Pine River celebrates 50 years as a school district

LEROY — Fifty years ago this month, a new school district was born following the approval of consolidation between the Luther, LeRoy and Tustin community school districts.

At a meeting on April 26, 1965, the new board of education dubbed the district as Pine River Area Schools and the district's first superintendent was J.D. Scoby.

In the fall of 1965, PRAS operated K-6 in Luther, a K-6 and 7-8 in LeRoy, and a K-6 and 9-12 in Tustin. The Pine River Bucks competed in their first boys basketball game in the 1965-66 season.

In February of 1966, the district approved funding a new high school, and while it was being built, the classes of ’66, ’67 and ’68 had their graduation ceremony at Miller Auditorium in Reed City. After serving one year as elementary school principal in 1966, Harvey Miller became superintendent in 1967.

"It's been exciting to see the district grow and become a district in its own right," Miller said. "It's been encouraging and interesting to watch it come along over the years."

The existing high school opened with students after Thanksgiving break on Dec. 2, 1968, with Stan Armstrong serving as the first high school principal. In the spring of 1969, the district congratulated its first graduating class in the PRHS gym.

Miller served as superintendent until 1972, and asked the board to be placed back into the classroom. They granted his request, and he continued his career in the district for another 25 years. His wife also worked for the district for 30 years, he added.

Miller continues to reside in Tustin, and as the Pine River district turns 50, many memories come floating back. He recalled the challenges of bringing each sporting team together under one united team with different district colors and school anthems, and creating new traditions for team members.

Though change can be for the better, it can be hard to adjust to certain changes, and many of the new district at first were opposed to the idea.

Barb Parmenter of LeRoy came to the district as a student for the 1965-66 school year and graduated in 1967. As someone not from the area, she was able to clearly see some of the negative opinions.

"When I first came to the district in the year after consolidation, there was so much anger between the three schools," she said. "People were very attached to their own schools, but then things changed as the students became friends. It was really the parents who took longer to change. Each community was close-knit and had their own identity. It took time for those communities to come together and become a Pine River community."

Eventually, area residents responded in a positive manner.

"The first thing we had to do was create a millage for three years for the high school, but the community was committed," Miller said. "I'm impressed how well the staff and students have kept up the building."

When Parmenter returned to Pine River after college to teach in the elementary school, she noticed a better sense of unity and saw a community willing to give their time and finances to better the district.

Although the district has faced hardships, especially financial hardships, Miller believes Pine River is doing its best to overcome its challenges.

"I think they're beginning to make progress because our state funding was cut so badly," he added. "My advice is to continue to be willing to speak up for education. We've always been a positive district and I don't think we have anything to lose by not backing down."

"We want to recognize the strength of character that went into consolidation and the building up of the Pine River Area Schools," said current PRAS Superintendent Matthew Lukshaitis. "Fifty years ago, our communities decided to pool their resources in order to better serve students. That took forward thinking and a democratic process which most likely included some compromise and deep discussions."

To recognize the district's anniversary, an anniversary celebration event is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Monday, April 27 at Pine River High School. The occasion, welcoming staff and support members, board members, teachers and administrators from the fall of 1965 to the spring of 1979, will include an ice cream social and the chance for individuals and former coworkers to reunite.

"I'm looking forward to seeing other people that I haven't seen for years," Miller said about the event, which he is planning to attend.

Parmenter also expects to be at the celebration and is exited to share memories with former staff and students with whom she used to roam the halls. She said the 50-year mark brings out a sense of pride.

"I'm really proud, and even though we've had our tough times, the teachers and administrators have stayed strong, looking for the best way to deal with the cuts while keeping the kids at the forefront," she added. "I'm proud of our district as a whole and proud to be part of Pine River."

Those who can attend or need more information should contact the Pine River Area Schools business office at (231) 829-3141.