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September 2023

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

Volume 8 | Number 5

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

Here’s some of what you will find inside this issue: We sadly say goodbye to our friend, Lanny Martin, whose generosity and vision have changed Senior High in a dramatic way. Martin died earlier this month. He and his legacy are the subjects of our lead story, “At the Top.”

Harvest, which gives donors and friends of the Grand Island Public Schools a chance to leave their own legacy, arrives later this month and Annual Giving Coordinator, Maggie McDermott, has all the details of what should be another immensely enjoyable, highly successful evening. Make plans to join us.

Avery Rogers talks all things Homecoming in her “On the Island” column. Grand Island Public Schools Foundation Executive Director, Kari Hooker-Leep, writes about Legendary Educators in her “Making Your Mark” piece.

Mike Monk's “Distant Mirror” column touts the pluses and minuses of rural vs. urban living based on his experiences of both. Bianca Ayala introduces us to two women whose educational journeys and qualities have taken them to leadership positions. Sarah Kuta chronicles her experience seeing a Central California coastal phenomenon. My column details the “sensory” memories of the starts of new school years as I saw them, heard them, felt them, tasted them, and, yes, smelled them.

In Memoriam, Reunion gatherings, 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

    We sadly say goodbye to our friend, Lanny Martin, whose generosity and vision have changed Senior High.

  • Milestones

    A GISH Alum is honored at Hasting College's Arts Awards.

  • Making Your Mark

    Kari Hooker-Leep writes about Legendary Educators.

  • Your Legacy. Their Opportunity.

    Maggie McDermott has all the details about Harvest, which should be another immensely enjoyable, highly successful evening.

  • Shining Bright Since 2005

    Bianca Ayala introduces us to two women whose educational journeys and qualities have taken them to leadership positions.

  • I've Been Thinking

    George details the “sensory” memories of the starts of new school years as he saw them, heard them, felt them, tasted them, and, yes, smelled them.

  • On the Island

    Avery Rogers talks all things Homecoming.

  • Distant Mirror

    Mike Monk touts the pluses and minuses of rural vs. urban living based on his experiences of both.

  • A Wandering Writer's World

    Sarah Kuta chronicles her experience seeing a Central California coastal phenomenon.

  • 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

Martin Leaves Considerable Legacy at Senior High

Lanny Martin, Grand Island Senior High Hall of Honor member and the indomitable force behind the revisioning and remodeling of Memorial Stadium, died September 1, 2023 in Denver after an illness. He was 77.

Martin donated in excess of $11 million to see the reimagining of Grand Island’s Memorial Stadium, making it the finest facility of its kind between Lincoln and Denver. The stadium is home to Jack Martin Field, a tribute to Martin’s father who kept score at Islander football games for many years.

Before he envisioned a new football stadium, Martin established the Bob Hamblet Scholarship for Islander seniors - a four-year, full ride to Northwestern University, Martin’s alma mater. When Martin was in high school and considering where to attend college, his family could not afford Northwestern. Nevertheless, Hamblet, then a Senior High counselor, encouraged Martin to apply to Northwestern, where he was able to pay for college because of a generous financial aid package that included campus jobs.

Lanny and his family went on to designate 12 additional scholarship funds that honored his parents. Scholarships resonated with Lanny because they provide young people with opportunities. Such outstanding scholarships were able to directly enable someone else to have experiences like the one he was afforded. Since 1998, the Martin Family Scholarships have been awarded to over 140 students.

Kari Hooker-Leep, Executive Director of the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation, who administers the scholarships, said, “Lanny’s  impact was immediate and lasting. He shared stories of his love of the community of Grand Island, and the lasting impact that he desired to make on graduates of Grand Island Senior High through scholarships and making dreams come true for so many. All of us at the Foundation hold Lanny deep in our hearts and those who had the privilege of knowing him are honored with those memories.”

Memorial Stadium was central to the Martin family, too. Martin said that he and his siblings spent time there participating in activities and sports during their years attending GISH. Whether it was marching band, pep club, football, track, or graduation ceremonies, the stadium was an important center of activity for the whole family. 

But Martin also recognized that Memorial Stadium was a critical center of activity for the community. In 2018, he was approached with a proposal to help with renovating Memorial Stadium. Martin provided what would be deemed as the Jack Martin Legacy Gift. This astonishing gift would be the key donation in providing the now state-of-the-art facility. 

Senior High Activities Director, Cindy Wells, said of Martin’s death, “All of us at Grand Island Senior High School, the students, staff, and family members are deeply saddened by the passing of Lanny Martin. Lanny was instrumental in the design of the beautiful Memorial Stadium and his gift, along with his siblings’, served as a catalyst, supporting the new stadium and renovation of the East Stadium. We are tremendously grateful for their incredible contributions that definitely made an impact on our community. Lanny will be missed by the Islander family and we are so grateful to the Martin Family for their partnership.”

Grand Island Public Schools Foundation Board member and committee chair, Erin Marsh, said, “The impact Lanny has had on our community and beyond is immeasurable. He was an amazing human. His legacy will live on in the lives of so many students that he touched.”

Lanny Martin is survived by his wife, Sharon, his 3 children and 9 grandchildren.


GISH Football Inducting New Hall of Fame Members

The Grand Island Senior High Football Hall of Fame will induct seven new members at its banquet Saturday, September 16 at Balz Banquet Hall in Grand Island. The banquet will start at 11 am. The inductees will also be introduced the night before at halftime of the Islander football game against Lincoln at Memorial Stadium.

The football HOF inductees are Richard Simpson, George Ayoub, Scott Fischer, Kalan Jones, Ryker Fyfe, Chase Reis, and Bryan Mabie.

HOF Luncheon:

Saturday, September 16, 2023 at Balz Banquet Hall, on 3rd and Sycamore, downtown Grand Island at 11:30 AM.

Doors open at 11:00 AM.

Tickets price $25.00.

Tickets can be reserved through GISH Athletics Office. (308) 385-5581.

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Making Your Mark

A Good Time to Say Thanks to a Special Teacher

Kari Hooker-Leep

Executive Director
GIPS Foundation

School’s back in session. Parents and students have made it through the summer. Parents of kindergartners successfully dropped their kiddos off and entrusted them to their first teachers. Yes, there were tears from both parents and students. It is a rite of passage. Do you recall your first day of kindergarten? I do. I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday.

My mom walked me into Mrs. Matthews’ classroom at West Lawn. She held my hand tightly as I held hers. I recall that she had to work that day because she was wearing her nurse’s uniform. I looked up at her as she let go and she walked away. Did I cry? Not that I remember, but I was so scared. Did she? Of course. She was leaving her baby in the care of someone she barely knew.

This person that she barely knew would end up being one of my favorite teachers. She was kind but stern. Mrs. Matthews treated each child in her care with love and respect. In turn, she deserved all the love each child had for her. Her tradition of letting each child wear a satin pink or blue cape on their birthday built our confidence and taught us to hold our heads high because we were each special that day and all days to follow.

Do you remember your kindergarten teacher? Your second grade or seventh grade teacher? Your senior counselor or homeroom teacher? I remember so many teachers who truly touched my life. They changed my trajectory by their words, stern or encouraging. I have had so many opportunities to tell many of my teachers thank you. Some never heard me say the words, but I hope they knew that they impacted my life.

Did you take the opportunity to say thank you to your favorite teacher? Do you recall a special GIPS teacher that gave you that special pat on the back when it was so needed? Maybe it was the teacher that didn’t encourage you, but pushed you to do your best because they saw your potential even when you did not.

Well, the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation is giving you the opportunity to acknowledge these teachers who went above and beyond to ensure that students left GIPS with not only an education, but the knowledge to become extraordinary people. I know I have a long list of teachers who should be honored for encouraging, pushing, guiding and inspiring me for the span of 13 years and beyond.

In March of 2024, the Grand Island Public Schools Foundation will honor the best of the best, those Legendary Educators. Some of the educators who have already been inducted include Jim Cassey, Vikki Deuel, Larry Maupin, Rod Shada, Charlie Sheffield, Jerry Lee, Mary Ann Richards, Bernice Southard and Dr. Stanley Urwiller.

Who would you want to nominate? Nominations are open until November 1, 2023. This is your opportunity to say thank you and tell them how they impacted your life.



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 Two Weeks Away!

Maggie McDermott

Annual Giving Coordinator
GIPS Foundation

Your GIPS Foundation and Harvest committee members have been devotedly planning this gala since February to present a unique, entertaining experience for all attendees. We have brainstormed, pounded pavement, called in favors, and procured the most exclusive auction items out there, all in the name of giving back to our teachers and students.

A big thank you to the Grand Island community for wrapping your arms around this (mostly) new venture. It’s because of our community of exceptional donors and sponsors that we are able to bring to life this must-attend Grant Island event.

Tickets are almost gone. Purchase yours today! 

What You Will Find at Harvest

Fund-a-Mission Moment: You won’t want to miss Walnut Middle School’s Integration Specialist, Ben Marten, speaking about his experience with classroom grants and how he utilizes his outside-the-box thinking in his classroom today. Marten’s presentation will give way to our Fund-a-Mission moment where we will ask donors to help us reach our $10,000 goal in support of our classroom grant program.

Heart of the Foundation Award: Watch as the Foundation presents its Heart of the Foundation award to two deserving recipients who embrace the very definition this award was created around:

Recipients will be those who have been a constant champion for the Foundation, a pillar to our success and have embraced the soul of our mission.

Jeff “Whitey” and Jane Richardson have a long history of supporting the GIPS Foundation, even when they haven’t been asked. They are always out there rooting for us, giving their time, money, and expertise to the mission. Thank you Whitey and Jane for all you do!

Silent auction item- quilt by 1973 GISH alum, Linda Syverson Guild.

Dessert Dash: If you have a sweet tooth, get ready to bid and dash. This year the Dessert Dash will happen via mobile bidding. You will use your phone to “vote” (place a bid) toward your table’s total. Each table will choose an individual to dash to the dessert table and choose a delectable treat to bring back for everyone to enjoy. The table with the highest total will go first, and so on every 20 seconds. You’ll have to be speedy if you don’t want to end up with the lime Jell-O mold.

First Chance Raffle: Have you been eyeing our live auction items? Now is your chance to get that coveted item!! Purchase your First Chance Raffle Ticket and watch as our auctioneer draws one lucky winner to claim a live auction item for just $100. You must be present during live auction to claim.

Harvest Plinko: Take your chance at 3 cash prizes. Play Harvest Plinko during cocktail hour. The number your disc lands on is the number of times your name will be entered into the drawing for cash prizes.

Heads or Tails: Purchase a GIPS Foundation pin during cocktail hour to get in on this fun game. During the evening, attendees who have purchased a pin will stand up and play heads or tails. The last person standing wins a cash prize.

We look forward to seeing you at Harvest to invest in education together.

A big thank you goes out to Tom Dinsdale Automotive as our presenting sponsor this year. Tom and Kim Dinsdale have a well-regarded history of championing education in our community. Kim has served on the board of directors for the GIPS Foundation, while both Tom and Kim continue to serve on the Foundation’s board of trustees. Beyond giving generous amounts of their time, the Dinsdales have donated to many of the major projects the Foundation has launched over the years including the Restoring a Masterpiece campaign to renovate GISH’s auditorium and the Our Grand Legacy campaign that overhauled GISH’s Memorial Stadium. They have continued their passion for supporting educators through the Foundation’s Harvest gala this year, and we could not be more grateful!

Thank you to ALL of our Harvest sponsors!

Shining Bright Since 2005

Women in Leadership

Bianca Ayala

Class of 2005
GIPS Foundation Board

Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence. As a future leader, I want to highlight the impact women leaders have and how we all benefit from women.

For me, it all started when I read these words from Malala Yousafazi: “There’s a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up.” I no longer wanted to be silent but use my voice to share the visions I see in leading education. I aspire to be a leader because I truly believe all students can learn, and I want to build up educators to provide engaging, purposeful, and intentional lessons. Educators deserve clear communication and consistency, which I hope to implement when I am leading.

For the 2023-2024 school year, Barr Middle School has two assistant principals, Jessica Myers and Sheree Stockwell.

Jessica Myers

Photo courtesy of Bianca Ayala

Jessica Myers shared her reasons for being in leadership. “Honestly, I never envisioned myself as a principal or saw myself as an educational leader. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I confronted the profound challenges within education. I witnessed dear friends leave the profession they had passionately dedicated their careers to. I observed exceptional teachers experiencing burnout, and I saw students struggling to keep up. Many children's needs were unmet, and the demand for leadership was substantial while the number of willing individuals was limited. It was this compelling need that prompted me to step into a leadership role. I was hesitant at first, worried that I would not have the skillset to make a difference. Yet, I found having a mission for yourself defines how you live each day. Mine is to do what is right, not what is easy.”

Dr. Amanda Levos

Photo courtesy of Bianca Ayala

Dr. Amanda Levos shared about her journey to leadership, “Leadership never crossed my mind when I started as a high school English learner (EL) and social studies teacher at Grand Island Senior High. Through mentorship and guidance from administrators like Dr. Kent Mann and Dr. Kerri Nelson, I had unique opportunities to grow, learn, and pursue experiences outside of my classroom that led me to earn a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Doane and a Doctor of Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I loved being in the classroom but felt the pull to utilize my strengths in a role that has an impact on the local, state, and national levels to amplify and enhance the educational experience for multilingual learners and their families. I am blessed to work with passionate educators and am inspired daily by our EL teachers serving students new to the country and our community. I attribute my growth to my family, colleagues, and students who have crossed my path over the years, and I hope to empower others to lead in ways they never knew possible.”

I feel lucky as a future leader to learn from these amazing women leaders. The Grand Island Public Schools are also lucky to have them.

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I've Been Thinking

September Starts Remembered Through the Senses

George Ayoub

Class of 1968
Alumni Liaison

September has arrived and with it memories of the sights and sounds and other senses associated with high school.

As a child of the 60s, my classmates and I started school after Labor Day, far later than today’s students, some of whom nearly have a month under their belts before the unofficial end of summer holiday arrives.

Among the hundreds of things I remember about the beginning of school is -- rather weirdly -- the sight of gleaming Senior High hallways. While it was lost on me then, I realize now how much effort the custodial staff put into getting the school ready for fall semester. Most of us wore hard-soled shoes to school in those days as the sneaker revolution was still a few decades away, waiting for Nike and Michael Jordan to invent it. Shiny, waxed tile under a new pair of Bass Weejuns penny loafers could make for some gingerly navigation. If it’s sound you want, try a pair of DBs right out of the box and a solo walk in an empty hall. Could be squeak city.

Other sounds are safely deposited in my September memory bank, too: a muted GISH band playing during halftime because I heard it through the walls of the locker room; the voices in Madrigals and Singers as we belted out new tunes Jack Learned had chosen for us to stretch our pipes; and, although by high school we were used to bells and intercoms controlling our lives and our movements, the grating clamor of both sounds on the first day after a summer free from such noise.

For olfactory remembrances, I need go no further than pre-season football practice, whether it was a day-too-long-for-the-wash sock or t-shirt (Pee-ew!) or the GISH boys’ locker room, a malodorous clubhouse of sorts. Research shows the considerable power smell has on memory. I’ve not read whether the strength of the recollection is in direct proportion to the strength of the smell, because if so, many GISH football players have exceptionally vivid memories from the sweat and grind of pre-season practice. Once again, can I get a “Pee-ew!”?

A more pleasant memory of Septembers past was the smell of burning leaves, mostly an October/November event. Even so, among my most treasured reminiscences are those of cool fall nights with the faint whiff of leaves ablaze. Even during the height of a Friday night home game at Memorial Stadium, I can recall the chilly air cooling the sweat off my uniform and the smell of a fire wafting through the field. Much of that culture has been lost to changing mentalities about the air we breathe, which I get and support. Still, I cherish the comfort of the memory.

For touch, I’ll go back to my new Weejuns. Yes, I spent some summer work money on a pair of them a few days before senior year, ignoring my parents' admonitions about the pain and blisters of new kicks on the first day of school. I wish I could report otherwise, but they were right. I also remember the slightly stiff, heavy feel of my 501s even with a wash or two in them because as you remember, they would shrink. They were money by Halloween but my breaking-in of school clothes needed a better plan, especially in the 60s when no one knew preshrunk or stonewash or any wash.

The weakest of my September back-to-school sensory memories is taste, because no GISH cafeteria menu item ever registered with me, even the hamburgers, which, I recall, were my favorite. I simply cannot recall their taste. What “taste” I do savor from September -- and many other months -- was the huge pot of chicken and noodles my mother, Agnes, would make every Saturday -- enough to feed a handful of my pals who would inexplicably wander by about lunchtime. Go figure. My favorite part of that memory was that sometimes I would not be home for lunch on Saturday, but they would still wander by, and Mom would still feed them chicken and noodles until the pot was empty. On a couple of occasions, Mom made the chicken and noodles, but neither she nor I nor anyone was home for Saturday lunch. Even then, as we often left the backdoor unlocked, the chicken and noodles had disappeared.

Every September, I go through a few days when memories of high school come flooding back, more so than any other time of year. Perhaps it’s because September was always a new beginning. But I think the sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes of the start of school have something to do with it, too.

On the Island

Early Homecoming a Big Hit

Avery Rogers

Class of 2024
Student Correspondent

The past month was a very eventful one for GISH students. School began for freshmen on August 15, and everyone else on the 16th. However, that wasn’t the only important event that took place last month. This year, Grand Island Senior High had their homecoming a little earlier than in the past. The dance took place on Saturday, August 26. This is a big change from the past couple of years when the event took place in late September or early October. This was due to the many activities that GISH students are involved in. To host the dance when no teams would be traveling to compete, the date was moved up this year.

I was able to sit down with a few very important faces at GISH to ask about all of the work that goes into planning something like a homecoming dance and what a big undertaking it is.

First and foremost, I had a chat with Tara Baker (bilingual teacher). She has been the head of the Student Council program for five years, so she has quite a bit of experience with planning school events. This year’s theme was “Homecoming on the Island,” and there was a lot that went into making it happen. Baker said that the first and most challenging task was finding a date. All of the different sports and activities are difficult to work around. It is key to make sure that no one will have to miss the dance due to an away game.

Photo courtesy of Avery Rogers

Next, some big choices needed to be made. What DJ and photo booth will be at the dance this year? What decorations should be used? Will there be any food or drink? All of these questions had to be answered by Baker and the rest of the Student Council. I asked Baker if she felt under more pressure this year due to her time constraints. She said, “Yes, I felt like I didn’t have enough time to build students up and get everyone excited for school spirit week.” However, she pulled it off flawlessly.

I also got the chance to sit down with a few Student Council members. Juniors Alex Weaver and Olivia Madison were excited to share their favorite aspects of being involved in this project. Both have been involved in the Student Council for three years. Madison shared that her favorite part of homecoming is setting up decorations and helping to organize school spirit week. This year, there were many fun themes such as throwback day, character day, and Hawaiian day.

When asked the same question, Weaver said that it’s fun to do behind-the-scenes work that no one else knows about such as making posters and voting on the theme around April. Both students talked about the enjoyment of hearing students bubbling with excitement about homecoming and spirit week in the hallway.

Photo courtesy of Avery Rogers

They also shared that the biggest undertaking for homecoming is the decorating. The day of dance, students arrive at eight in the morning to get the job done. Madison explained that Baker always orders a giant cart worth of themed decorations from Amazon. Some decorations are reused from previous years. This is a very large task to tackle. Weaver assured me, however, that everything is worth it because of the donuts Baker always brings for students. Oh, and helping to make sure that his fellow students have a fabulous time at the dance of course.

Homecoming is not just about the dance though. The football game the night before is just as important. I’m not exactly up to speed on everything that goes on during a football game, but I can assure you that it was one thrilling game. The Grand Island Senior High football team was up against North Platte, and it was a close game right until the end. Luckily, GISH came out on top with a final score of 28-27.

Photo courtesy of Avery Rogers

The student section was very excited to be back in the stadium cheering on their fellow students. During halftime, the homecoming queen and king were announced. This year’s winners were seniors Charlie Gentry and Mariah Cobler. Both of them are heavily involved in school activities. Gentry is a member of band, varsity show choir, and National Honor Society. Cobler is a strong leader on the Islandaire dance team and is also involved in the National Honor Society. Both students are shining examples of what it means to be an Islander and are more than deserving of earning this title.

This leads us into the actual homecoming dance. I had an amazing time, and I’m sure that my fellow students did as well. The island decorations really added to the lively atmosphere. It was very cool to see all Islanders dressed to impress. The photo booth and the DJ were both very big hits this year. I am so grateful to Baker and all of the Student Council members who helped make this event happen. It was a great way to start the 2023-2024 school year.

A Distant Mirror

City vs. Small Town? Urban vs. Rural?

Mike Monk

Class of 1967
Rise Contributor

World literature has, for centuries, explored the question of whether greater happiness arises from living in cities or living in rural areas. Which environment provides the best quality of life?

English pastoral literature presents the rural society of shepherds as free from the complexity and corruption of city life. Poets including Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and Percy Bysshe Shelley have all used the pastoral convention with striking success and vitality. 

In Dickens' “Pickwick Papers,” the genial Mr. Pickwick enjoys the vibrant life in London. But Pickwick and his pals also take extended vacations in the countryside. They enjoy the country hospitality of the friends they quickly make at rural Dingley Dell. They have adventures and encounter amusing new situations in the country.

In Tolstoy's “War and Peace,” the primary characters, including Pierre Bezukhov and Andre Bolkonsky, live a luxurious life in Moscow. Lavish dinner parties, teas, opera, and constant socializing consume their time. But a very different life is described at the rural estate of the aging Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky. The prince lives on his estate with his daughter, a housekeeper and other employees. He is far from Moscow or any urban life. But through vigorous correspondence and visitors he amazingly keeps close tabs on the politics of the day and the progress of the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. He prizes the freedom and independence that rural living gives him. His days are consumed with work, study and the management of his estate.

Shakespeare's “As You Like It” tells the tale of an exiled Duke who lives in the woods, and is joined by others fleeing the court corruption and stresses of the city.  In a famous speech that opens Act II, Duke Senior declares:

Photo courtesy of Mike Monk

                        Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile

                        Hath not old custom made this life more sweet

                        Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods

                        More free from peril than the envious court?                  Lines 1-4


                        And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

                        Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

                        Sermons in stones and good in everything                     Lines 15-17


Is life more satisfying living on a farm near Grand Island or in the thriving city of Omaha? To live on a farm, or in a small town, means a less-hurried existence. It generally means a closer-knit community and less crime and violence. It means knowing your neighbors, sometimes everyone in town. It also means a closer relationship to nature and a greater love of the land. My late father-in-law, Jim Bogle, loved nothing better than to simply drive around his farm in Missouri and check out the crops.

Growing up, I spent time with my father both in North Loup, Nebraska and Oxford, Nebraska, villages of 400-900 people. In the 1950s and 1960s in such places, small-town sports, Popcorn Days, drive-in theaters, church socials, and county fairs ruled the day. People were happy.

But most people who live in a city strongly believe they have the better life, with far greater access to shopping, entertainment, sports, and other cultural and economic opportunities. After high school, I spent my college years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, my three law school years in Philadelphia, my first two years as a lawyer in Boston, and the next 47 years in Santa Monica, California. These large cities opened up wide new vistas for me. I embraced the professional sports, concerts, theatre, opera, museums, and new experiences with Chinese, Italian, French, and Mexican restaurants.

Photo courtesy of George Ayoub

As a mostly retired septuagenarian, I now live about seven months a year at Lake Okoboji in Iowa and the rest of the year in Santa Monica, California. These places could not be more different. Okoboji is tucked in among the Iowa corn and soybean farms, sits on a lovely lake, and has a year round population of about 900 people.  Santa Monica, part of Los Angeles County, is on the Pacific Ocean and is part of a massive urban area of over 12 million people.  

So where am I most happy, most comfortable and find life most pleasant? The answer is both. After spending the five winter months in Santa Monica, I am excited to be returning to Okoboji. Okoboji means never a traffic problem, never a parking problem, friendly people who wave even if they don’t know you. It is an environment of peace and beauty. The Okoboji Summer Theatre run by Stephens College presents seven or so plays each summer, a new one each week. I swim in the lake and ride my bike along Lakeshore Drive. I sit on our porch and read, gazing out at the lake. I am at peace.

But as winter arrives and we prepare to drive back to California with our 13-year-old black lab, I am excited. It will be great to return to perfect weather, and again to be very close to our grandchildren. I will get to enjoy my favorite restaurants. We can take our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren to concerts, plays, the opera and Dodgers, Rams, Lakers, UCLA, and USC sporting events.  The local tailor I have used for 40 years is just down the street. We are a mile or so from beautiful beaches. I can go to the local independent film theatre and see movies that never reach Iowa. I can swim in our pool and ride my bike in Santa Monica. I can hang with my California friends and play poker. I am at peace.

So which is the better life? I am fond of them both.  When I am in Okoboji I think of the charms of Santa Monica. When I am in Santa Monica I think of the charms of Lake Okoboji. Perhaps variety is the spice of life.

I can be reached at

A Wandering Writer's World

Sarah Kuta Finds Inspiration Among Northern Elephant Seals

Sarah Kuta

Class of 2008
Rise Contributor

Bull Arrival

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Elephant Seal/Max Fowles

Standing on a boardwalk overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a misty, overcast day, I scan the horizon in search of movement. Suddenly, among the crashing waves and dark brown rocks just off Highway 1 along the Central Coast of California, I spy something. I look more closely, squinting my eyes for a better look. Then, I see it: The brownish-tan head of a northern elephant seal, bobbing among the sea foam.

The giant creature—named for its still-developing trunk, or proboscis—is likely a juvenile male. It’s mid-June, which means he and other not-yet-fully-mature seals are hanging out here at the Piedras Blancas rookery to molt. Over the course of the next month or so, they will grow an entirely new layer of skin and fur—and shed the old stuff in the process.

These behemoth beasts look awkward on land. But in the water, where they spend nine months out of every year, they’re as graceful as ballerinas, gliding around effortlessly in search of fish, squid, sharks and rays to eat. These super swimmers can dive up to 2,500 feet below the surface, which means holding their breath for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

These and other adaptations make elephant seals perfectly suited for life in the water. But what I love most about them, aside from their evolutionary prowess, is their remarkable comeback story.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Kuta

Photo courtesy of Sarah Kuta

Photo courtesy of Sarah Kuta

Because of humans, elephant seals nearly disappeared off the face of the Earth. Starting in the mid-1800s, whalers began hunting northern elephant seals for their blubber, which could be melted down into valuable oil. They hunted so many seals so quickly that, by the mid-1880s, northern elephant seals were presumed to be extinct.

But a small group had managed to survive on Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. In the 1920s, the Mexican and American governments banned elephant seal hunting and, slowly, the species began to rebound. Over time, more protections were put in place to help support the seals. Starting in 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act made it illegal to harass, kill, capture or otherwise mess with elephant seals and a wide array of other marine mammals.

And, since 1997, a group of concerned citizens on California’s Central Coast have banded together to do their part locally. Called the Friends of the Elephant Seal, the group provides training for a cadre of volunteer docents, who stand guard daily at the Piedras Blancas rookery located about 8 miles north of San Simeon. Though they keep an eye on the seals, their real mission is to educate humans so that the two species can coexist peacefully.

When seals first began showing up at Piedras Blancas in the mid-1990s, humans treated the beach like their own personal petting zoo and playground. Photos from that era show people standing within just a few feet of the seals, which can weigh up to 4,400 pounds and have powerful jaws and teeth. Some even went so far as to place their children on the seals’ backs for a cheap laugh. Others threw rocks at them to provoke a reaction. The situation was dangerous, not only for the humans, but also for the seals, which must conserve their energy while on land.

So, starting in the late 1990s, the Friends of the Elephant Seal began intercepting people before they made their way down the bluffs and onto the beach. Instead of scolding or shaming them, the volunteers shared facts and information in hopes of fostering a sense of empathy for the seals.

And their approach has worked. Today, an estimated 25,000 northern elephant seals return to this 8-mile stretch of coastline each year (the species, as a whole, now has between 150,000 and 200,000 individuals). Here, they can molt, breed, give birth and raise their pups in peace, without interference from humans.

Mom and pup

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Elephant Seal/Kathleen Curtis

Juvenile seals

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Elephant Seal/Kathleen Curtis

North beach spring molt

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Elephant Seal/Phil Arnold

And, as I did in June, people can view the seals from a safe, respectful distance—and thanks to the docents, learn something new in the process. The rookery is free, easy to reach on Highway 1 and accessible, thanks to the construction of wheelchair- and stroller-friendly viewing platforms and boardwalks above the beach. (And if you can’t make the trip, you can watch the seals online from two live-streaming cameras.) It’s a chance to see the northern elephant seals in their natural habitat, just going about their natural daily lives, and to do so without disturbing them. It’s a win-win.

Elephant seals still face numerous threats, and nearly all of them are caused by or related to humans—entanglement in fishing gear, rising ocean temperatures, more extreme weather events brought on by human-caused climate change and collisions with boats, to name a few. But, at least for now, I’m allowing myself to feel inspired by the species’ comeback and by the volunteers in Central California who saw wild animals in need of help, came together and actually did something about 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.




  • 1951

    The Class of 1951 will have their 72nd class reunion on Friday, September 22, 2023 at the Saddle Club. Social hour at 5:30 pm and supper at 6:30 pm. Contact: Jim Marsh - 702-946-1000

  • 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!

  • 2003

    The Class of 2003 is planning their 20th reunion September 29-30, 2023.

    Friday, September 29 - football game (vs. Kearney). Time: kickoff at 7pm Location: (Recently renovated) Memorial Stadium south of the school building Reservation: Link for tickets coming soon.

    Saturday, September 30 - School tour. Time: 10AM Location: Park in west parking lot. Enter through “Door #2” (Commons). Cindy Wells starts the tour at 10am sharp. Reservation: No registration needed.
    -Class of 2003 reception - Time: 7-9 PM Location: Prairie Pride Brewing Co. (111 E South Front St). Reservation: None needed. Cash bar and light menu available. We encourage you to explore the dining options in the developing Railside Downtown area before or after the reception.
    Check out our Facebook event page (link:

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

July and August memorial list of GISH Alumni

Harlon  Kenyon, Class of 1947, died July 3, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 93.

Dale  Bockmann, Class of 1963, died July 6, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 78.

Doug  Barber, Class of 1974, died July 8, 2023 in Blair, NE at the age of 67.

Stephanie Nore Hansen, Class of 1970, died July 10, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 71.

Shayla  Peard, Class of 2012, died July 16, 2023 in Omaha, NE at the age of 29.

Donna Mae Sims Loomis, Class of 1958, died July 17, 2023 in Kearney, NE at the age of 83.

Deanna Wilson Glause, Class of 1957, died July 21, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 84.

Royce Kent Mabon, Class of 1951, died July 23, 2023 in Omaha, NE at the age of 89.

Jeffrey  Espinoza, Class of 2013, died July 24, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 28.

Lee  McKnight, Class of 2003, died July 25, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 41.

Dallas  Nesiba, Class of 1965, died July 25, 2023 in St. Paul, NE at the age of 75.

Dixie Baxter Behrle, Class of 1961, died July 30, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 79.

Allen  Sorensen, Class of 1964, died July 30, 2023 in Jamestown, ND at the age of 77.

Dixie Isakson Falldorf, Class of 1963, died August 1, 2023 in Torrance, CA at the age of 77.

Judith Wiese Tibbs, Class of 1960, died August 3, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 80.

Saul  Andazola, Class of 1996, died August 7, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 46.

Marilyn Vogt Webster, Class of 1951, died August 8, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 89.

Monte  Morris, Class of 1997, died August 9, 2023 in Omaha, NE at the age of 45.

Allyn (Al)  Karle, Class of 1949, died August 11, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 91.

Loyal  Quandt, Class of 1949, died August 13, 2023 in Lincoln, NE at the age of 91.

Gary  Billesbach, Class of 1975, died August 21, 2023 in Sarasota, FL at the age of 66.

Shane  Higgins, Class of 1976, died August 24, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 65.

Daryle  Neighbors, Class of 1975, died August 28, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 66.

Marlene Oberschulte Stark, Class of 1963, died August 28, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 78.

Jennifer Osterman, Class of 2004, died August 31, 2023 in Grand Island, NE at the age of 38.


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.


  • 2017

    Mrs. Butters has been teaching at Grand Island Senior High for 13 years. While English is her class — empowering students is her passion. One of those students was Christy Acevedo, Class of 2017. Miss Acevedo has been teaching Kindergarten at West Lawn Elementary for two years. And, as she says, wouldn't have even dreamed about going to college if it weren't for the influence of Mrs. Butters. We wanted to share their story.

  • 2023

    Jackie Ruiz-Rodriguez, GISH Class of 2023, joins the "The GIPS Cast" to talk about how she found herself exploring student journalism almost by chance. Along the way, she shares how she found her voice through writing, why everyone deserves to have their story told, and how she balanced writing for the Senior High newspaper, city newspaper, and the GIPS Foundation Newsletter. Because finding a way to tell your community's stories is a meaningful thing.

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