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November 2023

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

Volume 8 | Number 6

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.

This is the sixth and final issue of our eighth year of publishing the only consistent connection for alumni and friends of Grand Island Senior High. That makes this iteration 48 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: When Rise columnist Bianca Ayala writes her next piece for the January edition, she’ll have a different tagline. Ayala has been named the newest principal for the Grand Island Public Schools. She takes the corner office at Gates Elementary in January. Read all the details in "At the Top."

Harvest was once again a success. Annual Giving Coordinator Maggie McDermott has all the numbers and more in "Your Legacy. Their Opportunity."

Avery Rogers takes us on stage and backstage for GISH’s fall musical, "Beauty and the Beast," part of her "On the Island" column. The Grand Island Public Schools Foundation Executive Director, Kari Hooker-Leep, looks back on 2023 and the Foundation’s accomplishments in her "Making Your Mark" piece.

If you want to see some angels, don’t miss Mike Monk's "Distant Mirror" column in which he remembers the wonderful film "Angels in the Outfield" and other seraph roles on the big screen. The aforementioned Bianca Ayala talks about the uptick in EL students at Barr, and Sarah Kuta posits that you can find adventure close to home. My column encourages a New Year’s resolution in November. You’ll have to read it for the details.

In Memoriam, Reunion gatherings, a Milestone for writer and alum Ken Aldridge, and the lives and times of Islanders everywhere in Class Notes round out this edition.

Thanks again for subscribing, Islanders. Stay in touch. And remember: Keep pushing on.

  • At the Top

    When Rise columnist Bianca Ayala writes her next piece for the January edition, she’ll have a different tagline: Gates Elementary Principal.

  • Milestones

    Aldridge Publishes 13th Book.

  • Making Your Mark

    Kari Hooker-Leep looks back on 2023 and the Foundation’s accomplishments.

  • Your Legacy. Their Opportunity.

    Maggie McDermott has all the numbers from Harvest and discusses upcoming giving opportunities.

  • Shining Bright Since 2005

    Bianca Ayala talks about the uptick in EL students at Barr.

  • I've Been Thinking

    George encourages a New Year’s resolution in November.

  • On the Island

    Avery Rogers takes us on stage and backstage for GISH’s fall musical, "Beauty and the Beast."

  • Distant Mirror

    Mike Monk remembers the wonderful film "Angels in the Outfield" and other seraph roles on the big screen.

  • A Wandering Writer's World

    Sarah Kuta posits that you can find adventure close to home.

  • 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

Ayala Named as Gates Elementary Principal

Photo courtesy of

When Rise columnist Bianca Ayala (Class of 2005) writes her next piece for the newsletter’s January edition, she’ll have a different tagline. Ayala has been named the newest principal for the Grand Island Public Schools. She takes the corner office at Gates Elementary in January. Ayala will be replacing Steve Helgeland, who is leaving to be closer to family.

Aside from being a Rise columnist, Ayala was an English Language Learners Teacher at Howard Elementary for nine years before moving to Barr Middle School, where she was a Newcomer Bilingual Teacher. Since August, Ayala has been the Academic Support Coach at Barr. There, she also oversaw the yearbook production, was the girls wrestling coach, and was co-coordinator of the Barr social committee.

Ayala said in a story on the GIPS web page that the new position will afford her an opportunity to continue building relationships, “I am excited to be joining the Gates Elementary family and commit to building relationships with students, families, and staff. I am also excited about this new opportunity to support the school in its creativity of student learning.”

Also from the GISH website, GIPS Superintendent Matt Fisher lauded Ayala’s experience and success. “We are excited to have Miss Ayala step into this new role. She has been a highly successful educator in the roles she has filled in the past. We expect her to bring the same level of commitment and compassion to this leadership position at Gates.”


Aldridge Publishes 13th Book

Ken Aldridge, Class of 1960, recently published his 13th crime novel, "The "Curious" Death of Whiskey Jack." It once again features a small Texas town's Chief of Police, Jim Travis. Inspired by a book about Agatha Christie, Aldridge has put together a story of a suspicious death. Whiskey Jack is a gambler, a boozer, and a womanizer. He is found dead by his housekeeper, and the matter presents a challenge to Travis and his two police officers. Travis's investigation develops multiple suspects, and it takes all his police experience and skill to solve the case.



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Making Your Mark

2023: Filled with Accomplishments, Emotion, Gratitude

Kari Hooker-Leep

Class of 1983
Executive Director
GIPS Foundation

November brings leaves falling, wind blowing, crisp and sometimes frigid air and the holidays looming. For me, it also brings reminiscing of accomplishments of the year. As I look back on what the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation accomplished for 2023, I have a huge smile on my face and even a tear in my eye.

In 2023, the Foundation had some record-breaking milestones, beginning with a stupendous 20th annual Staff Giving Campaign. The generosity of our Grand Island Public Schools staff, retired teachers, Foundation Board, and Board of Education raised a record-breaking $111,142 with an incredible 93% participation.

The scholarship season was also spectacular as we made dreams come true and changed the lives of 100 Grand Island Senior High seniors by awarding 174 scholarships totaling $639,158. To be just a small part of changing so many lives is truly a gift. Seeing students smile, parents overwhelmed with emotion, and even some joy-filled tears shed by all in the room is a life-changing experience.

Staff Giving Campaign Group Photo
Teacher of the Year Award Recipients

We never want to forget and always want to honor the teachers who make such significant differences for the 10,000 students enrolled in the Grand Island Public Schools. How did the Foundation honor these amazing men and women? We gathered 1,442 nominations for Teacher of the Year. That is 396 teachers, staff and administration. A dedicated committee reads over all 1,442 nominations to be able to honor six with awards at our Welcome Back ceremony. This is a daunting task, and each year, the committee wants to honor and acknowledge everyone who makes an impact on our students.

Speaking of the remarkable talent that is our GIPS teachers, we also provided 13 Classroom Grants to those out-of-the-box thinkers. These teachers are given the chance to enhance students’ experiences with unique teaching and learning opportunities. The Classroom Grants blitz is like Christmas for the Foundation as we surprise teachers, staff, and students with their awarded grants. The smiles, screams, and delight are some of the best perks of this job.

Classroom Grants Recipients at Engleman Elementary

Sadly, this year, we did have some tears. Tears of loss with the passing of Lanny Martin (Class of 1964). Lanny was philanthropic to the Foundation and Grand Island Public Schools. He changed and impacted thousands of students’ lives through his generosity of scholarships and our remarkable Jack Martin Field at Memorial Stadium. Lanny is gone, but his legacy will live on forever.

As I look back at all the Foundation was able to accomplish in 2023 because of the generous donations and support from staff, administration, community members, and alumni, one word comes to mind: grateful. We are grateful in November for all your support. We are grateful every month and every day for the opportunities your support affords us. Thank you for an astonishing 2023.


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.

Harvest Gala Recap with a Look Forward at Holiday Season Giving

Maggie McDermott

Class of 2003
Annual Giving Coordinator
GIPS Foundation

Your GIPS Foundation has hit the ground running for the fall fundraising season. We kicked it off with our fabulous Harvest gala, and coming up we’ll launch our end-of-year Community Campaign, celebrate Giving Tuesday, and start the New Year with Major Saver cards that everyone loves. You can find all the details below:

Harvest Gala Recap

On Thursday, September 28, the Foundation hosted our second annual Harvest fundraising gala. The evening was filled with fun, laughter, and even a few tears. Here’s what you missed:

  • Voice of the Islanders, Brian Gallagher, kept the night (and attendees) rolling with his humorous commentary.
  • Our fearless leader, Kari Hooker-Leep (Class of 1983), tugged at our heartstrings with her passion for the Foundation’s mission.
  • Whitey and Jane Richardson (both Class of 1983) had us teary-eyed with their Heart of the Foundation acceptance speech.
  • Ben Marten reminded us why we gathered as he touched on the impact of classroom grants and the added educational opportunities they provide.
  • Dessert Dash – the STUNNING display of treats and the mad dash to grab them! Going forward, the gala will be known as Harvest: Home of the $4,000 Cheesecake. If you know, you know.
  • The Fund-a-Mission moment where we raised nearly $10,000 for the Classroom Grant Program.
  • Auctioneer Phil Wieck held the audience’s attention in the palm of his hand, enticing bidders to aim even higher.

And those are just the highlights. Overall, the second annual Harvest gala was a success. We netted a larger amount this year than last and did what we set out to do: raise funds to help our students thrive.

Thank you to our presenting sponsor, Tom Dinsdale Automotive. We’re so incredibly grateful to have you as a partner. And to all our Harvest sponsors, donors, bidders, committee members and volunteers, this night could not have happened without you. Thank you for coming together to make a lasting impact on the students in our community.


Community Campaign

This November, we’ll be rolling out our annual Community Campaign and Impact Report. The Impact Report will, of course, highlight all the wonderful things the Foundation accomplished this past year because of our donors. You’ll see all the fun numbers that make us stand out against our peers, and you might even see some stories that highlight our journey along the way.

As your 2023 comes to an end and you’re thinking back on all you’ve accomplished over the past year, did it include making an impact on a student? If not, there’s still time. Fill out the pledge card that comes with your Impact Report, or head over to our website to make a donation with a credit card. Better yet, make it a New Year’s resolution to impact a student every month throughout 2024 with a recurring monthly payment.

Did you know that a $40 donation to the Foundation will pay for a student’s cap and gown for graduation? Or $15 will cover a birth certificate fee so a student can enroll in school? For $5 a month for one year, you will provide P.E. shoes for a student. And $40 a month is a scholarship for a student to pursue higher education. A small amount can make a huge difference.


Giving Tuesday, November 28

This special day of giving is less than two weeks away. Giving Tuesday was established to inspire the concept of generosity in everyday life. What does generosity look like in your day to day? Did you buy a co-worker’s lunch today? Offer to pick up a friend’s children from school? Pay for the coffee order behind you in line at Starbucks? Again, everyday generosity doesn’t have to be a big, grand gesture. It’s not about how much you give, only THAT you give. Partner with the Foundation this Giving Tuesday to make an impact.


Major Saver Discount Cards

This is, by far, one of my favorite ways to give back that doesn’t cost a lot. These little cards are growing in popularity each year. Last year was a record-breaking year for GIPS, with nine schools selling 4,800 cards. Over $30,000 was granted back to these schools and the GIPS Foundation. It is truly amazing how rallying together can make such an impact. We are gearing up for another record-breaking year.

You can purchase your Major Saver cards for $15 from students at participating schools from January 8 – January 16. Start your New Year off with some great savings while you give back! Participating Schools:


Dodge Elementary 

Engleman Elementary 

Knickrehm Elementary 

Lincoln Elementary

Shoemaker Elementary 

Wasmer Elementary 

Stolley ParkElementary 

West Lawn Elementary

Shining Bright Since 2005

EL Population and Student Teachers Making a Difference.

Bianca Ayala

Class of 2005
GIPS Foundation Board

“Be willing to stand up for your EL students. They are deserving of the education you are providing and are capable of learning just like their non-EL peers.” - Mika Hunter Twietmeyer, Durham (N.C.) 2019 Teacher of the Year.

The English Language (EL) population has been growing significantly this school year at Barr Middle School. During the 2022-2023 school year, the EL Newcomer program ended with 41 students, and currently for the 2023-2024 school year has 67 students. With this rapid growth, the students were overflowing in the two classrooms, and it was decided to add a third classroom. Barr was fortunate enough to add a student teacher for the third classroom, with me as her cooperating teacher.

Paola Noriega has been teaching the class for the past three weeks, and it has been wonderful to observe. The students have shared that they enjoy being divided up into three classes as they can focus, apply their learning, and make connections with others. Miss Noriega teaches three sections of Social Studies and one section of English Language Arts (ELA). The students have learned about presidents and regions of the United States and researched a state. They have also been able to learn about English Language phonics to develop their language skills.

Photo courtesy of Bianca Ayala

Here are the highlights of Miss Noriega’s reasons for teaching EL students. “I enjoy teaching EL students because I can relate with students with similar cultural backgrounds. With those similar cultural backgrounds, the relationships I've created with them in such a short time have been the best part. The benefit of this transition has been the support I have received from everyone, especially my cooperating teacher, Bianca Ayala. She has been so helpful and has so many great ideas to help me be the best teacher. I am looking forward to seeing how much I can grow as a first-year teacher and how much my passion for teaching shows in my students. I have been able to build relationships with my students by being able to speak Spanish with them and relate to them by not being far from their age. That is definitely a game changer that I can understand what they are saying and what they need.”

Thank you, Miss Noriega, for sharing your insights into teaching EL students and for being willing to take on this unique situation.

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I've Been Thinking

Make a New Year’s resolution … in November

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

For many years, when I was writing newspaper columns, I would write a “gratitude” piece during Thanksgiving week. In it, I would list my tender mercies and give a shoutout to all things for which I was thankful. The lineup was only a partial reckoning. Editors are quick to remind writers of the space you have and time you have to fill it.

Foundation Executive Director Kari Hooker-Leep noted the Foundation’s accomplishments elsewhere in this Rise. Between her lines and sometimes in them, I read a part of Kari’s gratitude list. Any day is a good day to be thankful, but November seems to be the time of year when we make such inventories.

From year to year, I would add and subtract from the list in my gratitude column. Only a few items made every list, in part because of what they meant to me, but, I will admit, sometimes out of ego-driven utility. I wasn’t always sure I was going to be able to turn that phrase as well with subsequent renderings of the many blessings of my life. Hey, I’m human.

Some of my more hardened readers probably skipped the annual gratitude list, preferring their columnists to discuss war, peace, and the price of beans rather than read like a Hallmark card. And a schmaltzy one at that. I get it. But filling columns about four times a week meant getting 3,000 words or so into nearly 60 column inches on deadline … and then doing it again the next week. So it went. But the world’s fire and ice sometimes had to wait for columns on parenting, pop culture, people, and, in late November, one on the bookkeeping of my bounties.

So, what’s on my list these days? Well, I’d like to consult my earlier columns, which I just tried to do but have been denied access to the Independent’s archives, where my previous record of thankfulness resides. I’d do that because I’m grateful for many of the same things. That’s as it should be.

Photo courtesy of George Ayoub

Still, some are new, like the staff and board at the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation … especially Kari H.L. and Kari P. and Candi and Maggie and Abigayle in the GIPSF office. I’d also throw in our Rise family, including my lifelong friend Mike Monk and writers Sarah Kuta, Avery Rogers, and Bianca Ayala. I’m grateful for their work, their professionalism, their energy, and their joy when it comes to making Rise show up in your inbox six times a year.

It’s November, so we’ll mark Thanksgiving by eating turkey and drifting off into tryptophan-induced naps. We may watch some football, too, and shop on Black Friday, trying to finish our sprees before the Husker/Iowa game. And maybe we’ll think about thankfulness, perhaps around the dinner table or in a pew on a Sunday morning or maybe in a quiet moment stolen from the chaos of the holidays.

Speaking of which, I’d prefer not to get ahead of myself, but try this on for a New Year's Resolution … in November: Make a gratitude list this month. Put it away and then next year, see where your thankfulness continues to lie. My hope is that you add to it and then do it again the following year. And so on.

Trust me. They’ll be great reads.

On the Island

Musical Creates Great Performances, Lasting Friendships

Avery Rogers

Class of 2024
Student Correspondent

The past few months have been hectic for GISH students involved in music and theater. They have worked hard to assemble the fall musical, "Beauty and the Beast." Auditions were held the second week of school, and the cast and directors have been working ever since. Performances were held on October 26, 28, and 29. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to be involved in the musical this year, and I sat down with a few cast members and directors to get their perspective.

I started by interviewing the two people who have worked tirelessly to put this musical together: Katharine Welk, the producer and director of "Beauty and the Beast," and Jesse LaBrie, the music director. They decided on "Beauty and the Beast" for this year because they felt like it would fit the students very well. They believed it would showcase the talent of the cast.

Photo courtesy of Avery Rogers

Both directors enjoy that the musical allows them to get to know students more closely and watch them experience a lot of growth. They agreed that seeing the final product is always very satisfying because students can accomplish much more than they give themselves credit for. Both directors also agreed that putting together a musical can result in quite a bit of stress. There are a lot of details that need to be accounted for and kept in order. It is easy for things to slip through the cracks. It is also challenging to make sure everyone is adequately prepared.

The directors had their favorite moments in the show, too. Welk said her favorite song is “Be Our Guest.” She loves the glitz, glamor, and drama of that song. It is always a real crowd-pleaser. LaBrie had a different take. His favorite moment of the show is Belle’s song, “A Change In Me.” It is a very touching song that he believes represents the hope of the show.

Photo courtesy of Avery Rogers

This musical also could not have happened without the work of its cast members. Ashlyn Favazza (senior) played Babette. This was her first-ever musical, but she wanted to give it a try for her senior year. She was cast in the role of Babette, the feather duster, who lives in the castle alongside her friends Lumiere, Cogsworth, Madame de La Bouche, and Mrs. Potts and Chip. One of her primary motivations is to help Belle and the Beast fall in love; that way, she and her friends can become human again.  Favazza told me she had so much fun embodying Babette’s bubbly and flirtatious personality. Favazza also had to work hard to master a French accent. Babette is just one of many French characters in the show, and the accent is crucial to her role. Junior Claire Gartner played the role of one of the Silly Girls. Gartner is a seasoned performer, having participated in several other GISH productions, such as "Big Fish" and "Mary Poppins." Gartner explained that, as a Silly Girl, she is very snobby and preppy. She loves hanging out with her best friends, the other Silly Girls, and would do anything to impress Gaston. Both Gartner and Favazza love the atmosphere that comes with being in the musical. They love being around the other cast members, who they have gotten very close with each other over the months of rehearsals. They also love performing for large crowds and making the audience feel something.

Not only did the cast of "Beauty and the Beast" put on performances, but they also hosted several other fun activities. One of these activities was the "Beauty and the Beast" Kids Camp. Students from grades two through eight were invited to spend the afternoon learning choreography for the song “Be Our Guest.” Afterward, an exceptional performance was put on for the parents. The parent volunteers hosted a "Beauty and the Beast" Royal Tea Party for younger children. The kids dressed in Disney-inspired outfits and attended a tea party with snacks, crafts, dancing, and story time. Some cast members also made special appearances at the tea party to dance and sing with the children.

Overall, I think "Beauty and the Beast" was a big success. Even though it was my first musical, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be involved. I played the Enchantress who curses the Beast and his castle. I was able to make so many new friends and learn all about how a musical is put together. I even got the chance to try my hand at a bit of choreography, which was very exciting.

Performing for the big crowds on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday felt unreal. The crowds seemed increasingly invested in the story as each scene passed. Although the musical was a lot of hard work, it was so worth it to see the audience’s reactions and to feel like a part of something bigger than myself.

Photo courtesy of Avery Rogers

A Distant Mirror

The Grand Theatre, Wally Kemp, and Cinematic Angels

Mike Monk

Class of 1967
Rise Contributor

As we gaze into the Distant Mirror today, we see a summer morning in 1959, and the Grand Theatre on Third Street is packed with grade schoolers seeing one of the “Summer Shows.” In those years, for just a dollar, a grade schooler could buy a strip of tickets to eight different movies, one each week. Before each movie, my mother would give me a quarter, with which I could buy a bag of popcorn for a dime, a Coke for a dime, and a Snickers bar for a nickel. This was living!

As show time drew near, Wally Kemp, the maestro and host of the Grand Theatre, took the stage. He bellowed, “Hello Kids.” We kids shouted back, “Hi Wall!” Wally then explained that we would all sing “God Bless America,” and that afterwards we could scream and yell and make all the noise we liked until the show started. Once the movie began, quiet was expected. I note that there were a couple of wags who sang “God Bless My Underwear,” though most respected the song with the real words.

Photo courtesy of George Ayoub

The movie this morning was the 1951 film "Angels in the Outfield". The movie tells the fictional story of little Bridget White, an eight-year-old girl living in a Catholic orphanage in Pittsburgh. The young girl is a passionate fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. The Pirates, managed by Guffy McGovern, a grumpy, profane, brawling manager, are mired in seventh place in the National League. Bridget prays for the Pirates, and her prayers are answered. An unseen angel speaks to Guffy and promises to help the Pirates if Guffy will reform his habits. No profanity, no rudeness, and no brawls. Guffy does reform and the team begins to climb in the standings.

When Bridget’s orphanage takes Bridget’s class to see a Pirates game, Bridget sees angels- one standing behind each player to assist them. No one else can see them. A local reporter, played by Janet Leigh, hears about Bridget’s claims and befriends her, taking her to more games.  As the movie proceeds, the reformed Guffy, the reporter, and Bridget become friends. The Pirates climb to second place, with a chance to win the pennant if they win the final game of the season. I was blown away by this movie. It has remained one of my all-time favorites, though I saw it only once or twice in the years since 1959, but not for many decades.  

Lo and behold, I recently saw that this very 1951 "Angels in the Outfield" was airing on Turner Classic Movies. So, I recorded the movie. I was almost afraid to watch it again, fearing that it might not still be the magical film I remembered. But I watched it two days ago, 64 years later, and I was again mesmerized. The movie remains wonderful. It is even better than I recalled.

Photo courtesy of George Ayoub

The female reporter, played by Janet Leigh, interviews both the manager and the little girl and tells their story. The reporter and Bridget, along with the angel, charm the gruff manager and turn him into a caring human being. But the manager is roundly ridiculed when he admits he talks to an angel.   

Just before the final game that can win the pennant for the Pirates, a malevolent announcer claims Guffy should not be allowed to manage since only a crazy man talks to angels. The Commissioner of Baseball then holds a hearing at which a psychiatrist claims Guffy needs counseling. But the testimony of a Catholic Priest, a Protestant Minister, and a Jewish Rabbi confirm their mutual belief in angels, and Guffy is permitted to continue to manage. 

But when the evil announcer criticizes eight-year-old Bridget, Guffy becomes irate and punches the announcer, breaking his promise to the angel. Since Guffy broke his promise, the angel tells Guffy the angels will no longer help the team. They are on their own for the final game of the season. The angel also mentions that Saul Hellman, the oldest pitcher on the team, will be “coming up to our team next year,” the “Heavenly Choir.”   Despite Saul’s poor recent performances, the now caring manager decides to start Saul in the final game that will determine the pennant. You will have to watch the movie to see what happens. 

Photo courtesy of George Ayoub

While watching this heartwarming film, it suddenly hit me that some of my favorite movies involve angels. The classic "It’s a Wonderful Life," of course, has the hapless angel Clarence come down and help George Bailey. Clarence helps George overcome his problems after Uncle Billy lost the $8,000 that threatens to send them to jail. In a series of flash-forwards, Clarence shows George that he has indeed had a wonderful life.

A lesser-known but equally charming movie is the 1947 film, "The Bishop’s Wife". In this film, David Niven plays a bishop who loses sight of his flock when he becomes obsessed with building a grand cathedral. Probably the most suave angel ever, Dudley, played by Cary Grant, helps the bishop find his way, in part by charming the bishop’s wife, played by the totally beautiful and terrific Loretta Young. 

The various approaches to the angels are interesting. In "Angels in the Outfield," only Bridget can see the angels, while only Guffy, who cannot see them, speaks with an angel. In "It’s a Wonderful Life," all can see Clarence, and all think he is crazy. But he disappears at the end of the movie. In "The Bishop’s Wife," everyone can see, and many interact with, the angel Dudley. But once he leaves, he makes everyone forget he was ever there or ever existed. 

This tradition of cinematic angels is quite similar to the ghosts in "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future act, in a way, like angels. They provide Scrooge with guidance and show him what matters in life. Scrooge finally embraces the joy of giving and the magic of Christmas.

I think these cinematic and fictional angels arise from a deep human need both to help others and to be helped by others. We have all had people in our lives who have given us support and moral guidance, human angels who blessed us. As one ages, the joy and satisfaction of trying to help others, to be in a small way an angel to them, becomes more and more pronounced.

So, as this holiday season approaches, I will be even more passionate as I sing carols that celebrate angels: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

A Wandering Writer's World

Sometimes, The Best Adventures Are Close to Home

Sarah Kuta

Class of 2008
Rise Contributor

Photo courtesy of Sarah Kuta

I’m walking along the banks of the Rio Grande in southern Colorado when something high in the trees above catches my eye. I look up and do a double take. “Is that a stuffed animal?” I ask my partner, Russell.

We decide to get a better look, so we pop the lens caps off our binoculars and peer up into the branches. There, a sandy-brown creature with a signature spiky hairdo snoozes peacefully among the leaves. A porcupine.

I had no idea these charismatic animals lived in Colorado, nor that they spent most of their time in trees, so this sighting was not only thrilling but also informative. And the best part? This memorable experience was just a few hours’ drive from my house.

We’d planned a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip last summer to Alamosa, a small college town in the San Luis Valley. And the porcupine was just one highlight of the spontaneous 36-hour jaunt. We went to several breweries, saw tons of colorful waterfowl at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, walked around the historic downtown and perused several antique shops. The next morning, we ate a gigantic cinnamon roll at a classic, greasy spoon diner.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Kuta

We didn’t make any plans ahead of time, we just followed our whims. Though we spent just one night in Alamosa, it felt like we’d taken a week-long vacation—in the best way.

As much as I love to travel the world, I often find the best adventures are close to home. It doesn’t matter where you live: If you venture out and visit a new place—even one that’s just an hour or two away—you’re bound to have an enriching, novel or invigorating experience.

We all got a taste of this during the early days of the pandemic, when traveling became a lot trickier—especially trips that involved flying. But since the world has opened back up and travel has resumed at full tilt, I’ve tried to carry this lesson with me.

Though I’m doing a fair share of jet setting, I’m also trying to sprinkle in some trips that don’t require multiple long flights, currency exchanges or a big time zone change—short, fulfilling getaways that leave me feeling refreshed and recharged, rather than drained and depleted. Even a night or two spent away from home helps me totally disconnect from the stresses of daily life and reset.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Kuta

And it doesn’t even need to be that complicated. Playing tourist in your own town, as the saying goes, can be as simple as finally checking out that quirky little thrift shop you always pass by or driving to the next town over to eat at a new restaurant.

When I was growing up, my mom used to take me on quick little adventures like this all the time. We’d pile into the car on a Saturday and head northwest to Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park, which served as a military outpost from 1874 to 1881. We’d spend the afternoon wandering the grassy grounds and poking our heads into the restored buildings, then drive back home.

We’ve continued this tradition now that I’m an adult, too. A few years ago, on the Fourth of July, we made the hour drive from Grand Island to Ord for the sole purpose of checking out Scratchtown Brewing Company. As we drove home in the dark, fireworks erupted in the distance all around us.

For Thanksgiving this year, our family is trying something new along these same lines: We rented a cabin in the mountains, just a few hours’ drive from my house, and we’re turning the long holiday weekend into a mini getaway. I can’t wait.

If you’re feeling frazzled as the end-of-the-year busy season approaches—and dreaming about lounging in the sand on a tropical beach somewhere—remember that you don’t need to go far to reap the restorative benefits of travel. Just hop in the car, don’t overthink it and go—I promise you won’t regret it.

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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!

  • 1979

    The class of 1979 will hold their 45th class reunion on August 23rd and 24th, 2024. More details to come.

Update Your Alumni Contact Information 


Click the button below to update your contact information with the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation. Updating your information will ensure you receive class reunion mailings, emails, and updates from us. Let us know if you have a new email, address, phone number, or name.


In Memoriam

September and October memorial list of GISH Alumni

Loren "Percy" Garst, Class of 1949, died February 9, 2023 at the age of 91.

Don R. C. Lewis, Class of 1950, died February 24, 2023 in Bloomington, IN at the age 90.

Stuart Endorf, Class of 1973, died September 1, 2023 in Lincoln, NE at the age of 68.

Mary Ann (Hoeltke) Philson, Class of 1950, died September 1, 2023 in Greeley, CO at the age of 91.

Melra "Mel" (Daech) Luft, Class of 1959, died September 2, 2023 in North Platte, NE at the age of 82.

Robert "Bob" Lush, Class of 1977, died September 2, 2023 at the age of 63.

Alys (Lubken) Casperson, Class of 1969, died September 4, 2023 in Phoenix, AZ at the age of 72.

Kerry McGrath, Class of 1974, died September 4, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 67.

Dave Willman, Class of 1960, died September 5, 2023 in Des Moines, IA at the age of 81.

Nicholas Hays, Class of 1993, died September 6, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 48.

Gus Katrouzos, Class of 1942, died September 9, 2023 in Norfolk, NE at the age of 98.

Jim Buck, Class of 1963, died September 12, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 78.

Betty (Glause) Scheer, Class of 1945, died September 12, 2023 in St. Paul, NE at the age of 95.

Lorna Nietfeld, Class of 1958, died September 16, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 83.

Evelyn (Polan) Puckett, Class of 1944, died September 18, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 97.

Deb Brandt, Class of 1972, died September 21, 2023 in Hastings, NE at the age of 69.

Phyllis (Crawford) Schmidt, Class of 1940, died September 27, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 100.

Jill (Fix) Sucha, Class of 1996, died September 27, 2023 in Dallas, TX at the age of 46.

Mary (Lassen) Bella, Class of 1960, died September 28, 2023 in Chapel Hill, NC at the age of 81.

Linette (Eschliman) Knoll, Class of 1961, died October 2, 2023 in Naples, FL at the age of 80.

Tom Brixius, Class of 1983, died October 4, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 58.

Scott Paulsen, Class of 1982, died October 4, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 59.

Marian (Craft) Hensley, Class of 1951, died October 10, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 89.

Greg Mehring, Class of 1968, died October 11, 2023 in Monserrat, West Indies at the age of 73.

Adriana Alvarez, Class of 2009, died October 13, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 32.

Walter Pohlman, Class of 1948, died October 14, 2023 in Lincoln, NE at the age of 93.

Alan Brown, Class of 1963, died October 15, 2023 in Phillips, NE at the age of 78.

Gary Chism, Class of 1969, died October 18, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 72.

Helen (Summers) Hartman, Class of 1958, died October 19, 2023 in Kearney, NE at the age of 83.

Jennifer Heuer, Class of 1994, died October 19, 2023 in Lincoln, NE at the age of 48.

Gary Mathis, Class of 1957, died October 23, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 84.

Sharon (Hansen) Vogt, Class of 1965, died October 24, 2023 in Lincoln, NE at the age of 76.

Colleen (Wheeler) Johnson, Class of 1945, died October 26, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 96.

Ashli Hoos, Class of 1989, died October 27, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 52.

Barbara (Scott) Benner, Class of 1951, died October 29, 2023 in Lincoln, NE at the age of 90.

Martha (Avila) Luebbe, Class of 1968, died October 29, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 74.

James “Jim” Welton, Class of 1952, died October 30, 2023 in Aurora, CO at the age of 89.

Verna (Boltz) Anderson, Class of 1951, died October 31, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 89.

To report an alumni death since August 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.


  • 1960

    Ken Aldridge recently published his 13th crime novel, "The "Curious" Death of Whiskey Jack."

  • 1966

    Sandy Van Pelt recently traveled with the play "We'll Meet Again", written by James Harris. The play ran 10 shows throughout Alabama and Georgia. Van Pelt played the part of Granny.

  • 2005

    Rise columnist Bianca Ayala begins a new position with GIPS in January 2024: Gates Elementary Principal.

  • 2010

    How do you change the world for the better?... One student at a time.
    Abel Covarrubias (GISH Class of 2010), Director of the Nebraska College Preparatory Academy through UNL, sits down with "The GIPS Cast" to share how his time at Grand Island Senior High changed his trajectory. Along the way, he shares his experiences as an early cohort member in NCPA at GISH, what inspiring first generation university students looks like, and why it takes a village to invest in students. He also salutes a few GIPS educators who changed his life by simply giving him access to resources.
    Because students will achieve remarkable things once they know how to get there.

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