Alumni Feature Archive
An archive of featured stories about Parchment alumni.
By Dave Person
For Liza Keckler, the 25-year journey from Parchment to Los Angeles, where she is senior vice president of development for Irwin Entertainment, has been an adventure in which she is constantly learning new things and sharing them with the public.
"I like that it is creative and always changing," she says of her job as a TV producer. "And I get to learn new things all the time. I feel like I am constantly writing research reports."
Keckler, 42, whose credits include series producer for 19 episodes of Hoarders and executive producer for seven episodes of Fuse Excellent Adventure and 16 episodes of The Legend of Mick Dodge, now develops shows for Irwin Entertainment, which is heavy on the production of comedy specials, such as Daily Show writer Michelle Wolf s comedy special on HBO, and talk shows.
"What I do is come up with ideas, produce the sales materials, try to find a network interested in airing the show, then hand it off to a production team," she says.
Irwin Entertainment is known for E! Entertainment's Famously Single and NBC's New Year's Eve with Carson Daly.
"And we do (NBC's) Red Nose Day (Special), a live show that raises money for children and hunger," she says.
Keckler has bounced between both coasts and had the opportunity to travel the world in her career, which had its beginnings when she was a student in Parchment.
Shaped by the teachers and the school system she went through from kindergarten through her 1993 high school graduation, Keckler points specifically to some of her experiences that led to her work in television.
They include participation in Kindleberger Summer Festival productions in the park, Odyssey of the Mind competitions, classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts that sparked an interest in photography, and a recommendation from high school teacher Dan DeGraw that she get involved with the Kalamazoo Community Access Center.
It was at the latter that she honed her skills in television production that continued at Western Michigan University, where she graduated with a degree in communications and broadcasting in 1998.
"My thought at that point was that I would work in a TV newsroom in broadcasting," she says.
Keckler's older sister, Catherine, who graduated from Parchment three years before she did, was living in Seattle, so during spring break of her senior year at WMU, Keckler went there to visit her and apply for internships.
"I wound up with an internship with a CBS station there (KIRO TV)," she recalls. "I started in the sales department and I moved into local programming."
She spent a year there, with the first three months as an intern after which she was hired full time, giving her the experience she needed to launch a career in television production.
"I just kept getting jobs from there," she says.
Next up was a position with Screaming Flea Productions, with whom she left Seattle for New York and eventually returned to Seattle.
"They develop shows and sell them to the TV networks, mostly cable TV shows," she says. "They were looking for a producer on an HGTV show."
"I worked at that company on a variety of shows for almost 10 years," she says. Those programs included Fuse Excellent Adventure, which took her to music festivals all over the world, and Hoarders, which she says is probably the most memorable show she has worked on.
In 2010, Keckler moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as an executive producer for The Travel Channel, a job which did not include traveling.
"I was more like a taxi dispatcher," she says of her responsibilities of sending others to places around the world.
It was about that time that Keckler started a family, creating a desire in her to stay closer to home.
"I really enjoyed being able to travel for that first 10 years of my career. I got to travel and see the world," she says. "(But) it was an intentional change that I decided on staying closer to home with less travel."
She is married to Mike Min, a product manager for tech products, and they have two daughters, Coco, 7, and Copper, 3.
Her desire for stability and more family time brought her back to Seattle and Screaming Flea Productions in 2012, where she was vice president of development.
During the four-plus years of her second stint with Screaming Flea she led the production of National Geographic Channel's "The Legend of Mick Dodge," which follows the life of an outdoorsman in the Hoh Rainforest of Washington state's Olympic Peninsula.
"The guy lived out in the forest; nobody knew this forest existed, and it reminded you of Middle Earth from The Hobbit," Keckler says.
In January 2017, she left Screaming Flea for Irwin Entertainment and moved to Los Angeles.
Keckler says it is the nature of the business that not all ideas for new TV shows see the light of day. In fact, about 90 percent of what she works on will never be seen by the public and some that are won't have a long life there.
"Everything is in the hands of the viewers and their remotes," she says.
But that doesn't stop her from putting everything she has into her work.
"You can't give up; you have to be tenacious and work hard, and be sensitive to when you know ?something isn't going to happen.
The ones that do make it are the reward for her efforts. Currently, her company has a new show in production that is being shot in and around Los Angeles that she is excited about, although she can't give further details at this time.
Her younger brother, James, a 1995 Parchment graduate, also resides in Los Angeles. Their mother, Kathleen Keckler, retired from Western Michigan University a few years ago and moved to Seattle, where Keckler's sister still lives, putting the whole family on the West Coast. Keckler's father, Robert, died eight years ago.
Keckler still has a grandfather and several aunts and uncles in the Parchment area.
And also many positive memories from her time growing up here.
"The best thing about being in Parchment at the time is you could get creative with your high school education and if you had an interest in anything in particular they would help you get there," she says, citing DeGraw's pointing her in the direction of the Community Access Center and high school history teacher Max Steele's refreshing way of bringing stories from the past to life.
Keckler also credits a parent, Zen Campbell, with providing her with opportunities to participate in the Kindleberger plays, which Campbell initiated, all through Keckler's middle school and high school years, and Ben Tanis, middle school wood-shop instructor and the father of one of her friends, who had his own brand of creativity.
He was just a fun teacher to have because everything wasn t by the book, she says of Tanis. If you were interested in photography (for example) he would teach everyone to make a pinhole camera.
Campbell and Tanis also were among the coaches for Odyssey of the Mind, which develops problem-solving skills in young people and helped her master the creative abilities that remain ?important in her line of work.
Keckler has no regrets about the career path she has followed.
"In the moment there's frustration and rejection and the hard parts," she says, "but I would have to admit it's been pretty good."
By Dave Person
The Zackery siblings: Shannon, Trey, and Kristen, each began following the same path after their graduations from Parchment High School: They became proud Michigan State University Spartans.
But once arriving on campus the children of Dale and Elaine Zackery each blazed their own trail into the fields of health, business and education.
And each of their careers was sparked by different motivations they received while students in the Parchment Public Schools.
Shannon Zackery Wilson, 37, graduated from Parchment and the Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center in 1998. Intrigued by science, she concentrated for most of her high school career on KAMSC classes, but she also developed leadership skills through serving on the student council at Parchment.
One of her most memorable K-12 educational experiences came while she was still in elementary school.
"I loved my fourth-grade teacher Mrs. (Cathy) McCarthy," Shannon says. "She had a wonderful spirit and she really wanted her students to learn; she made it fun and interesting."
Shannon went on to earn her bachelor's degree in medical microbiology from MSU before going to graduate school at the University of Michigan, where she received her masters of public health in hospital and molecular epidemiology.
She went to work for the state of Michigan as its first health disparities epidemiologist before taking a job with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as a domestic scientific program coordinator in the area of HIV and AIDS. She also traveled to Africa to conduct AIDS studies on behalf of the federal government.
She subsequently returned to Michigan to work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Aligning Forces for Quality health-care initiative.
She is currently executive director of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, which aims to improve the health and health care of the community through research, education and advocacy.
She also is pursuing a doctoral degree in public health leadership from the University of Illinois-Chicago and has been an adjunct faculty member at Grand Valley State University and on-call faculty member for the MSU College of Medicine.
As if that weren't enough, she is president of the Greater Grand Rapids Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, an organization for mothers of African American children, and founder and immediate past president of the Urban League Young Professionals in Grand Rapids.
A former Young Professional of the Year in Grand Rapids, Shannon also enjoys public speaking.
She and her husband, David Wilson, whom she met at MSU, live in Grand Rapids with their two daughters.
Some of the memories of Parchment High School that stick in Trey Zackery's mind are of two teachers and basketball coach Larry Bailey.
Shani Wertman (now Walton), his math teacher, gets Trey's vote for his most influential teacher because she was so much fun.
Life lessons were learned by both teacher and student in another class, Trey remembers. The teacher was Dan Tindall and the lesson came during a test that Trey took and took his time on. Tindall was worried about the amount of effort Trey put into the test, knowing that typically it was a sign of a student who was struggling.
"He told me it took me so long to finish the test that he thought I'd just bombed it, and instead I aced it," Trey recalls.
Tindall told him the lessons learned were for Trey that it was OK to take your time and for him that it was never too late to learn something new about how a student learns.
"Probably the person that had the most effect on me from the standpoint of Parchment was Larry Bailey," says Trey, who was a basketball standout for Parchment.
"He put his heart and soul into our program, and did a lot for me, too. So if anyone had a long-term effect it would probably be Mr. Bailey.
He did any- and everything for me. He would open up the gym for me and my friends who didn't go to Parchment to play basketball on Saturdays. He was a very cool guy."
After graduating from Parchment in 2001, Trey followed his older sister to MSU.
"I started off in engineering and realized that was not what I wanted to do," he says.
One of his friends from the Parchment basketball team, Jake Olmstead, was working in Grand Rapids in sales and Trey latched on to that as something he might be interested in doing, so he switched fields and graduated from MSU in 2006 with a communications degree.
He became familiar with Kone Elevator at a career fair at MSU and was hired to work in sales for the company in East Lansing before moving to Bettendorf, Iowa, for a few months and then even farther West.
I moved out to San Diego, California, with them in 2007 and was out there for five-and-a-half years, he says.
In 2010, he and his wife, Katrina, whom he had met at MSU, were married, and in 2012 they decided to move back to Michigan, where Trey took a job as modernization sales manager with Thyssen Krupp Elevator.
"I did that until last October (when) I had a unique opportunity within the industry to buy a small consulting firm," he says.
Trey, 35, is now president of that company, Corporate Elevator Asset Management, in Novi, just outside of Detroit. The company, founded in 1996, has six employees and has clients all over the country.
Trey and Katrina are the parents of 17-month-old twins, a son and daughter.
Kristin Zackery Campbell, 29, the third Zackery child, has lived for the past six years in Phoenix, Arizona, where she and her husband, Justin Campbell, own an education consulting business that provides professional development for teachers.
While Justin works with math teachers, Kristin gets to work in the areas she grew to love as a student at Parchment High School English and social studies.
She credits teachers Kevin Huff and Branden Johnson with instilling those passions within her.
"Mr. Huff was a phenomenal English teacher," Kristen says. "I really enjoyed his class and digging into novels."
It was in his class that she decided to pursue a career in English and education, she says.
Similarly, Mr. Johnson made social studies come alive for her.
"I remember vividly that was a fun social studies class," she says.
"I think those two classes helped the most in shaping what I wanted to concentrate on, and helped me...so I can help other teachers."
After graduating from Parchment in 2006, Kristen followed her siblings to MSU, emerging four years later with a degree in elementary education.
"At MSU, you have to do a year (teaching) internship after you graduate," Kristen says. Since she has relatives in Detroit she chose to do her internship in the Detroit Public Schools. Not only did she teach during that year, but she also coached boys and girls middle school basketball teams.
She expected to stay there after the internship, but Detroit was laying off teachers and she realized she had no future there.
"I was really kind of stuck because I thought I had a job. At that point I decided I just needed to find a job."
She also had relatives in Phoenix, so she applied for a teaching job there and got it. She moved to Phoenix in 2011, teaching third grade for two years at one school and fourth grade for three years at another school while also coaching middle school boys basketball teams.
In the meantime, Justin, who is from Southfield and whom Kristen has known since they were in high school though on opposite sides of the state also moved to Phoenix to teach; they were married in 2015.
They started their consulting business, The Urban Connection Project, in 2014 while they were still teaching, and then left their teaching jobs to pursue consulting full time last year.
"We basically provide professional development for teachers," Kristen says. That includes doing observations and providing one-one-one coaching of teachers.
In addition, they coach an AAU travel basketball team made up of inner-city high school varsity basketball players.
"We spend our summers traveling to tournaments pretty much," Kristen says.
"Another part of what we do is go to colleges and universities and work with students to help them figure out what they want to do," Kristen says.
That recently brought them back to Kalamazoo where they met with students at Western Michigan University. They also have a consulting account in Detroit, which brings them back to their home state frequently and allows Kristen to spend time with her nieces and nephew.
Kristen says she finds her work to be very rewarding.
"I'm really passionate about helping people figure out what they want to do every day that makes them happy," she says.
By Dave Person
Her high school teachers probably knew she was destined to follow in their footsteps.
And once she became a teacher, her peers and her students undoubtedly couldn't imagine her anywhere else but in front of a classroom.
But it took Carol Bouabdellaoui a while to figure out what she was going to do with her life, and she insists the decision to become an educator wasn't one she came up with on her own.
"I didn't feel a calling," says Bouabdellaoui, who taught Spanish for 22 years at Parchment High School, from which she graduated in 1979.
Although she retired from Parchment in 2013, Bouabdellaoui, 56, continues to teach Spanish at the Barclay Hills Education Center in Parchment, and English to international students at Western Michigan University. She also occasionally teaches Spanish at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and last year she returned to Parchment to teach part time when the need arose for someone to teach a Spanish class.
"I retired mostly because there was a job open (at WMU) and because I wanted the college (teaching) experience," she says.
So if she didn't feel a calling, how is it that Bouabdellaoui ended up teaching for 35 years?
She says it happened after she graduated from PHS, then tested out of Spanish and French classes at WMU, where she was a language major, enabling her to finish college in three years.
During that time she faced the pressure of determining what she wanted to do with her future.
"The secondary education kind of kicked in when I had to declare a major," she says.
Her first assignment, as a student teacher, was at Gull Lake High School, which is where Bouabdellaoui finally accepted her fate.
"This is the job I'll have; I'll be a teacher," she says she decided, and since then she has continued to instruct and entertain - most would agree that is a fitting description - students from the front of the classroom.
Bouabdellaoui says her first hurdle was just to find a job. There were few openings in her profession in Michigan at that time.
"If you wanted to teach you had to leave the state," she says.
So, for her first job she went to Globe, Arizona.
"It was a small town in the mountains with a lot of kids from the San Carlos Apache Reservation," she says. She taught Spanish there for two years, until 1984.
Then, with her application in to join the Peace Corps, Bouabdellaoui returned to Michigan and spent a year teaching in Wayland, after which she moved to Mexico City to teach English.
Finally, she received her Peace Corps assignment - Morocco - and it was off to that African country for three years, teaching English to high school students in Errachidia, a town of 30,000 people without so much as a stop light, but with plenty of donkeys making their way through the streets.
Her teaching supplies were meager.
"You were given a textbook, a few laminated visuals and some chalk," she says.
Many of the students were unable to afford their own textbook, so those who could shared with those who couldn't, resulting in seven or eight students sharing the same book.
In Morocco, Arabic is the official language. However, the educated people also speak French. In addition, the tribal language of Berber is spoken.
Bouabdellaoui says her students were serious about learning English, either as a prerequisite for going to college or to communicate with English-speaking tourists.
"They wanted English; they wanted it badly," Bouabdellaoui recalls.
In 1989, Bouabdellaoui returned to Michigan, along with her Moroccan husband at the time, and earned a master's degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages from Michigan State University.
In 1991, while she was still in Lansing, her daughter, Leila, was born. Leila graduated from Parchment High School in 2009 and is currently living and working in Pittsburgh, Pa.
That also was the year the Parchment schools contacted Bouabdellaoui in need of a Spanish teacher.
"The Parchment job fell in my lap," she says. "I had no plans to do that; I had been all over the world and I ended up back in Parchment."
The strange part, she says, is that she was among the ranks of people who were at one time her teachers, but now she was calling them by their first names.
"Several of my former teachers were my colleagues, but I was honored to be among their ranks," she says.
"My years in high school from the other side of the desk were a lot of fun."
She also returned to WMU once she was back at Parchment and earned a master's degree in Spanish.
In 1994, her son, Jamal, was born. A 2013 graduate of Parchment High School, he has a daughter, Mia, 2, and continues to live in Parchment.
Carol Bouabdellaoui was the youngest of Dick and Shirley Kishpaugh's three children. Dick, who died in 2000, was a well-known historian, particularly when it came to Michigan high school and college sports, and even more so when it involved the Parchment community and its schools' sports.
"I inherited some of his memory for people's names," Bouabdellaoui says, which is just part of the recall that her father displayed. "He could remember everything about everyone," she says.
That was because of "his curiosity about people." which, she says, also rubbed off on her. She treasures the one-on-one time she has had with her students.
"When you have the time to talk to people, that's what I really like," she says of her high school teaching experiences. "I miss that a lot, the extra conversations."
That is one of the reasons she has taken on yet another part-time job, as a nurse's assistant on weekends and in the evenings, at Borgess Gardens nursing home.
"I like working with older people; I enjoy hearing their stories," she says.
Bouabdellaoui's respect for all her teachers when she was in high school no doubt gave them an early indication that she would join them in the profession someday.
"I liked all my teachers a lot," she says. "Each teacher I had taught me something because I've embraced this profession for 35 years."
"I remember especially Bernie Conklin (her health teacher); he had great stories."
George MacLeod, her biology teacher, "made me see what it's like to have a passion for your subject matter," she says. She learned that even though students might not have the same feelings for the subject, their teacher must sustain his or her own passion.
She remembers Dan Tindall, in math, "for his calm approach and his subtle sense of humor."
Probably most important were her language classes, because as Bouabdellaoui admits, she has a "brain wired for languages."
"I got an excellent start in languages from George Malley in French and, of course, Ruth Moser in Spanish," she says.
She learned from her teachers that you can be effective as a serious teacher or someone who is more whimsical, which is the approach she has taken. "Humor worked for me," she says.
The bottom line, according to Bouabdellaoui:
"Your students have to be comfortable in your classroom."
By Dave Person
Just eight years out of Parchment High School and four years since she graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Leila Bouabdellaoui is hard at work using her two engineering degrees in the area of transportation technology.
A transportation engineer with HDR Inc. in Pittsburgh, Bouabdellaoui is involved in cutting-edge technology involving autonomous and connected vehicles.
Autonomous vehicles can sense their environment and navigate without human input. Connected vehicles have internet access and the capability of sharing it with devices both inside and outside of the vehicle."We are... doing the implementation of pilot projects in different cities and working with state DOTs (Departments of Transportation) in putting together a plan for the future in how they will use the technology," she says.
Bouabdellaoui, 26, who has been with HDR for over two years now, also has been designing roadways, which gives her a lot of satisfaction, especially if it's a road in Pittsburgh that she can drive on and see the difference her design has made in traffic flow and safety.
"I like that I get to help cities and states improve their transportation systems, and I get to see my projects put into action," she says.
"In high school I thought I wanted to be a city planner," Bouabdellaoui says. "That along with some interest in architecture got me into engineering."
Bouabdellaoui attended the Kalamazoo Area Math & Science Center half-days for all four years of high school, was senior class president at Parchment and was valedictorian of the Class of 2009.
A member of the cross-country, track, soccer, basketball and powerlifting teams at Parchment, Bouabdellaoui says sports played a big part in her formative years.
"One of the things I enjoyed most about Parchment was definitely the sports," she says. "If I wasn't doing homework I was at a practice."
She recalls three teachers, in particular, who provided her inspiration along the way - Wayne Hinton, Rich Hruska and Kevin Huff.
"They're all very different," she says, "but I really connected with all of them and they helped motivate me in different ways."
She chose to attend Carnegie Mellon not only for its engineering program, but also because she would be able to continue participating in sports there without an imposing schedule that would affect her academics.
"I played soccer and ran track there for my first two years and then I ran cross country and track my last two years," she says.
She also concentrated on her studies, earning two bachelor's degrees - in civil and environmental engineering and in engineering and public policy.
Her first job out of college was as an air-quality engineer for an oil and gas company for a year and a half before she landed the job at HDR.
Working in a professional environment with many different personalities has been one of Bouabdellaoui's greatest challenges, she says, but one that she enjoys.
"We work on design teams," she says. "Everyone has their own part working together as a team."
Bouabdellaoui says she misses Michigan, and especially the strong sense of community she experienced here. Both of her parents, as well as her younger brother, Jamal, still live in Parchment. Her mother, Carol, teaches at the high school.
"I think the biggest thing overall is there is such a supportive community in Parchment; I was involved in a lot of things growing up," she says.
"Being involved in all the things I really cared about helped me to development leaderships skills that I still put into practice today."
"Now at my work I'm becoming more involved," she says, including participation in the National Young Professionals Leadership Team there.
By Dave Person
When Merrilee (Campbell) Gordon looks back at her long and satisfying career in the oil industry which took her to New Orleans, Houston and as far away as Malaysia, she credits the small school district of Parchment and the teachers there who showed they cared.
"One of the things I appreciated about my education was I had a lot of teachers who gave me personal attention and I was challenged," says Gordon, 57, who is now retired and living in Montgomery, Texas.
Gordon's family moved from the Kalamazoo school district to Clato Street in the Parchment school district when she was in second grade and she remained in the Parchment schools through her graduation in 1977.
All the way through her elementary and secondary education she was challenged by her teachers, she says, remembering, in particular, Mrs. Irene Heeringa in fourth grade, Mr. Donald Culp and Mrs. Dixie Johnson in sixth grade, and James Orr, her high school American history teacher who caught her doodling in his class and offered her the opportunity to stretch herself by spending her classroom time in the library reading about American history rather than half-listening to his lectures.
"It was an independent study, really," she says, thinking back.
That wasn't her only out-of-the-ordinary accomplishment.
"I remember being able to take drafting," she says. "I believe I was the first woman who took it at Parchment High, and I remember having to get permission."
Her pioneering work as a woman in a male-dominated field was conceived, she says, while she was in high school dreaming of becoming an engineer.
"I enjoyed math and science and I enjoyed hand-on activities," she says.
After high school she spent four years at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.
"I actually started out in electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, but it wasn't hands-on enough for me," she says. So she switched to geological engineering.
"It was a nice mix of the practical and theoretical applications," she says.
In 1981, after receiving her degree in that discipline, Gordon got a job as a drilling engineer with Amoco Production Co. in Levelland, Texas. During her three years in the West Texas oil fields, she was Amoco's only drilling engineer, overseeing development and exploration drilling in addition to well completions. Most of that time she was a drilling foreman overseeing three rigs concurrently while at the same time maintaining her well-planning role.
"I would go out in the field and supervise people on the drilling rigs," she says. "This was a nice mix of you'd plan the work for a while and then you would go out and see your ideas being implemented."
"The nice benefit for me working in West Texas, you still had risks but not the Deepwater (offshore oil-drilling rig that exploded in 2010, killing 11 and causing a massive oil spill) kind of risks."
Gordon also had the distinction of being Amoco's only female at her level of responsibility. "I was the only female drilling engineer with Amoco for about the first 11 years," she says.
From West Texas, Amoco sent Gordon to New Orleans in 1984 where she worked with both onshore and offshore drilling as a drilling engineer and then production systems engineer.
"The experience I had gotten in the less risky environment (of West Texas) served me well," she says of the move into the more complicated well-drilling arena.
It was in New Orleans that she met and married Doug Gordon, who was doing similar work for Shell Oil. They moved to Houston, Texas, the center of Amoco's international operations, in 1990. There, Gordon held a variety of positions.
"When I got to Houston ? I moved into this area called production services," she says. "I was that person who translated between the IT aspect and what the engineer out in the field needed to get the job done."
"It was a nice broadening assignment for me, and it also fit well with our family planning," she says, explaining that it was during that period they added their two children, Lindsay and Drew, to their family.
In 2001, after 20 years, Gordon left Amoco, which had merged with British Petroleum by that time, for a position as development and operations manager, Michigan assets, for Shell Exploration & Production Co. For two years, she flew between Houston and Kalkaska.
"Shell offered me that opportunity ? (and) I was very interested in it," she says.
"Having grown up in Michigan I totally understood our need to preserve our pristine environment. It was a big challenge and a good success for me."
Gordon returned full time to Houston in 2003 when Shell sold its Michigan assets. She spent the next three years in management, working to apply new technology to increase the efficiency of operations.
In 2006, she was appointed vice president, upstream and East, for Shell Global Solutions, a job that took her to Malaysia as senior manager in its office there for two years, 2008-09.
With a downturn in the economy in 2009, Shell Global Solutions was reorganized, which provided Gordon with an opportunity to return to Houston with the position of vice president of engineering for the Americas.
In 2013, Gordon and her husband retired to lake property they owned in Montgomery, Texas, north of Houston, where Gordon says she is dabbling in all the things she enjoys that she didn t have a chance to do while she was working.
She and her husband are also cheering on their children in their careers.
Lindsay, 26, graduated with a physics degree from West Point and is an Apache attack helicopter pilot. She served a tour of duty in Afghanistan and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Drew, 24, got his degree in finance and works in the finance department for J.C. Penney in Frisco, Texas.
Gordon's mother now lives near her in Texas, but still owns the home on Clato where Gordon and her two sisters grew up. One of those sisters also lives in Texas while the other one lives in Augusta.
As she looks back on her career, Gordon takes a great deal of pride in knowing that she played a role in making the world a better place.
"There are people who are in such horrid poverty, and if we're going to give them better living conditions, it starts with giving them a more affordable source of energy," she says.
The companies she worked for, she says, tried to do that in a safe, clean and ethical way.
"It was very challenging," she says of her work, "and I felt like I was doing something important."
"I enjoyed it as a career. It s been a lot of fun."
By Dave Person
Who wouldn't want to first choose where they wanted to live, and then wait for the ideal job to come along?
Who wouldn't want to live the dream of many children to grow up to become a rocket scientist?
Brian Buchholtz achieved those goals.
The 1989 graduate of Parchment High School headed toward the Rockies in 1995 with no job prospects in mind after earning an undergraduate degree and then a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan Technological University in Houghton.
"I loaded up the car and headed West to see where I wanted to settle and could get a job," he says. "After six weeks of camping, climbing and dropping off resumes, mostly in Colorado and Utah, I landed a job at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado."
After four years there during which his job included designing the upper stages of the Atlas rocket, Buchholtz left to take a job at a smaller company, Ball Aerospace & Technologies, which he felt was a better fit for him.
"I did not know much about them at the time, but did know that they were only about 2,000 people, more dynamic, and offered more opportunities to be creative," he wrote in response to emailed questions. "Ball Aerospace is the company that fixed the Hubble Space Telescope, after it was launched with a misshapen primary mirror, and are the ones that have built the instruments that provide most of the amazing Hubble images."
The aerospace component is about 10 percent of Ball Corp., which is known for its canning jars and now also makes recyclable metal containers, Buchholtz says.
Buchholtz, 45, who lives in Erie, Colo., with his wife and two children, is a mechanical-design engineer for the company.
"I mostly design things that go into space," he says. "I specialize in mechanisms and cryogenic systems. I have designed systems for aircraft, submarines, rockets and spacecraft."
"It is challenging, interesting and I get to see my ideas go from my head, through design, fabrication, assembly, test, launch and then operation on orbit," he says. "The absolute need for things to work on orbit and the tremendous costs involved can be stressful, but overall it is rewarding. Almost everything I design is one-of-a-kind and there are no second chances after it is launched."
Buchholtz started with a bang, literally, at Ball.
"I was put on the Deep Impact program," he says. "It was a never-before-attempted comet intercept mission. We built two spacecraft and all of the instruments on board ? one that held most of the propulsion and instruments and one that was made mostly of copper.
"The copper one was the impactor and its job was to be ejected from the first spacecraft and steer its way into the path of the comet. The first spacecraft then watched ? as the impactor cratered into the comet at more than 23,000 miles per hour. The impact crater ejecta (material released by the impact) told scientists for the first time what was beneath the surface of a comet.
"It was the first time that anything built by humans had ever touched a comet and gave us the first close-up views of one. I designed the solar arrays, most all of the mechanisms, instrument mounts, composite structures and tons of other things on that program."
Buchholtz followed that 2005 project with some smaller ones before he got the opportunity to work on the Kepler Space Telescope.
"Kepler was, and still is, a planet hunter. Its job is to orbit the sun and constantly stare at the same spot of space looking for faint dips in the brightness of stars that could indicate that an exoplanet - a planet not in our solar system - has transited in front of them," Buchholtz explains.
"Of the 145,000 stars it has been staring at, it has found a few thousand exoplanets. Because only a tiny fraction of exoplanets have an orbital plane that would be aligned so that Kepler could see the transit from its perspective, the number of planets found to date means that the average star in the galaxy has more than one planet about it. With tens of billions of stars in our galaxy, we now know there are at least as many planets out there. That fact is absolutely amazing and brand new thanks to Kepler.
"The degree, duration and recurring time of the transits lets scientists know how big the planets are and how far they orbit from their star. To date there have been several that are thought to be earth-like and in the zone where liquid water could exist. This means that there is a real good possibility that earth-like planets are out there and could support life."
Buchholtz's role in that project was not insignificant.
"I worked on the assembly of the spacecraft, telescope, alignment of the optics, testing, and integration at the launch site," he says.
After Kepler launched in March 2009, Buchholtz worked on several smaller projects in the cryogenics area, including building a cryocooler that is now used on a weather satellite and is the most efficient cryocooler every built, according to Buchholtz.
"For the past five years I have worked on cryogenic systems ranging from unmanned submarines to national-asset space-based instruments," he says. He is currently building a second weather-satellite cryocooler.
Buchholtz said while his work is fulfilling, it also requires long hours, which could be a drawback were it not for his location.
"Being the only mechanical-design engineer on many of the programs I have worked in the past six years has been very rewarding, but lacking a backup has made the hours sometimes long and vacations tough to plan ahead," he says. "Fortunately, living in Colorado makes every weekend seem like a vacation."
Although it has been more than 25 years since he was a student at Parchment, Buchholtz remembers vividly the role high school and some of his teachers there played in his being able to achieve success in his chosen field.
"I had lots of great teachers in Parchment. With their help, I got a full tuition scholarship to Michigan Tech" (George) MacLeod for biology and (Dan) DeGraw for social/poli-sci, though I never went in either of those directions, and Eugene Wood for the chemistry and physics," he says. "The physics and chemistry I learned way back then was most of what we did in college and covers lots of what I still do today."
By Dave Person
An early interest in politics and public service as well as experience in business that began at a young age have provided Deb Buchholtz with a variety of opportunities to improve the lives of others in the Kalamazoo area.
The current owner of Synergy Health Strategies and member of the Kalamazoo County Road Commission served on the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners for 11 years, with most of that time as chair or vice chair, and as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, A Community of Caring.
The irony is that Buchholtz, a 1985 graduate of Parchment High School, was planning to spread her wings and fly away once she finished school.
"I was always going to leave; I was never going to stay," she says.
And, in fact, she did leave, for a time.
Buchholtz moved to Ann Arbor after high school, earning a bachelor's degree in political science and economics, took graduate classes at the University of Chicago on weekends resulting in an MBA degree in finance and business policy in 1992, and for a couple of years in the 1990s lived in South Korea, where she hired and trained Americans to teach English in Korean schools.
Other than that, Buchholtz watered the seeds planted while she was a student at PHS, letting them blossom into the various opportunities she has held in the Kalamazoo area.
"My work has obviously been fairly wide-ranging, spanning governmental, nonprofit and private-sector enterprises," she says. "The common denominator for me has been that I love a challenge. I like to observe an issue, define and learn about the problem, assemble and/or motivate a team, and set goals and a strategy to implement measurable positive change.
"In all of my endeavors, I've enjoyed the latitude I've had to try new creative approaches to remedy problems and seek continuous improvement."
Buchholtz remembers the exact moment she became motivated to participate in public service. She was in the 10th grade and was engaged in a hallway discussion with one of her teachers, Bernie Conklin, about a political issue and she told him she would prove herself to be correct.
James Orr, another teacher, who was involved in local politics as a Democrat, overheard the conversation and offered to help the Republican-leaning Buchholtz by introducing her to the chair of the Republican Party in Kalamazoo County.
Before long, Buchholtz founded and became president of Kalamazoo County Teen-Age Republicans. (She also later headed up the college Republicans at U-M.)
Her junior year at PHS, Buchholtz, as chair of the Kalamazoo Valley Intermediate School District Student Leadership Forum, addressed a gathering of educators in Detroit and also participated in a U.S. Senate Youth Scholarship Competition in Lansing.
Those were followed the next summer by a trip to Washington, D.C., where she and other young Republicans met President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
Buchholtz says she also caught the political bug from Dan DeGraw, another high school teacher who later became a member of the Parchment City Commission and served as mayor for several years.
But perhaps the biggest inspirational moment in high school came during a conversation with her English teacher and cross-country coach, Richard Buehler. Buchholtz had just completed an all-nighter finishing an English paper for Buehler's class, so she expected he would be willing to excuse her from the away cross-country competition that day. But instead he told her as a team leader he expected her to come along, even if she felt she couldn't run. She went, and ended up competing.
"It taught me the lesson of the responsibility you have to a team; sometimes your obligations are bigger than yourself," she says.
Buchholtz's business career began in high school at the High Wheeler Ice Cream Parlour, which was owned by her parents, Roger and Jane Buchholtz, and continued during breaks from college and during the years she was commuting to the University of Chicago for her master's degree. She held the title of general manager and director of operations and public relations.
Perhaps the most visible position Buchholtz has held has been as a member of the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners for 11 years. She was elected to the first of her six two-year terms in 2000, when she was 33 years old. She resigned in the middle of her sixth term at the end of 2011 to become executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Buchholtz served a couple of one-year terms as chair of the county board early on, then ended her time as a commissioner with four years as vice chair and one more year as chair.
Her time on the board was spent building alliances between Democrats and Republicans because she did not feel partisan politics was appropriate on a local level, she says.
During her first stint chairing the board, its numbers were expanded from nine members to 17. "A majority of them were new; it was crazy."
But through all the bumps, Buchholtz pressed on with her agenda to cut local spending so the county wouldn't be devastated by a reduction in income due to changes in the state's revenue sharing formula.
"We reduced our budget by a million dollars," she says. The money that was saved was set aside for facilities projects.
She also worked successfully toward making county parks self-sufficient so the county wouldn't have to help pay for their operation.
Other accomplishments, she says, were the creation of an aeronautics board to run the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport and developing a wellness program for the county, also money-saving moves.
During the last year she was on the board, Buchholtz also held a short-term position as business development analyst for Pfizer Inc.
Buchholtz stepped down from the county board to assume the position of executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters, where she helped develop a new branding and marketing strategy and built up the organization's revenue.
After leaving Big Brothers Big Sisters in March 2013, Buchholtz was an independent consultant and project manager for most of the next two years until a position with the Kalamazoo County Road Commission opened up. The county Board of Commissioners appointed Buchholtz to fill that position with a six-year term that runs through 2020.
"I really missed being (involved in) local politics," she says of jumping at the chance to get involved again.
Most people are only concerned about the roads they drive on, but the Road Commission has to take a broader perspective. "We have to figure out how to make all the roads better," she says.
As an avid bicyclist, Buchholtz says she has that point of view to bring to the post.
In 2014, Buchholtz started Synergy Health Strategies, which "provides comprehensive, innovative, risk-management solutions in the area of employer health benefits." She continues as a partner/member of the corporation.
"It's very exciting because it's a community strategy as well as a health strategy," she says.
Buchholtz, 49, also is in the midst of a personal challenge that is more difficult than the many professional issues she has taken on over the years. After having wrestled with health issues since she was in high school, she was diagnosed last year with incurable intestinal cancer. It is a slow-moving type of cancer, she says, but also one that she has probably had for several years.
The illness prevents her from running, something she has done all her life, and has quashed any thoughts of making another attempt at elective office, but, she says, it has given her the luxury of being able "to set my priorities."
Among those priorities are supporting her two daughters, Lindsey Hiemstra, 23, a University of Michigan graduate who lives in Ann Arbor, and Alaina Hiemstra, 14.
As with everything else in her life, Buchholtz is moving forward with a determination to find a resolution to the challenges that confront her.
By Dave Person
Alex Whiting figures it may surprise a few people who remember him as a student at Parchment High School that during one eight-year stretch he read a book a day.
"I definitely wasn't a model student at Parchment High School. "I think they graduated me so they could get rid of me," he says. "Anybody who remembers me won't remember me as a high achiever."
All that changed for him when he moved to Alaska, earned a college degree, got married and had a daughter.
Now he is a successful environmentalist and researcher who has been honored for his work, including as the recipient last year of the Denali Award, the top honor that can be bestowed upon a non-native Alaskan by the Alaska Federation of Natives.
So how did the 1987 graduate of Parchment High School transition in the last 29 years into a prominent resident of the Native Village of Kotzebue in northern Alaska?
Whiting says it had its start during his youth in Parchment when he preferred fishing for trout in area streams, his favorite being Spring Brook, to hitting the books in school.
He also remembers dreaming as a child of someday living in Alaska.
Among his high school memories, other than daydreaming about being somewhere else, was Jack Koch, his science teacher, talking about the Homestead Act and life in Alaska.
"I had thought about going to Alaska since I was very little, and I used to read up about hunting and fishing," he says.
Whiting got a factory job in Kalamazoo after high school, but quickly realized it wasn't for him.
"It became clear to me I didn't want to work in a factory for the next 30 years," he says. "I wrote our counselor at the school and asked about colleges in Alaska that offered fishery programs."
The Parchment counselor, whose name Whiting doesn't remember, recommended he apply to Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka. He did, and was accepted.
So in August 1988 Whiting packed up and headed north to Alaska.
That s when his metamorphosis began.
In 1991, he graduated with an associate's degree with a focus on fish culture, ocean science, aquaculture and saltwater aquaria.
He also met and married Martha Siikauraq, who earned a degree in natural resource land management that same year, and after graduation they moved to her hometown, the Native Village of Kotzebue, where the average temperature for February is below zero, for July is 55 and where there are only an average of four days in the 70s every summer.
Whiting's next few years were spent working at any job he could find, mostly maintenance-type work, and living and hunting with his wife's family.
"A lot of their identity is to have these seasonal camps out in the country, and her family lived out in the country all year long," he says.
Whiting says it took six years before he found a job in his field of concentration. It was in 1997, when their daughter, Denali, was 5 years old, and Alex and Martha began to wonder whether the fish they were eating could be contaminated.
"I called the tribe to see if there had been any studies on contaminants," he says.
They didn't know, but they told him there was a new position of environmental specialist funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and if he wanted to he could take the job and look into the matter himself.
"I basically started at the tribe in 1997 without an office, computer or nothing and was given free rein to develop an environmental program," he says. "I did a lot of self-education at that point reading about Alaska tribes, the federal government as it relates to Alaska history and tribal policy, Alaska history, environmental policy, wildlife management and related topics.
"Over one eight-year stretch I averaged a book a day, having a running list of titles at the interlibrary loan program."
The job agreed with him and Whiting, 46, has now been at it for 19 years.
"That was sort of my hobby, my passion " the environment, fishing, hunting, being out in nature," he says.
"I have been a one-man show as far as the tribal program, but of course the accomplishments have been a cooperative effort between local people, academia, federal and state researchers and agency folks, with me initiating, developing and coordinating the relationships," he says.
One of the projects he took part in was capturing seals and fitting them with satellite tags to trace their movements, a first when it came to bearded seals.
"Although ringed seals have been captured and tagged before, we perfected the method of capturing and tagging both the ringed and the bearded seals here," Whiting says.
The project, like many others Whiting has coordinated, was successful because of the cooperation between natives and the scientific world.
"You have the most talented and knowledgeable people on the ground and you combine that with some of the most talented and knowledgeable scientists in the world," he says. "All I really have to do is be good at facilitating relationships. That really is my main job, to bridge the gap between the academic and indigenous cultures."
As a result of the studies, Whiting has learned that the fish and game in that area are safe to eat.
"Our fish and wildlife here, fortunately, aren t to the level where you have to have consumption advisories," he says.
But you don't know that unless you conduct studies.
So one week recently he was "out in the field" fishing for sheefish.
"We were getting samples for an ecology study being done at UAF (University of Alaska " Fairbanks)," he says. They were also providing samples to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
Kotzebue is the seat of government for the Northwest Arctic Borough, an area in northern Alaska about the size of the state of Indiana with a population of about 7,500 people.
Living in a borough that large requires a lot of travel to pursue the outdoor lifestyle that Whiting likes.
"It's common to go a hundred miles to go hunting and fishing up here on a day trip," he says. "You need almost a day to do anything because of the distance involved and the migratory nature of the wildlife."
While sheefish and Dolly Varden trout are primarily what people fish for, hunting targets include wolves, wolverine, fox, Dall sheep, moose, grizzly and other bear, and caribou.
Hunting is done exclusively for the meat and the hides of the animals.
"The cost of living up here is some of the highest in the country because we're in the Arctic and the only thing you grow in the Arctic is fur and meat," Whiting says. "For us it (hunting) is all about filling the freezer."
Whiting's wife and daughter also have established credentials through their work and activities. Martha Whiting, an education specialist for the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, served as the first elected female mayor of the Northwest Arctic Borough from 2006-12.
Denali Qapvik Whiting, who graduated with honors in Alaska native studies from UAF last spring and has won awards in both education and art over the years, was Miss Teen Alaska USA 2011, representing the state at the national pageant in the Bahamas, and Miss Arctic Circle in 2012.
In addition to the prestigious Denali Award, Alex Whiting also received the 2015 Excellence in Service Award from the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Alaska Board of Game last year, and in 2011 was the recipient of the Environmental Excellence Award from the Alaska Forum on the Environment.
Whiting doesn't get back to Michigan much, even though his mother, sisters, aunts and uncles still live in the area.
He says he has returned twice, once after he was in Alaska about seven years, and once seven years after that. He hasn't been back since.
Right now, he's just focusing on the job and the life he has come to love.
"As long as they keep me here I'll stay here," he says.
By Dave Person
Teaching college-level math is a dream job, says 1996 Parchment High School graduate Brad Young."It's really nice to wake up and be happy going to work," says Young, an assistant professor of mathematics at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Ill., just north of O'Hare International Airport.
But it might not have turned out that way for him if it weren't for his calculus teacher at Parchment who stayed in touch with Young and kept him from passing up the opportunity for a bright future.
Young says he considers himself lucky to have gone to Parchment rather than a larger high school.
"The class sizes at Parchment were smaller and it made it a lot easier to know the teachers," he says.
It also allowed for flexibility in scheduling. And so, as a senior, Young was able to take an Advanced Placement calculus class, which was offered for the first time in Parchment in the fall of 1995 and held before school to accommodate the schedules of those who wanted to take it.
The calculus teacher, Mr. Barry, took an interest in Young that continued after he graduated from Parchment and enrolled at Western Michigan University.
Young got bored with college after one semester. "I... said, 'I don't need this; I'm young and free,' so I went to work at McDonald's," he said.
When Mr. Barry found out, he saw Young's potential being wasted, and he told Young in no uncertain terms that he needed to get back into school.
Young heeded his former teacher's advice and returned to Western, where he double-majored in math and physics.
From there he went to graduate school, also at WMU, and earned a master's degree in math, receiving the Charles Butler Award as graduate teacher of the year in math before he graduated in 2007.
"When I got to Western and started teaching as a grad student there was when I really found out how much I like it," Young says. "It's nice to be recognized for something like that, especially when you enjoy doing what you're doing."
Young's first real teaching job, which lasted seven years, was at Darton State College, in Albany, Ga., where he impressed the students, faculty and administration so much with his teaching skills that he was named "Teacher of the Year" for the whole college in 2013.
Young says the award, which began with a nomination from students and was confirmed by the administration, took into account that the classes he taught always filled up the first day they were offered, numerous positive reviews from his students, his leadership of the faculty council, and online classes that he developed and taught.
"It was a great feeling and something I didn't really expect," Young says of getting the award.
Darton students flocked to his classes because he made mathematics interesting, even exciting to some.
"Sometimes when you read a math book there's a lot of jargon in there," Young says. "I try to put it in layman's terms when I talk about it."
A self-described math cheerleader, Young often will stop in the middle of a lesson to tell a dumb joke or funny story, he says.
"I have a funny way about me that makes it easier to approach (the subject)," he says. "I try to make it less serious; it's intimidating enough as it is.
"I'm also good at getting students to my office... and if I can get them to my office I can get them interested, or at least spark an interest."
Young says the importance of humor and joking was evident in the classroom of one of his Parchment teachers, Carol Bouabdellaoui, whose humor often didn't make sense until sometime later.
"Some of the jokes you wouldn't get until you got home," Young says. "She was just great."
Young, 38, whose sister, Traci, and brother, Brian, live in Kalamazoo, was in Georgia when his mother, Julia, a former Parchment school bus driver, died in 2011. Having that distance between them at the time of her death was difficult for him.
So when his father, Jon, became ill in the spring of 2014, leading to a stroke in July that year, Young, who is single, moved back to the area to help care for him, resigning his job at Darton in the process. He then started looking for jobs within a couple of hours of Kalamazoo so he could remain close to his father, who has made a strong recovery and is now able to care for himself.
"Oakton was the first (college) to offer me a position, so I took it," Young says. It's a decision he doesn't regret.
"Oakton is a great college, has a lot of great people, and they give a lot of support, so I can see myself here for a very long time," says young, who began teaching there full time in August.
He teaches basic algebra, college algebra, trigonometry, all levels of calculus and differential equations.
Young's plans are to go back to school, while he is still teaching, to get a doctorate in math and math education so he can continue doing what he loves for the rest of his career.
"It's a great job," he says of teaching math to college students. "It doesn't seem fair that they pay me."
By Dave Person
Aug. 17, 1959, had been another busy day for members of Parchment Boy Scout Troop 18. The young men were either sleeping or drifting off to sleep in their cabins at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming when an earthquake jarred them awake.
The ground moved so intensely during the brief quake, which was measured at between 7.3 and 7.5 on the Richter magnitude scale, that new geysers shot up in the area of Old Faithful and a rockslide roared into a campground near the park, killing 28 people.
Norm Sleep, officially Norman H. Sleep but known to friends as Tom, was one of the Parchment scouts who experienced the quake, and it triggered a curiosity about the earth and its formation that has intrigued him for 56 years.
"That first made me aware" of the devastation that an earthquake could cause, recalls Sleep, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University in California who was 14 at the time of the temblor.
By Dave Person
Alex Turton's enthusiasm for new and different experiences, obvious to all who knew him when he was a student at Parchment High School, is continuing as he travels the world as an Air Force pilot.Turton, 25, is a first lieutenant in the Air Force currently deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His deployment is scheduled to end in late February.
But he will remain in the Air Force. He is currently committed until 2021, and has no misgivings about serving for that length of time.
"Right now I'd like to put in 20 years, but a lot could happen between now and then," he said in a telephone conversation.
A 2005 graduate of Parchment High School, Turton went on to Michigan State University, from which he graduated four years later. For much of his time at MSU he was unclear about his future, and certainly didn't anticipate a military career.
"I started school and was really just undecided at that point," he said. "I thought I wanted to go into the sciences, but switched majors (to geography). At the end of my sophomore year I decided to check out the ROTC program. ... I ended up joining and was part of that for the rest of my college years."A tuba player and drum major in Parchment's marching band, Turton continued to display his musical abilities as a member of the MSU Marching Band for three years.
He took part in basic training between his junior and senior years at MSU, and then upon graduation in 2009, at which point he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, he returned to Kalamazoo for six months, then went to flight-training school in Texas for two years.
Turton subsequently was stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey where he was assigned to fly the McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender, the Air Force version of the civilian DC-10 airliner. The KC-10 is a transport and in-flight refueling aircraft.
"I've been flying that operationally since early in 2012," said Turton, who now calls Philadelphia home.
Turton's deployment to Southwest Asia is his second. His first was last summer.During his current deployment, which began in December, Turton is a co-pilot serving as part of a four-person team that includes a pilot, flight engineer and boom operator, who does the in-flight refueling of fighter jets from the rear of the KC-10.
"It's an aerial dance," Turton said, describing the procedure.
Even when he is not deployed, Turton spends a lot of time in the air. "We'll fly all over the United States and the world hauling cargo," he said. He also accompanies fighter jets overseas from the United States for in-flight refueling.
Meanwhile, Turton is climbing the officer ranks.
"I became a first lieutenant over a year and a half ago," he said. "This fall I'll pin on captain."
Turton, the son of Dale and Emma Turton and brother of Claire Turton, also a Parchment High School graduate who is finishing up work on two degrees from MSU, said he is grateful to the Parchment Public Schools for the opportunity to try a variety of activities.
In addition to being in marching band in high school, Turton ran cross-country, wrestled, participated in track and was on the student council.
"There were a lot of opportunities to get a taste of a lot of different things," he said.
He recommends that approach to others.
"Try a bunch of different things, find out what you like, give it your all and good things will happen," he said.
Anyone who drives through Parchment on a regular basis will recognize the name Ty Kelley.
Kelley is the local State Farm Insurance agent, and with an office fronting Riverview Drive between the Parchment Community Library and The Fountains Banquet Center, it's hard not to notice his name on the sign as you pass by.
Many local residents have known Kelley, 40, since long before his business became a Parchment landmark, however.
Kelley has lived in the Parchment area since his parents moved here with their three sons when Ty was 5 months old.
He went through North Elementary and Parchment Middle School - the same schools his children currently attend - and graduated in 1990 from Parchment High School.
Kelley's father, Donald, was a State Farm agent with an office in Portage, and Ty worked there part time while he was a student at Western Michigan University.
He continued to work for his father full time for a year after graduating from WMU in 1996 with a degree in business and finance. He left there to take a position in the State Farm claims department in Marshall.
When that position was transferred to Columbus, Ohio, Kelley and his wife, Niki, moved there for a couple of years before returning to the Parchment area to raise their family.
At the time, State Farm required five years of service from its employees before they could become agents. Working in claims and underwriting, Kelley met that requirement about the time longtime Parchment State Farm agent Ron Sexton retired at the end of 2001, giving Kelley the opportunity to set up shop in his hometown.
"He retired one day and I started the next," said Kelley, who lives just north of Parchment in Cooper Township.
Kelley said he got a lot of support and assistance from his father, who retired as a State Farm agent in 2008.
"For about six years we were agents at the same time," Kelley said. "I called him daily with questions and for advice."
Kelley said being an insurance agent is a dream job for him.
"I enjoy working with people," he said, "and I feel like you're helping people when they have a loss and you're walking them through it."
During his first five years as Parchment's State Farm agent, Kelley's office was in the same location that Sexton did business on Parchmount Avenue just around the corner from Riverview Drive.
But in February 2007, Kelley moved into the building that had been home to Little Ike's, an ice cream parlor, and before that Sheldon Cleaners. He has three State Farm team members working with him there.
"That was important to me to work close enough to home to go to the kids' school events," Kelley said.
The city of Parchment appreciates Kelley's good-neighbor attitude that is more than just a slogan for his company. City Manager Dennis Durham said Kelley replaced the sidewalk in front of his offices and also installed new sewer connections behind the building, providing the city the opportunity to replace some of its sewer infrastructure at the same time.
"We ... saved some money because he was already excavating the property," Durham said.
Kelley looks back on his Parchment education with a great deal of satisfaction. In particular, he said, his economics teacher, Dan DeGraw, helped prepare him not only for college, but also for his career.
"His classes were just as challenging as the classes I took at Western," Kelley said. "I left (Parchment High School) prepared for when I got to college."
Kelley said he also appreciated the opportunity to play sports, primarily football, when he was in high school, adding that he matured through the challenges that those extracurricular activities afforded.
He met Niki, a native of the Chicago area, when they both were in the wedding party of friends at Hope College.
The Kelleys have been married for 16 years and have two sons and two daughters, Zachary, Joshua, Sarah and Sophi, who are in eighth, sixth, fourth and first grades, respectively.
Kelley said they are happy with the education their children are receiving in Parchment.
"We've been very pleased with the teachers," he said. "Niki and I feel that they really care. They have the kids' best interests (in mind) and challenge them, too, which is good."
By Dave Person
Only seven years out of Parchment High School, Nora Kuiper has earned degrees in both chemistry and public health and is embarking on her fifth international assistance experience.
The valedictorian of Parchment's Class of 2005, who was a track standout in high school, also has a Division III college national sprint championship on her resume.
This fall, Nora, the daughter of Scott and Ann Kuiper, is beginning a one-year commitment to help the Middle Eastern country of Qatar improve its health standards.
"I will be joining a research team ... (with the) Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute," she said before heading off on her latest adventure, which was to get under way Sept. 2. "I will be bringing a human-health aspect to it and developing a bio-monitoring program."Previous stops for the young scientist have been in Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania.
Her work in Qatar will include such projects as analyzing farmers' exposure to different kinds of pesticides.
"A lot of pesticides they are using are known to have adverse health effects," she said.
She will help determine adoption of policies and changes in current working processes.
Her job, currently slated for one year with possible extensions of up to five years, could also move into the study of exposure to oil and natural-gas contaminants.
One of Nora's professors at the University of Michigan, where she earned her master's degree in public health this spring, is an adviser to the project and played a role in getting her involved.
"I didn't seek it out at all, it found me, which is exciting," Nora said. "It's a region of the world that I've never been to, I've never experienced, so this is really exciting to me to have this whole new experience."
Nora's first international experiences were in Mozambique, as an environmental health volunteer with World Mission in the summer of 2007 and as a health-education volunteer with Vox United in 2009, shortly after she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Hope College.
Those were followed by six months in the winter and spring of 2010 in Kayamandi, near Cape Town, South Africa, where she was an intern for the community-development nonprofit organization Kuyasa Horizon Empowerment at an after-school program for students from preschool through high school.
One of her assignments was to teach math, science and English to a class of seventh-graders; another was teaching English to preschool and kindergarten students.
When she returned, Nora began working on her master's degree in public health at U-M. Her program, which had an emphasis on environmental health, included taking part in an internship.Nora's internship took her to Tanzania for 13 weeks last summer where she worked for another nonprofit organization, Global Service Corps, training villagers in sustainable agriculture and food security.
Nora traces her current career path to her educational roots at Parchment High School and the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center.
She said the communication skills she learned from teachers Kevin Huff in Honors English and Timothy Searl in AP English have been invaluable. Honors English, she said, "was really focused on communication and being able to articulate and write effectively."
"Communication is important to anything, especially when you're working in a public setting in public health," Nora said.
Her science classes at KAMSC gave her skills in "thinking and processing analytically," she added.
A couple of cousins who had attended Hope College, along with acquaintances from Parchment and KAMSC, pointed Nora in the direction of the Holland school, where she took advantage of being able to communicate directly with professors, in both the classroom and while doing research, rather than teaching assistants who often have that role on larger campuses.
Nora spent a couple of summers doing research with Hope chemistry professor Michael J. Pikaart in looking at protein interactions, including the summer after her sophomore year at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
Nora named her high school track coach, Russ Iuni, as also among the influences that eventually landed her at Hope.
"I was going to be able to run there ... and he really encouraged me to do so," she said.
In national competition her junior year, Nora placed fifth in the 100-meter dash. Her senior year she was Division III national champion in the 100 and took second in the 200, establishing personal records in both.
After Qatar, who knows what the future holds for Nora. But if it's more of what she has already been doing, that will be OK with her.
"I would like to ... continue to work in public health in an international setting," she said. "I'd like to get back to Africa; I'm drawn to the people and the cultures."
By Dave Person
Luke Wendt's first exposure to physics, while in high school, left no doubt in his mind that he had found what he wanted to do with his life.
"I was just crazy about it," he says.
So after graduating from Parchment High School in 2003, Wendt went to Hope College, where he received a bachelor's degree in physics and engineering in 2007.
He is now working on his Ph.D. in control theory with an emphasis on reinforcement learning/machine learning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which is the MIT or Berkeley of the Midwest when it comes to control theory.
Think all this physics stuff is too abstract and uninteresting?
Then consider the opportunities it has opened to Wendt, including operating robots, working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and taking part in an upcoming summer gig with Valve Software in the Seattle area, where the company plans to take advantage of his expertise in reinforcement learning.
Valve is one of the top developers of entertainment software and technology in the United States and they want Wendt to come on board as a trouble-shooter.
That speaks pretty highly of the 27-year-old, but Wendt has a resume that makes him a hot commodity in the world of physics.
While he was living in Holland, he designed automated part-inspection systems for Lakeshore Vision and Robotics and conducted research for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland in the development of a reconfigurable tetrahedral robot, according to biographical information on
Wendt's UIUC website.
At UIUC, where he has spent the last four years, Wendt is part of the Language Acquisition and Robotics Group at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.
The group is assisted by Bertrand Russell, or "Bert," for short, the name they gave to their humanoid robot. The robot came from the Italian Institute of Technology, and is the only one from there being used at a university in the United States.
Reinforcement learning, Wendt explains, can be applied to robotics or video games. "It's the way you learn something for the first time," he says. "If you have no prior experience you try something at random ... and as your knowledge ... (increases) you try to explain what is the best end toward the goal."
Wendt's specific accomplishments since arriving at UIUC include leadership roles with NASA academies and FIRST Robotics and teaching assistantships in some of his favorite areas, such as control systems, control systems theory and optimization.
Wendt is excited about a possible career in teaching, but he hasn't ruled out developing video games as a profession, and he's looking forward to learning more about that this summer at Valve.
"There's a lot of money in it and it's a lot of fun," he says, explaining that it is a creative environment with the challenge of solving mathematical and computational problems.
Wendt says he believes students need two traits to succeed: self-reliance and a driven curiosity. "My goal as an instructor is to provide them with the tools they need to learn independently beyond the classroom and inspire curiosity," he explains on his website.
While the high school physics class he took that inspired him to go on in that area was at Gull Lake High School because it wasn't being offered in Parchment at the time, Wendt gives credit for much of his philosophy of teaching to his Parchment calculus teacher, David Blough.
"He assigned us portions of (each) chapter and then we had to learn it and present it to the class," Wendt says. "It helped us become self-sufficient learners."
From Parchment to the Bench
So what does how you dress have to do with teaching?
What Marie Arnold wore when she taught seventh and eighth grades in Parchment in the 1970s had a lasting impact on Anne Blatchford.
"She dressed as if she were going to a very important appointment every day," said Blatchford, a 1978 graduate of Parchment High School. "Without saying it, she was saying, 'You are important.' She was just a really good role model."
These days, Blatchford, 51, also makes a statement with the way she dresses, wearing a robe to preside over cases in Kalamazoo County's 8th District Court where she has been a judge for the past seven years.
The importance of what you wear was just one of many life lessons Blatchford learned in Parchment.
She also learned to stretch her mind for George McLeod, her biology teacher, who taught classes from his college notes.
"He was an energetic teacher, and he was knowledgeable," Blatchford said. "He was a hard teacher, but people would rise to the occasion."
Blatchford also absorbed a lot while she was in high school from Joe Salamun, her Latin teacher, and Eleanor Hollenbeck, who taught literature, both of whom she described as "old-style teachers."
Hollenbeck would make learning fun, Blatchford said, while Salamun brought an ancient language to life.
"For him, Latin wasn't a dead language, so it (also) wasn't for all of us," Blatchford said, adding, "Once you've learned Latin, you can figure out (almost) any word from its root."
Put those teachers together, and add all the others that Blatchford learned from, and you had a recipe for success.
"What they gave me going into Kalamazoo College was to be curious about the world around me ... so they did prepare me for the next place where I was going in my life," she said.
Blatchford, who went to elementary school in Kalamazoo before moving to Parchment, where her mother, Joyce, still lives, earned her bachelor's degree from K-College, where she also met her future husband, John Spitzer.
After they graduated, Blatchford went to Valparaiso University in Indiana, where she earned her law degree, and Spitzer went to medical school in Illinois to become a pediatrician. They were married in 1986, the year Blatchford became an attorney.
Blatchford began practicing in Rockford, Ill., where she was an assistant city attorney and was cross-sworn as a county prosecutor.
From there she went to Naperville, Ill, where she was an assistant city attorney and then acting city attorney.
When Spitzer completed his internship in 1991, he and Blatchford returned to Kalamazoo where he began seeing patients and she took a job as deputy city attorney.
Later, she became a magistrate, issuing warrants and conducting arraignments and civil and small-claims hearings.
In 2004, when Judge Ann Hannon retired, Blatchford ran for her seat on the bench and won. After serving a six-year term, she was elected in 2010 to an eight-year term.
Blatchford and Spitzer have two children, a son, who is a student at John Carroll University in Ohio, and daughter, who attends Portage Northern High School.
"What I like most is I see us as a problem-solving court," Blatchford said of her job. "We can work with our probation department to help them (defendants) make changes, and that's very rewarding."
She also is in her sixth year as women's drug court judge, helping to get former drug users clean.
"It's a challenge, but it's always rewarding to be part of that process," she said.
And, thanks to her junior high and high school education in Parchment, where she not only excelled in academics, but also sports and other extracurricular activities, she's up to the challenge.
"You could try anything because it was a small-enough school," Blatchford recalled.
"Everybody knew everybody," she said. "It was a good way to grow up."
Returning to their Roots: Steve and Nanette KokmeyerThere are many reasons Steve and Nanette (Klesert) Kokmeyer are glad they returned to their roots in Parchment to raise their family.
Among them are streets with sidewalks, the beauty of Kindleberger Park, an abundance of trees and greenery, the comfort of having small stores and a community library nearby, and people who care not only for their own children but also for their neighbors' children.
"I like that small-town feel and that sense of community," Nanette says.
There are also the Parchment schools where the Kokmeyers say they were provided with a solid base for their future careers, not to mention being the setting in which they started dating when they were high school seniors.
Steve, an orthopedic surgeon with K-Valley Orthopedics, a division of HealthCare Midwest, and Nanette, a special education teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom, were married in 1987. They have two children, Madeline, 12, and Samuel, 9.
The Kokmeyers, both 47, graduated from Parchment High School in 1982 and spent several years getting their educations and establishing their careers before returning to the area in 1995. They resettled in Parchment in 2005.
Both are involved in the community and the schools, where Steve is team physician for the Parchment High School football team that he once played on and Nanette is a trustee with the Parchment Schools Foundation. She also serves as a mentor at Central Elementary School through a Kids Hope mentorship program in conjunction with Haven Church, where she and Steve are members.
In addition, Steve travels to Honduras annually on medical missions trips organized by the Luke Society and serves as an elder and volunteer at Haven. Nanette volunteers in her children's classrooms and at church.
After graduating from Parchment, the Kokmeyers went to Western Michigan University, where Steve earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences and Spanish and Nanette graduated with a degree in special education and a minor in Spanish.
After that, Steve went on to medical school at the University of Michigan and then did his orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. Nanette taught at Brighton and Shawnee Mission, Kan., and did graduate work at the University of Kansas.
When the Kokmeyers began looking for a place to put down roots, they set a goal of moving to within 100 miles of family and friends in the Kalamazoo area. They were overjoyed when Steve landed a job at K-Valley Orthopedics.
Once they were back, Nanette resumed her teaching career part time at Parchment's Barclay Hills Education Center for three years.
The Kokmeyers credit their teachers at Parchment, particularly Spanish teacher Ruth Moser, with preparing them for college. "When you were a student of hers you didn't throw away your education," Nanette said.
Steve said the support he received from the Parchment schools helped him to excel in sports, which built his self-esteem, and also gave him a good base in the sciences, which prepared him for medical school.
"Ruth Moser helped me to develop very good study skills," he said. "When I got into college I was in a mode that I could handle that very well.
"I felt the quality of the teachers when I was growing up was good. Now we're happy to be experiencing that with our children as well."