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The Home Stretch!

February 25, 2013
The stage is set for the final week of the campaign for a “yes” vote on a new high school for the students of Teton County.  Some good news, both newspaper editors endorsed a “yes” vote on their editorial pages.  However, they did mention that there was criticism mainly about the architect and the location.  Both editors said the need for a new building out weighed the negatives.  I continued to show the slide program.  Committee member, Sandy Shuptrine, a school bus driver took people on tours of the existing high school and the site where the new high school would be built.

Since we only had weekly newspapers, our full-page ads in each paper appeared almost a week before the election day.  Also, election day, Tuesday, May 28, would come the day after Memorial Day.  As was common knowledge in votes to raise taxes, the larger the turnout, the greater the chance of the issue passing.  The final week leading up to voting day, we had all our 30 second ads play on the two radio stations.  A half a dozen prominent citizens had gone to the radio stations to record each spot announcement.  They did a great job.

We had one more way we thought we could get a good turnout on election day.  I had been gathering up large cardboard boxes that had held stoves and refrigerators.  I cut the cardboard into two feet square pieces.  With some bright red enamel paint, I painted the words, “VOTE TODAY’ on each square. I used enamel paint because our plan was nail them on telephone poles on all main roads leading into the Town Jackson, as well as signs in town on poles near the post office, banks, grocery stores, and the main streets.

As each day passed, I had many questions.  Did we have a chance to overcome the prediction of a turnout of 1000 “NO” votes?  Was there something else we should have done?    Could all of the hours of work and planning fall short, and the bond issue be rejected?  I had to do all I could to concentrate on teaching my 120 eighth graders each day, and after school keep working every spare minute on the campaign.

Finally it was Memorial Day, May 17, 1978.  The next morning my son, Dan, and I would be up at 4 AM ready to head out with our VOTE TODAY signs, nails, hammers, and extension ladder to post our many signs.  We camped out on our living room floor so we would not wake my wife, Bobbi, at such an early hour.  Amazingly we both slept quite well maybe since we were use to camping high in the mountains and sleeping on the ground.  I woke up first and noticed a strange faint light filling the room.  It was dark, but cars with their bright lights on cast a strange light over our living room.  I was shocked when I turned the living room light on.  It couldn’t be what I thought it was.  I hit the switch to the outside light above our deck.  It was true.  I was looking at six inches of heavy wet snow covering everything. Unbelievable ! Dan and I wondered if this might turn people away from taking time to vote and our cause would be lost.

Snow or no snow, we nailed the signs to telephone poles all over the valley and in town.  In the dark and then in the breaking of the day, we took turns holding the ladder for the other of us to do the nailing.  Finally the last sign is nailed up and both of us headed off to our jobs a little blurry eyed from our 4 AM rising and battling our doubts as to the outcome of the vote.  I was glad that I had used enamel paint on the signs so in rain or snow the paint would not run off and ruin the message. The rest of the day seemed to drag on with the snow all gone by noon and temperatures in the sixties and sunny skies.  The poles would close at 7 PM.  With only the bond issue on the ballot, it would not take too long for the ballots to be counted.

I was at the Court House right at 7 PM.  The word there was that the turnout was above average and results would be coming in soon.  A good turnout?, that lifted our spirits.  Several of our committee members arrived right after I did including Don Brunk, co-chairman and a well-respected businessman and human being.  As the returns rolled in, the vote went back and forth neck and neck between “yes” and “no.”  One minute we were smiling and the next minute our smiles were gone.  It came down to the final precincts being counted with the issue still in doubt.  Then came the final numbers, numbers I will never forget, YES, 1145 and NO, 1101.  The bond issue passed by 44 votes!  A huge cheer went up from our committee.  We realized just how close we had come to defeat.  Putting it mildly, I was elated.  As one committee member observed, every event and every contact made during the campaign was critical to the success we enjoyed that night.  Jackson Hole would have a new high school !!!  After a short celebration, I headed home for some rest before my next day of teaching. What followed would be another contact I had with the superintendent of schools that would change every member of my family’s lives for many years to come.  It would be a great adventure for all of us.  You won’t want to miss what came next in our lives in our new home, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The Campaign Continues…

February 19, 2013
The three week campaign leading up to the bond levy vote for a new high school had to be planned so that day by day the momentum would build, reaching a peak the last week before the voters went to the polls.  The first two weeks the slide program would be presented first to school employees followed by showings to other community groups.  The slide program promoting a yes vote would continue to be shown in the final week right up to election day.  During the last week most of our budget would be spent on media advertising.  Since there were two newspapers, we had to purchase two full page ads, one for each paper.  Each page would have a simple design.  The center of the page would contain the basic facts, the amount of the levy, the number of years needed to pay off money borrowed, the cost of the property tax increase for the average homeowner represented by a picture of a half a gallon of ice cream and the words per week, and a few facts about the facilities in the new school, including energy savings by using a berm on the outside walls of much of the structure.  On the border of each full page ad, I had taken a large selection of photos of teenagers’ smiling faces to line the four edges of both pages.

There was one AM and one FM radio station.  We bought as many 30 second ads as we could to be aired on each station.  We had these spots read by well know citizens of the county.  These highly respected people being heard endorsing a “yes” vote would have a very effective impact on all who heard them. The 30 second ads would play on both radio stations the last week of the campaign right up to election day.

Another critical need was to have both newspaper editors give their endorsement of a “yes” vote on the bond issue for a new high school.  On the Opinion Page of each newspaper the two editors would write their editorials either favoring or opposing the bond issue.  With some fear and trembling I met with each editor to answer questions and to assure them that I would certainly respect their decision either for or against the issue.  At the end of each meeting, both editors told me they would take my input into their decision making process, meaning I would not find out where they stood until May 22, the Wednesday before the following Tuesday, election day, May 28.

The slide program seemed to be well received and there were no more negative happenings.  I still realized that there were plenty of negative votes ready to be registered on May 28.  It was going to be close and probably depend on turnout of voters.  The Teton County Clerk told me that the larger the voter turnout, the better chance of a “yes” vote. She said the “no” voters always came to cast their votes. I had learned this to be true in the three successful votes that I saw Phillip Runkel pass in ultra conservative Grand Rapids, Michigan.  All three times voter turnout was heavy. Knowing we needed every vote we could get, the last weekend before the election I went to the local laundromat and showed the slide program to people who waited for their clothing to be cleaned.

With election day fast approaching, I was pleased to a wonderful invitation to show the slide program to some of Teton County’s finest, The Cowbells.  The Cowbells were ranchers’ wives who met once a month for socializing.  I was told the meeting would be just a few days before the election and that the Cowbells’ husbands would be present.  It would be a special meeting, an evening dinner in the meeting room of the Jackson State Bank.  It ended up being a great evening, and the slide show was well received.  The Q and A time was up beat, and some of the parents of my eighth grade students who were there thanked me for being at the Middle School for their children.  This meeting gave me a boost and new hope that a “yes” vote was still a possibility.  Being a newcomer in Teton County made me feel very uneasy.  I could not be sure of anything.  Only the next few days would tell.  Next time, Election Day, May 28, begins with a real shocker that could have ruined everything.

“Vote Yes on May 28!”

February 11, 2013
Beset with controversy during the late winter months, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee organized to pass a 4.1 million dollar bond issue to build a new high school, remained focused and committed.  We talked about maintaining our resolve to win the “Yes” vote on May 28.  Our plan was firmly in place, finish the work on the upbeat slide program, raise money for radio and newspaper advertising, create a simple one page three-fold brochure clearly defining the facts regarding the bond issue, and being prepared for an intense three-week campaign leading up to election day.

The slide program began with images of the first schools created as a result of great sacrifices and efforts by the first settlers of Jackson Hole.  The high regard for education by hardy souls carving our their lives in this beautiful valley should inspire citizens in 1978 to continue this commitment to build a new safe high school building for our children.  The last half of the slide program would show all the ways our schools provide opportunities for our high schoolers to learn basic skills, develop their artistic talents, compete in athletics, and prepare themselves for a successful future life.  One slide near the end of the program was a picture of a half a gallon of ice cream with the narration saying, “This is what it will cost the average home owner in taxes per week to build the new high school.  In 1978, a half a gallon of ice cream cost less than one dollar. During the three-week campaign, the slide program would be presented to groups from one end of the county to the other.

We set a budget goal for a minimum amount of money for expenses.  The one page brochure, spots to air on our AM and FM radio stations, and a full-page ad in each of the county’s two newspapers.  We planned on doing all of this for under $1000.  Our locally owned, Jackson State Bank right away stepped up with a donation of $500.  The Teton County Parent Teacher Association promised to pay the rest of the cost up to $500.  For me and the committee this was a huge morale booster and vote of confidence.  I slept well after that.

By campaign time, the critics had quieted and  the second week of May the three-week effort began.  Our first target was to reach all the teachers, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, and support staff in the district with the slide program.  Many citizens would be asking school employees questions about the issue.  We needed them to have answers or be willing to refer them to me and the committee for answers.  My first negative response was a surprise.   Following the slide program I presented to the high school, during the question and answer time, a very vocal high school teacher forcefully voiced his opposition to the bond issue.  He said it would be a waste of money, it would be built on land with a high water table, the school board had picked an out-of-state architect with a cheap off the shelf design, and that the present high school was good enough.  By the looks on the faces of the other school employees sitting in the meeting, I could tell that they were not surprised by his outburst and even expected it.  I took a deep breath and did not take the bait.  I simply thanked him for his comment and promised to stop by to meet with him to discussed the important issues he raised in more detail and when we would have more time.  You could almost feel the sigh of relief that went through everyone there.

I traveled to every school in the county with the slide program including Alta Elementary over the 9000+ feet Teton Pass into Idaho and then back into Alta, Wyoming to the small Alta School.  There were seven schools to schedule for slide programs and the question period.  I experienced no more negative comments, just some well thought out questions.  The schools were covered the first week of the three-week campaign.  The second week I began a hectic schedule of taking the slide program to service clubs, Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Elks, to church groups, and even into some homes where a home owner would invite neighbors into to see the slides and ask questions.  During the final two weeks, fellow teachers at the Middle School used their planning periods to take my classes when I was out campaigning.  The receptions the meetings produced were almost completely positive.  Being in the public eye, you need to be ready for most any surprise and always ready to stay calm and positive.  At one noon meeting in a local hotel, I was fielding questions from some prominent citizens.  I was having a great response.  Then one man who I noticed had a sour look on his face during the entire meeting, raised his hand, and I called on him.  He bluntly said, ” I know the three reasons you are a teacher, June, July, and August. Again the looks on the faces of the people showed their disgust with the comment.   I thanked him for his input and calmly said that those three months allowed me to get a job to help me afford to live in this special place and to be a teacher..  I said the coming summer, I would be hired to travel north to paint the Moran Elementary School.  I said I looked forward to the day when I would be able to teach year around, but realized business people in our county needed the students to be free to work in the summer tourist businesses to support the local economy.  My answer received applause from the men in the meeting.  The final week was coming, and it would hold its own surprises and unbelievable drama.  More soon.

The Battle Rages On…

January 31, 2013
The plan for the tax levy campaign for the proposed new high school needed to be formed and the preparations begun immediately.  Lots of work and lots of hours were in store for me and others.  I would carry the main load and responsibility, but also needed critical back up group of citizens.  A citizens’ advisory committee needed to be in place right away.  The committee of citizens would represent a diverse number of county residents, a rancher, a member of the clergy, a business person, a town leader, a senior citizen, the PTA president, a member of the financial community, and an equal number of men and women.  The committee would set policy, adopt a budget, and oversee the total effort.  The committee would need to know the facts surrounding the request for approval of tax money for the new high school and be able to field questions put to them.

For the first meeting of the committee I made a written agenda with the first item to be discussed, where do we hold the victory celebration the night of May 28, when the final votes are counted and made public?  We had a wonderful committee willing and able to tackle the challenges. I let the committee know that all the money for the bond issue to pay for the new high school would have to come from property taxes, for many not a popular fact.   There would be no money available from the state of Wyoming.

To get out the word regarding the bond issue, I suggested, and the committee agreed that we needed a visual presentation to present to groups of citizens from one end of the county to the other.  The slide show had to be designed for “Joe Six Pack”, easy to understand, and able to inspire a “yes” vote. There would be no money for a 16mm movie like Mr. Runkel had me make for the three successful votes in Michigan.  For this bond issue a 35mm slide program would have to do.  I began work on it right after that first committee meeting when the members approved of of the idea.

In studying the history of education in Teton County, I realized that the first settlers coming to build their lives in this valley knew the importance of education. From the very beginning they used their meager resources to provide schooling for their children.  One of the first “schools” was held in a cabin owned by a valley legend, Nick Wilson, in a village now named for “Uncle” Nick, Wilson, Wyoming.  After that a one room school was built in an area called South Park, where the tiny village of Ely, Wyoming which used to exist, but no more.  I went out to take pictures of the log building that was still standing but with most of the roof missing.  I had read past issues of the first newspaper in Teton County called the Courier.  In a 1903 issue there was a story of the first school organized in the Town of Jackson.  It was held on the second floor of the Club House a building still standing on the east side of the town square.  A few blocks west of the town square Mr. Deloney had a grocery store.  Mr. Deloney was a great supporter of the effort to have a school for the children of the Town of Jackson.  Mr. Deloney provided each child with two wooden crates, one for a desk and one for a chair.  The first day of school the newspaper described the line of children walking the two blocks from Deloney Grocery to the Club House, each child carrying a “desk and chair.”  It had to be quite a sight.  It would go viral on U Tube today.

Another great story in the Courier newspaper described the building of the first gymnasium in Teton County.  It took place in the early 1920’s.  The gym was built in one week similar to barn raising projects with neighbors pitching in to help each other.  The paper described crews of men cutting trees to make logs for the walls, using teams of horses pulling wagons full of gravel from the river bed for the foundation and floor, and wives cooking up three  hearty meals each day for the hungry workers.  With these inspirational stories plus many more, my idea was to show all this early dedication by local people to provide a better quality of life for their children. I was writing a script for the color slide presentation that would begin showing the pride of our first settlers that continued through the years to the present need for a new high school.  It would be a story of look what they did and now it’s our turn to step up and continue the commitment to providing a high quality of life for everyone choosing Teton County for their home.  Next blog, putting together the nuts and bolts of an intensive three week campaign to gain a successful vote on May 28.  Be ready.

Laying the Groundwork for Victory on the Bond Issue

January 29, 2013
I walked out of the Teton County Schools’ Superintendent’s office realizing I had just taken on a huge task: pass a county-wide bond issue to build a new high school.  It meant I would have to put the book I was trying to write on hold and get to work on a project that would have a critical impact on thousands of young lives.  I made up my mind to give it my best shot using all I had learned from working with the master of earning successful votes on tax levies, Phillip Runkel, superintendent of the Grand Rapids, Michigan Public Schools.  I worked with Mr. Runkel as he made history in Grand Rapids passing three levies for money to operate schools, 1971, 1974, and 1977.

The date for the vote was scheduled for Tuesday, May 28, 1978.  I had to get right at my homework and learn all I could about school tax structure for our county and for the State of Wyoming.  I headed straight for the Teton County Clerk’s office.  She let me know that my odds were not even 50-50 for a successful vote.  She said I could count on at least 1000 “NO” votes no matter what I did.

She also let me know that of the 23 Wyoming counties, Teton County was near the bottom for assessed property evaluation that taxes are figured on.  She said the law would only allow a levy that would produce about 4.1 million dollars for the new high school.  I was shocked.  Some single family homes in our county cost more than that.  This would not be the first shocker.

The existing high school was located near the center of town, was old and run down, with a two story south wing that was unsafe.  Plans were being made to keep the old high school and use it for other grade levels and office space for the district administration.  The next problem came with the site chosen for the new high school in the Gregory area on the west end of town.  The outcry came from old timers claiming it was irrigated pasture with a high water table that would cause huge engineering problems and added expense.  Right away the opposition began with the location chosen.  Added to this the school district would not own the land and only be able to use it under special arrangements with other governmental agencies.

Another problem was soon to arise that would be the most serious of all.  The school board chose an architect fro the state of Wisconsin to design the new high school.  No sooner had the architect unveiled the design and a firestorm of criticism began.  Comments like, “The architect just pulled a design off a shelf and charged a huge fee for his services.”  “It is not a design worthy of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.”  “Why an architect from Wisconsin and not the West?”  Our local architects’ association came out with an official objection to the design.  The controversy was discussed at an official school board meeting.  I was there as I was at every meeting to keep tabs on all the issues.  The school board was badly divided regarding the plan so much so that a brief fist fight occurred between two of the men on the board.

To put it mildly, I was dismayed by all the negative vibrations that were clouding the chances for a successful outcome to the May 28, vote.  I did console my self with the fact that all this was happening early on and well before decision day.  I had time to balance all the negative forces with the many positives I was storing up and ready to present to the citizens who would be casting either a yes or a no vote.  The county clerk predicted a turnout of about 2000 voters.  With her estimate of 1000 NO votes my goal was clear.  I needed the simple majority for passage, 1001.  As each problem arose, I was motivated to work even harder.  The teenage youngsters and their education in a safe environment would be well worth the effort.  Following what I learned from Phillip Runkel in Grand Rapids I began the ground work for an intensive three week campaign in May.  I will share my strategy and how, with the help of some key people, the seemingly impossible might turn out with a victory at the polls.


Transition to Teton County Continues…

January 21, 2013

During the summer of 1977 in our desperate efforts to get teaching jobs, Bobbi and I met with the principal of Jackson Elementary School. The meeting could have resulted in a law suit. At the end, the principal made a very biased statement. He said, “I don’t hire older teachers because they are set in their ways.” He meant us. I was 47 years old, and Bobbi was 43. He was telling us that he discriminated against the “elderly.” We knew better than to pursue a legal remedy.

No sooner had I been hired to teach eighth grade English, and Bobbi was hired as a teacher’s aide. Our combined salaries in Michigan totaled $42,000 per year. Our total pay in Jackson Hole was $17,500. It was quite a drop in pay, but it included health insurance. With home and vehicles paid for, we could manage. At least I didn’t have to drive a school bus and work in a grocery store!

It was a bit of a shock to have to teach six classes a day. You have to stay energized for each class to maintain the quality of instruction from first period to seventh period. I was able to figure out how to pace myself to give each class my best.

In October, I found out that my past had followed me from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Teton County Schools had just hired a new superintendent of schools. He came from Flint, Michigan, and was a friend of Phillip Runkel, the superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools. He knew that I worked on Phil Runkel’s team to pass property tax levies in 1971, 1974 and 1977. Mr. Runkel passed all three levies on the first try. This was unheard of in ultra-conservative Grand Rapids. For each campaign, Mr. Runkel had me make a 15-minute sixteen-millimeter sound movie promoting a “yes” vote. The six copies of the film would be shown over 600 times during the intense three-week campaign, reaching every part of the city of 200,000 people.

In 1967, before Phil Runkel was hired, the Grand Rapids Public Schools lost a crucial vote for operative funds. As a result, programs were cut and schools were put on double shifts. I was teaching 31 sixth-graders in the morning, and and a second group of 32 sixth-graders in the afternoon. All students were on half-days. This created hardships for many parents. They had to pay child care, which was far more costly than the increase in taxes needed to provide full day school for each child. Finally, in November a second try at the same tax levy passed. A frantic search for teachers began. By Thanksgiving, I had my one class of 32 sixth-graders for full day instruction.

Dismayed with the Grand Rapids Public Schools, I left and took a position at Grand Valley State College in the teacher training department. My second year at Grand Valley was interrupted when the president of the college called me to his office. He told me a new head of the Grand Rapids Public Schools wanted to “borrow” me for three weeks. Phillip Runkel had head that I had experience with sixteen-millimeter movie camera work. He needed me to make a movie to use to win a yes vote on a property tax for use in operating the Grand Rapids Schools.

After the 1971 vote resulted in a victory for the Grand Rapids Public Schools, Phillip Runkel called me to met with him in his office. At that meeting, Mr. Runkel showed me a list of five job openings in his administration. He sai I could take my pick of any one of the five positions. He said he needed me for future campaigns All five jobs paid much better than I was making at Grand Valley State College.

In Jackson Hole, in the middle of October I was settled in teaching 120 eighth-graders when the superintendent of schools asked me to come to his office after school to see him. I wondered if I had done something wrong. No, this was my past following me to Wyoming. During the meeting, the superintendent said he knew what I had done to successfully pass 3 tax levies in Grand Rapids. He said the Teton County Schools needed a new high school to replace the present unsafe and inadequate building. He said he would put a bond issue on the county ballot for a May vote. He wanted to get me to organize a committee, get donations for advertising expenses, and lead the campaign to achieve a successful vote. Not good at saying no, and loving a challenge, without hesitating I told him I would get at it that very day. Little did I know what I was getting into and all the surprises that awaited me. Stay tuned for the inside story of my bond issue adventure in Teton County, Wyoming.

Moving to Jackson Hole: 1977

January 7, 2013

After working 12 summers at Lost Trail Camp in Montana with after-camp vacations, hiking, fishing, rafting mountain rivers and climbing many mountains, we decided it was time for a huge lifestyle change. We began our search for a place to settle in Montana or Wyoming. We looked everywhere and finally found one acre of open land on the southern border of Grand Teton National Park. Jackson Hole had a lot going for it; good schools, a summer music festival, great fishing, hiking, climbing, many artists and writers and plenty of winter recreation.

After building our home with the valuable help of Bobbi’s father, a retired builder, our plan was to move to Jackson Hole in 1977, get teaching jobs, and in my spare time, follow my childhood dream of becoming an author. Both Bobbi and I having masters’ degrees and years of experience, we were confident we would be able to get teaching jobs. We would start exploring the teaching openings each of the three summers we were building our home. After returning to Michigan each summer, we thought things would work out and that we would both be hired. Little did we know the struggle for jobs would be so difficult and that summer of 1977, our first living in Jackson Hole full time, would see neither of us with teaching jobs.

All summer I attended every school board meeting hoping to hear about an opening for a teaching position. By August, with no success, I decided to apply for a job driving a school bus. It would provide an hourly wage and health insurance. After the morning bus run, I would work in Fred’s Market grocery store. I would drive the bus taking kids home in the afternoon and then return to the market to get in some more hours.

At a school board meeting in the middle of August two weeks before school started, I heard the big news. The superintendent of schools announced an opening at the middle school. The teacher of eighth grade English classes was being assigned to the high school. Applications were being accepted for his replacement. With many students entering our schools from all over the U.S., the superintendent said he would like to hire a teacher able to teach some remedial reading to eighth graders needing improved reading abilities.

I had never taught eighth grade English, but I knew how to teach reading. Also, in my job as a media specialist in Michigan, I had done public relations work. The Grand Rapids Public School’s leadership had me do a slide program about all the latest methods used to teach reading. I studied all the programs available for individual instruction using reading lab materials by such companies as SRA and ESS. In my application for the eighth grade English position, I included all that I had learned and stated that I could and would institute a program to improve all the eighth grade students’ reading abilities. Of the 27 people applying, I was chosen to be hired. It was time to raise a glass of champagne.

A teaching job, no one knowing me, and availability of time to write: I was sure I had it made! Wrong! Soon my past would lead to a plunge into school and community politics. Don’t miss the next chapter!