The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Neighborhoods

June 15, 2014

Teacher retires after 41 years at Grand River Academy

AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — A quick trip into Grand River Academy in the fall of 1973 led to more than a four-decade teaching career for Larry Wilson.

Wilson had just graduated from Kent State University and was looking for a job so he stopped in and dropped off his resume. He was told there weren’t any openings but within two weeks a teacher quit and he was offered the job.

It led to a labor of love that allowed Wilson, and his family, to become an important part of the lives of students at the boarding school that traces its roots to 1831.

Wilson is retiring after 41 years as a social studies teacher, dorm master, mentor, admissions director and soccer coach to name a few of the roles completed by the Ashtabula resident who never strayed too far from his roots.

Wilson and his wife Barbara married in June of 1976 and spent the bulk of their lives raising their own children; and the children of others, at the school that helps prepare high school students for college and the life beyond.

“We both went to Mother of Sorrows and St. John,” Wilson said of his classmate that he really didn’t get to know each other till after they both graduated from college and they started dating.

Wilson got his education degree at Kent State University and Barbara graduated from Notre Dame College. She spent 25 years working as a tutor at Grand River Academy.

The Wilson family integrated their family, that includes four grown children, into the life of the Academy.

“When our first son was born we thought about leaving... (but) it was a great place for the kids to grow up,” he said.

Teaching at a boarding school with an excellent teacher to student ratio was attractive to Wilson.

“My classes were no more than 12 (students),” Wilson said.

He said the students often would come by the house (on campus) and talk about more than school. “They would come to us with all their problems,” Wilson said.

In a public school setting Wilson said some of the concerns would have been sent to the guidance department. “Here we are the counselors,” he said.

“We were available almost 24-7...but it was good,” Barbara said.

The school has approximately 100 high school students during an average year. He said the school has increasingly worked with students from all over the world.

He said students come from Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, India, Russia, Japan, China and many other countries.

The language barrier can be a problem.

“That makes it challenging for us in the classroom,” Wilson said.

Recruiting is done in cities all over the country and most importantly by word of mouth, Wilson said.

When Wilson started teaching many of the students were only two or three years younger than him. One of the great joys about working at the Academy is having students return.

“They come back and tell me what they are doing and bring their families,” Wilson said.

History was the entry point for Wilson’s work as a molder of men. “I tried to teach history but make it fun,” Wilson said.

Over the years Wilson organized the first Summer School at the Academy, class trips and served as the faculty representative on the academic council. He also served a variety of community organizations including the Geneva Area Music Boosters Association and became a leader in a local Cub Scout troop.

Technology has also made the teaching experience much more creative, Wilson said.

“We teach all on computers,” Wilson said of the replacement of chalk boards with smart boards, cell phones and other computer applications.

“We’ve come a long way. Kids can learn so much more with today’s technology,” he said.

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