Here is an article I've written for the Grand Rapids Press on behalf of the Creston All-Class Reunion Committee since Creston High School is officially closing this year.
Last Hurrah for Crestonites
By: Marie Stressman Haraburda
In October 2012, the Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools announced a restructuring proposal that included the closing of several high schools, including Creston High School (1923 – 2013), which started an avalanche of disbelief and sadness around the country via Creston alumni networks on Facebook.
Rumblings included former students tossing around ideas about a get-together, and many locations were mentioned. A Facebook page called "Goodbye to Creston High" was created by Joyce Washburn, class of 1967, with the intent of getting Creston alum together for one last tour, but the GRPS already had a tour in the works, so that put the kibosh on Washburn’s plans. Amidst Facebook postings, Donna Staal Swanson, class of 1979, decided to spearhead efforts for one last hurrah in the form of a class reunion – for all classes -- and an enthusiastic committee was soon formed via Crestonites (aka Polar Bears) involved in early discussions. Staal Swanson took over as administrator of the "Goodbye Creston High" Facebook page and successfully sought out donations of $10 each to secure the $100 deposit required for the park pavilion.
The all-class reunion has now turned into one HUGE event! In fact, once a location was identified, ideas started streaming in via Facebook. Soon after, Alan Maillet, class of 1979, created a Web link to alert all non-Facebook users about the Creston events, and he also created a Facebook page to house all the Creston alumni and related links at http://crestonhighschoolreunion.freewebspace.com/
So, on Saturday, August 3, 2013, from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Creston students of all generations as early as class of 1940 will gather in Riverside Park, a long known hang-out for Crestonites over the decades, to reminisce and celebrate the good times of an era and generations of the past, when Creston High School stood tall amid the Class A Public Schools in Grand Rapids, and was known for its compassionate and gifted teachers, spirited student body, and excellence in athletics. Those attending the reunion are invited to bring their own picnic fare and drinks, but no alcohol is allowed in the park.
Nearly 500 former students have sent an RSVP to attend via the event page. The all-class reunion is a Creston alumni and faculty event only. Plans are in the works to sell special alumni Creston T-shirts before the reunion, so make sure you order yours on the Creston Website, or Goodbye Creston High Facebook page. E-mail Staal Swanson at CrestonReunion@gmail.com with any questions on the reunion.
Riverside Park is significant to many former Creston students and during the 1970’s and beyond, students used the park as a popular place to cruise, listen to music and hang out, play Frisbee, and in the evening, especially after high school dances, pair up as couples to watch the "submarine races". Some Creston graduates joked about bringing back a raft race along with the all-school reunion, but of course this comment was in jest. But Riverside Park is certainly one extension of the Creston High School experience, and the most appropriate place for an all-class reunion.
In addition to the plans for the gathering in Riverside Park, Crestonites and the general public are invited to pay their last respects to Creston during the school’s Open House on Wednesday, May 29, 2013, from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. This is one last opportunity to view the school’s special treasures such as trophies, awards, banners, and old photos. Hot dogs and chips will be served. There has also been a request for a band to play the "Creston Fight Song" on the school steps before the Open House. Creston officially closes its doors on June 7, 2013, with the last official Creston graduation the following day.
Creston’s distinctive architecture with its gargoyle faces and many steps was the pride of high school students who attended there. If only those steps could talk.
Marie Stressman Haraburda, class of 1976, has fond memories of the school and teachers. "During my time at Creston, pep rallies were met with enthusiasm; we wore our blue and gold clothes on Fridays, and clapped and got all ‘FIRED UP’ to the chants of our cheerleaders and pom-pom leaders before the games! We had team spirit and pride in our school!
I was one of a few females to venture into the R.O.T.C. program for the very first time in fall 1973, and was mentored along with my male counterparts, by Sergeant William Friske (who passed away this year), an Army Veteran of the Vietnam War who was an exceptional instructor who gave all students enriching life lessons along with the curriculum. Another amazing teacher was Leo Rathbun; a teacher who went above and beyond with passion and fervor to give us excellence in education via his saucy wit and caring for each and every student. Someone with Mr. Rathbun’s keen intelligence could easily have been successful in any other occupation, but he chose to teach, and we who learned from him are eternally grateful. Mr. Rathbun is retired and now lives in Newaygo, MI."
Steve Moorman, former Polar Bear class of 1969, mentioned via Facebook posting that, "Creston in the late 1960’s had top-10-in-the-state teams, and a locally renowned choir that sang in the White House (in 1971).
Among 47,000 at MSU I'd cross paths with a former Polar Bear almost daily in the early 1970s; so many future leaders in the making, so many doing exceptional work at all the state's universities. It seems the crawl of economics and a long history of abandoning inner city schools when violence creeps in, among other American issues, have doomed this icon of our youth . . . at least in the form in which we've fondly remembered it."
Moorman’s mother graduated from Creston in 1940, making him a second-generation Crestonite Polar Bear. According to Moorman, "One of her yearbooks between 1938 through 1940 featured the artist who painted the polar bear that forever made Creston gyms uniquely artful with that huge and fierce-yet-beautiful beast that is now threatened at the pole. It dominated one side of the old and new gyms. As I recall, it looked boldly, solemnly skyward while standing over a mound of blue polar ice."
Moorman also had kind words about the faculty. "Richard Reid -- a favorite teacher of mine -- was a practitioner of Baha'i with a beard during his wife's pregnancy, as is their way. He made Spanish One come alive in the most personal way for me, and six years later I was living in Ecuador as an Ecuadorean family member and walking high on volcanoes in Galapagos as orcas playfully breached in azure bays. How do you thank that quality of leadership for having put you on your path? It seems paying it forward is all that one can do."
And so, ironically as the polar bears become extinct along the Arctic Circle, the Polar Bears of Creston High School fame quickly fade away in Grand Rapids, Michigan, too; leaving behind a pride and spirit that is legendary in the hearts of all who tread there.
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