No one at the
Duneland School Board meeting on March 7 could have imagined that it would
be the last for member and president Ralph Ayres.
But at Monday
night’s board meeting, a memorial of flowers sat over an empty seat as
school board members, administrators and teachers lamented the loss of their
longtime friend and colleague who passed away last Tuesday.
Kristin Kroeger opened the meeting with a moment of silence. She said she
and Schools Superintendent Dave Pruis had considered postponing the meeting,
but knew that Ayres would have preferred the board conduct its business.
“We’ve decided to
dedicate the last portion of our meeting to Ralph,” Kroeger said.
Pruis started the
remembrances, recalling that the first time he met Ayres was 21 years ago in
the Indiana Capitol Building while he was with the Indiana Association of
School Principals and was impressed with Ayres’ proposals for public policy
then as a state representative.
Eight years later,
Pruis was hired at Duneland and met Ayres again at the high school.
“He shook my hand
and said, ‘Welcome to Duneland! You’re going to love it here!’ He was
right,” Pruis said.
“Those who knew
Ralph knew he loved the Dunes. He loved our students, our staff and the
people who lived here,” Pruis continued. “His untimely passing is a huge
loss for his family, his friends and the community. He served unselfishly.
He listened to the teachers and students. He meant so much to so many
because he genuinely cared about issues.”
Ayres, who taught
social studies at Chesterton High School for 34 years and was elected to the
school board in 2010, was Duneland’s “go-to guy” for a lot of things, Pruis
said. If there was a decision to be made, Pruis said it felt better knowing
that Ayres was involved. “It was his personal touch that made a difference,”
Kroeger said she
got to know Ayres later when she joined the school board about four years
ago, but admired his masterful skill of promoting compromise, a “lost art”
“There are a lot of
leaders now that don’t know how to serve and Ralph was a shining example of
how to lead through service,” she said. “The best way to honor Ralph is to
be a better servant.”
Board member Mike
Trout said the community has lost two great people in recent days. Before
Ayres, former Duneland Schools superintendent Ken Payne died on March 16.
Trout said hearing the comments made at the visitation for Ayres at CHS on
Sunday that there are still good leaders in the Duneland Community to
continue into the future, but asserted “nobody can do what Ralph has done.”
Board member John
Marshall shared anecdotes of how years ago he and Ayres would run in races
together at the Dunes and their first race together at the Valparaiso
“He ran the entire
race with me and talked the whole time while I was gasping for air the
entire way. Everybody knew him and he would talk to everybody,” Marshall
Board member Ron
Stone said he reflected through the day Monday on what to say about Ayres
but felt it all could be said in just a few short words: “I’m going to miss
Superintendents Jim Goetz and Monte Moffett said they knew Ayres best as a
professional and an educator.
“The kids loved
him. He loved the kids,” Goetz said. “I saw a picture with (Ayres) when he
was a (state) representative with a bunch of littler kids all raising their
hands and he was answering their questions. You couldn’t tell who was having
more fun. That’s how I’m going to remember Ralph. He was there for the
Moffett said he
wouldn’t say he had a special relationship with Ayres because everybody had
a special relationship with him. He remembers fondly the talks they would
have about Indiana University basketball.
Ayres had the gift
of bringing people closer together, Moffett added. “He always brought levity
to the office when we needed it. We will truly miss him for all the things
he brought us.”
Chief Financial Officer Lynn Kwilasz complimented Ayres on his communication
with school districts when he was a state representative.
“He was a great
part of why I wanted to come and work at Duneland,” she said.
board carried on Ayres’ tradition of having someone from the audience read
the Duneland Schools’ mission statement before starting its meeting. Fifth
grade teacher and Duneland Teachers Association co-president Bobbi Hall read
aloud the statement: The Duneland School Corporation is dedicated to quality
education and committed to developing lifelong learners who demonstrate
responsibility, contribute to their community, and succeed in a changing
Hall said the words
remind her of Ayres’ essence. “It embodies what Mr. Ayres was about. The
teachers, students and community will miss him.”