Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Legislator, educator, Dunelander Ralph Ayres dead at 67

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Ralph Ayres, the CHS political science teacher who went into politics and made it an art, has died.

Ayres passed away at approximately 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago, Duneland Schools Superintendent Dave Pruis told the Chesterton Tribune this morning.

Ayres had been in the ICU since early last week, after suffering a medical issue, Pruis said.

He was 67.

“This is just a huge, huge loss,” Pruis said. “And it’s come way too early. Ralph had so much energy left to give, so much commitment to public education and community service, and meant so much to so many. He was tremendously well respected, very well liked, a consummate politician, a true friend.”

“Ralph had a great gift for taking diverse opinions and positions and building a bridge to consensus,” Pruis added. “This is my 14th year as a superintendent in three school corporations and Ralph Ayres is one of the finest community servants and school board members I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”

Ayres was hired to teach poli sci, economics, and social studies at Chesterton High School in the 1970-71 academic year, after an outstanding career at Indiana University, including being honored in his senior year with the Elvis J. Stahr President’s Award, in recognition of his scholarship, leadership, and service.

Ayres entered politics in 1978, when he was elected by a Republican caucus to the 1st District seat on the Porter County Council, to fill a vacancy created by previous office holder John Morgan’s resignation. In 1980 he was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives, where he represented Duneland for 26 years--13 terms--until deciding, in 2006, not to seek a 14th. By then Ayres had already retired from the Duneland Schools, leaving his teaching post, after 34 years in the classroom, at the end of the 2003-04 academic year.

For Ayres, though, retirement was simply another word for work, which was just another word for service. Four months after announcing his decision to leave elected office, he was named executive director of the 23,000-member Indiana Retired Teachers Association. He left that post in August 2008, then was elected to the Westchester-Pine seat on the Duneland School Board in 2010. He ran unopposed for re-election in 2014.

No bare-bones summary of Ayres’ career, however, can do justice to his dedication to the schools and to the community at large. Among other things--among just a few other things--he was a charter member of the Duneland Jaycees and in 1979 was named on the 10 Outstanding Young Men by the Indiana Jaycees; was honored by the Duneland Chamber of Commerce as its Citizen of the Year; and in 2006 was made a Sagamore of the Wabash.

Ayres himself counted as one of his most significant achievements in the General Assembly his work on the landmark 1989 “home rule” legislation. That statute--hailed at the time as one of the top-five most important pieces of education law ever enacted in Indiana--gave school systems the same sweeping decision-making powers enjoyed by other local government units. Prior to the passage of home rule, state officials exercised authority over every area of school policy but those few ones specifically delegated to local school boards by Indiana Code.

Then, in the wake of Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s bankruptcy filing in 2001, Ayres was instrumental in negotiating $28 million in bailout loans for local government units, like the Duneland Schools, suddenly crippled by the loss of the steelmaker’s property-tax payments.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, for his part, expressed his sadness today over the passing of Duneland’s senior statesman. “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ralph Ayres,” he said. “I offer my sincere condolences to all of his family and friends. Ralph’s steadfast dedication to inspiring students and his selfless service to his community, state, and country, is an example for all of us to emulate going forward.”

 

Posted 3/30/2016

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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