Old friends and classmates got reacquainted before dinner. They shared stories about the past as the browsed through yearbooks and looked at the many memorabilia items displayed by the Alumni Association. There were letterman jackets, a signed football from a championship team, and even a piece of the original gymnasium floor. Tables were decorated with senior pictures from old yearbooks and orange roses courtesy of Thornapple Floral.
It was also a night to recognize and honor a distinguished alumnus. The association started the special recognition at homecoming 2017 and at last year's first reunion. Saturday's honoree, Jody Helrigel Pratt, is the 10th alumni to receive the award.
Pratt graduated in 1966 and was recognized for her leadership in the area of education and community service.
She has been actively working in the field of education for more than 40 years with her career starting at TK where she taught elementary and middle school. She served as the president of the Thornapple Kellogg Education Association and of the Michigan Education Association for Region 9.
In 1990 she moved to Wayland Schools where she served as principal for both Moline and Steeby elementary schools and later to serve as the Director of Curriculum. Today, she continues her teaching career as an adjunct professor at Ferris State University, helping prepare the next generation of teachers.
In addition to her continuing work in education, she also volunteers with Junior Achievement of Grand Rapids, serves as a certified Lay Leader at Middleville United Methodist. She also continues doing mission work and was recently appointed as the state coordinator for Volunteers in Michigan for both domestic and international mission work. She has made five mission trips to Russia, 12 to Peru and continues to travel to Ecuador for women's projects.
"It is clear that Jody continues to use her gifts to educate, inspire and give back to this world," said TK Alumni Association Historian Cindy Middlebush in presenting the award.
Pratt said she was honored to be added to the list of distinguished alumni. The list of honorees to date includes Robert Wenger, Robert Bender, Sharon Myers Schondelmayer, Donald Williamson, Bill Rich, Donald Geukes and Janet Solomon Geukes, Walter Eavey and Dr. James Gibson.
The 2019-21- TKAA board members were asked to stand and be recognized; Randy Eggers, president; Jody Helrigel Pratt, vice president; Archie Gragg, secretary; Wanita Craven Huizenga, treasurer; Cindy Riva Middlebush, historian; and trustees Janet Solomon Geukes, Kim Anders Bender, Brenda Kimmey Seifert, Don Williamson, Jeana VanderMeulen, Amy Pelli Porter, Kathy Uzarski, Denise Enyart Chamberlin, Barbara Johnson Smith and Becki Bass Hula.
Other recognitions were awarded by Eggers to Don Williamson who is a founding member and past president of the Alumni Association. His leadership and commitment helped form the association in the beginning and bring in new members to help continue the association work.
Although not a TK alum, Julie Makarewicz, TK Director of Communications, was also honored for her work in helping establish the association and continued work to promote the association and their work.
In just three short years, the association has grown its membership, started an active Facebook page, and established an Alumni Association web page. They were awarded the Community Partner Award by the Barry Community Foundation and this year will award their first TK Alumni Scholarship to a graduating senior. The scholarship has been a goal of the association since they started and serves as a way of giving back to the district and future generations of alumni. With the help of the Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation, a fund has been established to ensure the continuation of the alumni scholarship.
Thornapple Kellogg Schools has a long history with the first graduating class from Thornapple Kellogg in 1931. Prior to that, Middleville had a small school with their first graduates in 1881. In the 1930's the Thornapple Township country schools with the help of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation consolidated into one school district. With the gathering of the country schools into one large district, it became necessary to build more buildings. In 1931 a building was built at 509 West Main and was called the Thornapple W.K. Kellogg Rural Agricultural School.
Eggers spoke about the many families with multi-generations attending TK Schools. He specifically recognized the Anders family who with this year's graduation will have five generations graduating from TK Schools - Classes of 1931, 1951, 1975, 1996, and 2019. He also said there are many families with three and four generations of TK graduates.
Jim and Joy Cline also said their family will mark five generations this year - four from TK and his grandmother from Middleville before consolidation. Jim said his father graduated in 1937, he in 1962, his son in 1987 and his grandson will graduate this year.
Many alumni attending the dinner Saturday still live in the area. Barb Johnson Smith, Class of 1977, was honored to have several members of her family attending the dinner and spoke about her appreciation and support for the schools.
Before dinner was served by the TK Food Service Special Events, TK Alumni gathered in singing the TK Fight Song with the words coming easily to recall for many. Veterans were honored and the class roll was called as representatives from each graduating year were recognized. The oldest attending alumni, Richard Stager, graduated in 1948 and the youngest, Emily Jenkins, in 2014. The oldest living TK alum is Maxine Robinson- graduate Class of 1937.
The first TK class to break 100 graduates was the Class of 1965; 200 graduates was the Class of 2002. The largest graduating class to date is the Class of 2008 with 248 members.
Mark your calendars now. Next year's annual alumni dinner will be May 2, 2020. All TK Alumni are welcome. Watch the alumni website at tkschools.org and Thornapple Kellogg Alumni Facebook for more details about all alumni association events.