AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP —
When Grand River Academy senior Ross Zepp sits down to breakfast and lunch every day, 2-year old Evan Nipper, affectionately known as “Jo-Jo,” is right by his side.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do next year in college. Leaving Jo-Jo will be like moving away from my little brother,” Zepp said.
For more than a century, young men have lived and matured at Grand River. However high school boys are not the only residents of the community. The school accommodates 18 children of faculty members, 13 of which live on the campus full time. With the constant presence of these children, the GRA students are not only helping the children to mature, but learning how to be good role models and ultimately good fathers.
Living away from their families can be difficult for many students, and the children on campus help to create more of a family atmosphere. Some students grow so attached to the kids that they feel like siblings. College adviser Melissa Nipper and mother of Evan and his 7-year-old brother, Owen, enjoys that her sons bond so closely with GRA students.
“Ross treats Evan as his little brother away from home, and Evan treats Ross as his big brother. The relationship is a wonderful thing to witness,” Nipper said. “As a parent, it is comforting being able to trust the people that are around your children. It is easy to trust the boys at Grand River because they care so much and they treat the kids like members of their own family.”
Nipper is not the only parent who feels this way. Seven families with their children still at home are employed at GRA. The latest additions to the GRA family group are 3-month-old Nicholas Ginn and 4-month-old Tommy Polak.
“Seeing the little ones seems to brighten the day for our students,” said dormmaster Thomas Polak.
Tyler Hartz was born on campus and has lived here his whole life. His 7-year-old sister Dempsie and 3-year-old brother Tanner also have lived among the boys at GRA.
“There are three main reasons that I love raising my children on Grand River campus,” said Christina Hartz, director of residential life. “First, they have a diverse upbringing due to the number of students from other countries that live with them. Second, they learn many lessons from the boys, positive and negative. When a student does something exemplary, my children hear about it. Similarly, when a student gets in trouble, they have to explain to my kids what they did wrong. Finally, the students get to learn and understand more about family life, patience and responsibility,” said Mrs. Hartz.
GRA basketball coach Josh Hartz had his son training with the Eagles varsity team this year for the first time.
“It’s great for him to see the levels that he can aspire to, and to realize how his skills will need to increase as he reaches for those levels,” Mr. Hartz said.
Grand River Academy does not just help young men prepare for college; it teaches them lessons that will benefit them in all areas of life. Not only do the students learn from books, but they get life experience with real families every day. The relationship between students and residential children is mutual; everyone teaches each other how to better themselves as a person.