness for 25 years.

  • 1968

    During Hastings College’s Honors Convocation April 26, 2023, students and faculty were recognized for their outstanding achievements. George Ayoub (Class of 1968), Studio 200 academic support staff and adjunct professor, received the Anderson Mentoring and Advising Award,which is presented to an employee who has advised, mentored or made a significant difference in the life of a Hastings College student.

  • 1973

    The Crane Trust has announced that they have named their hiking trail system after Douglas (Class of 1973) and Allison Frey. This was in association with the dedication of a recent tract of land donated by Ducks Unlimited as a result of a gift by the Frey's. With this latest land gift, the Frey's have provided lead gifts and worked with Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the Platte River Basin Environments to preserve almost a thousand acres in Nebraska. These critical natural resources will benefit all with clean and plentiful water and wild places to restore the soul.

  • 1973

    Linda Syverson Guild (Class of 1973) recently donated a quilt titled "Precious Reserves" to the Crane Trust. The quilt depicts and educates about the dire water situation in the Ogallala aquifer and the importance of the Platte River. It has been on traveling exhibit by the Studio Art Quilt Association for several years as part of their "Connecting our Natural Worlds" exhibit. Linda is a well recognized Quilt artist and the Crane Trust is thankful to have this additional medium of outreach and education to display.

  • 2019

    The University of Nebraska Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications announced the students selected to receive the Lynn and Dana Roper Sports Writing Competition awards. Kylee Sodomka (Class of 2019), a senior double majoring in broadcasting and sports media and communication from Grand Island, Nebraska, took first place. Her entries were a Nov. 28, 2022, Nebraska News Service story, “From a Small Town Band to Playing in Ireland,” and “Monday Message: Rhonda Revelle’s Weekly Inspiration Posts on Twitter.”

  • 2020

    The Hastings College Model United Nations (Model UN) team traveled to New York City in early April to participate in the National Model UN Conference (NMUN). The team represented Estonia and won Outstanding Position Paper for the International Atomic Energy Agency Committee and was named an Honorable Mention Delegation. The experiential learning program provides students with a forum to hone skills in diplomacy, negotiation, critical thinking, compromise, public speaking, writing and research. The conference culminates at UN Headquarters with thousands of students in attendance. Turner Griffin (Class of 2020) is a team member.

  • 2021

    The Hastings College annual Celebration of Excellence Day was held on Wednesday, April 26. During the day, students share research and projects, and the College honors the high achievements of students and faculty. Additional details can be found at Celebration of Excellence opens with Academic Showcase, which includes 24 research, academic and other presentations. Myah Brown (Class of 2021) presented “Patient Versus Provider: Effective Communication in Type 1 Diabetes” at the event.

Islander Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023 Announced


Richard Simpson (Legend): Richard Simpson was a two-way standout on the offensive and defensive lines for Hall of Fame Coach Jerry Lee. Richard helped pave the way for the great Bobby Reynolds helping lead the Islanders to two undefeated state championship seasons.

George Ayoub: A versatile speedster with outstanding ability as a running back, receiver and defensive back, George Ayoub was a standout for the Islanders in 1966 and 1967. With a knack for making big plays at key times, George was an “every snap ironman” for the Islanders. George was selected to play in the 1968 Nebraska Shrine Bowl.

Scott Fischer: A standout in the defensive secondary, Scott Fischer earned All-State honors in 1974 playing for his father and Islander Hall of Fame coach, Ken Fischer. Scott was selected to play in the 1975 Nebraska Shrine Bowl.

Kalan Jones:  A team captain and All-Conference performer for the Islanders in 2000 and 2001, Kalan Jones was a dominant linebacker and running back. Kalan went on to a stellar career as a linebacker at Chadron State College earning All RMAC first-team honors in 2006 and helping lead the Eagles to the 2006 RMAC Championship.

Ryker Fyfe: One of the greatest players in Islander history, Ryker Fyfe was a dominant dual-threat quarterback who earned All-State and All-Nebraska honors in 2011. Ryker helped lead the Islanders to the playoffs in both 2010 and 2011. After playing in the 2012 Nebraska Shrine Bowl, Ryker went on to play quarterback at the University of Nebraska.

Chase Reis: A two-time All-State selection at linebacker, Chase Reis was a dominant defensive force and outstanding leader for the Islanders in 2012 and 2013. Chase was selected to play in the 2014 Nebraska Shrine Bowl and went on to a stellar career at Morningside. Chase earned All-GPAC honors and helped lead the Mustangs to an NAIA National Championship in 2018.


Bryan Mabie: An Islander assistant coach from 1982-2002, Bryan Mabie was the offensive line coach for coaches Ken Fischer, John Farrand, Greg Uhrmacher, and Mark Fritch. Considered an outstanding technician of offensive line play, Coach Mabie was also an integral part of the Islander football strength program.

FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME weekend is September 15 and 16, 2023. More details to come.

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