Chesterton Tribune



School Board: Ralph Ayres remembered as compassionate public servant

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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.

Vice-President 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,” he said.

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” she said.

“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.

Looking ahead, 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 Popcorn Festival.

“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 said.

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 my friend.”

Assistant 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 kids.”

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.”

Duneland Schools 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.

Meanwhile, the 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 world.

Hall said the words remind her of Ayres’ essence. “It embodies what Mr. Ayres was about. The teachers, students and community will miss him.”



Posted 4/5/2016





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