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Community and Caledonia are One, Says Award Winner

Whenever she sees a big yellow school bus from Caledonia Community Schools roll by, the word “community” stands out to Judy Harrison, the Caledonia Education Foundation’s 2013 Honored Alumnus.

“Caledonia is about community,” Harrison said of her hometown. “That’s what we do here, and we do it well.”

That was easy to see Oct. 4 at CEF’s annual festival, a time-honored tradition that shows the close connection between Caledonia’s citizens and its school. Parents, kids, old friends, new friends, school teachers, relatives, business owners … basically, the whole town and more, showed up for what is one of the biggest events of the year in Caledonia.

It started with a tailgate party as people lined the street to watch the parade with veterans, firetrucks, student floats and fancy cars carrying student representatives from classes and clubs. Next,  the crowd gathered to listen the high school band, hear the school bagpipers, eat a meal put on by the foundation and watch the award ceremony before heading over to the big football game.

The festival raises money for programs not covered by the school’s budget. It’s an example of how closely the school is tied to what goes on in the small rural town, where parents being involved in their children’s education is huge, Harrison said.

“The parents are all out there supporting the kids,” she said. “It’s not just athletics, it’s everything kids do.”

A 1962 graduate, Harrison was a student council member and cheerleader, noting there weren’t a lot of opportunities for girls then. That didn’t stop her circle of friends from keeping busy. Known as “The Wheels” because of their reputation for “getting things going,” it was the start of Harrison’s “lead by example” belief.

She went on to  marry her late husband, Bill, who was a Caledonia teacher, coach and school board member.  They had three children, and she became a devoted sports mom and school booster — just like many parents in Caledonia today.

“We have good people, raising their families, going to work and church and supporting their kids just like we did,” she said.

Harrison later opened her own business, the J.B. Harrison Insurance Agency, and served 12 years on the Kent County Board of Commissioners. Today she’s still keeping active, being a member of the FFA Advisory Council, the Caledonia Women’s Club’s community service projects and the local garden club.

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Caledonia Education Foundation

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.

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