Tying Shoes, Zipping Coats, Giving Hugs: ‘Grandpa Dale’ Does it All

First-grader Jordan Eshraghi enjoys it when Grandpa Dale reads with him
First-grader Jordan Eshraghi enjoys it when Grandpa Dale reads with him

Dale Allers has three grandchildren, but more than 500 children from ages 5 through 15 who call him grandpa.

Allers has worked in same two first-grade classrooms at Ridgeview Elementary for 10 years. He always looks forward to family events at school so he can catch up with some of the grands that have grown up a bit.

“It is so fun that so many of them recognize me and come get a hug,” Allers says. “I remember a lot of them, but, man, the ones in eighth and ninth grade have changed.”

Students, parents and staff call him “Grandpa Dale.”

Powered by Parents is a series highlighting the parents, grandparents and other family members who give their time in schools to help students and teachers do their best.

And like a grandfather: he gives and receives lots of hugs; he reads with and to the children; he helps them tie their shoes and zip their coats; he listens to their stories; and he drops everything when they call him for help.

But while they appreciate his love for and interaction with the students, first-grade teachers Marcia Powell and Megan Taylor have come to rely on him for so much more.

Dale Allers keeps busy with classroom organization while teachers attend to class

“He is amazing — kind and generous with his time,” says Powell. “He is strictly a volunteer and here everyday, even on the snowiest days. He is always eager to help.”

Allers does what needs doing. When he first started, he was working mostly one-on-one with students that needed a little extra help in reading or math. But after a decade of being in Powell’s classroom, he just knows what needs to be done.

“He does everything and most importantly, he keeps the room in order,” she says.

In the classroom one day, he moves quickly from filing folders into proper categories to returning a dropped pencil to its owner.

While picking up papers from the last assignment, he stops to answer a random question from a student. He pulls himself away from organizing shelves and putting away books to help a student understand what the teacher has asked him to do.

Powell’s and Taylor’s classrooms are adjacent and joined by a door in between. While Allers works with each on different days, they feel free to step into each other’s rooms if they find they need an extra pair of hands or eyes.

He also steps away from the classrooms to help with other tasks. Allers has spent hours in the teacher workroom copying and laminating for the two teachers — and also for any teacher in the building that needs something done.

“I don’t mind doing it, and then they don’t have to leave the classroom or do it all on their own time,” he says.

Grandpa Dale stops to help first-grader Cameron Robydek tie his shoe
Grandpa Dale stops to help first-grader Cameron Robydek tie his shoe

Finding His Calling

Technically, Allers didn’t start out as a volunteer. He was paid a mere $2.25 a hour from what was then known as the Gerontology Network. He didn’t know it then, but helping at Ridgewood was what he was meant to do — after a severe wake-up call.

The Vietnam veteran was on the job as a machine mechanic when, at age 62, he went into cardiac arrest. He was completely “gone” for seven minutes, he says.

“They brought me back. That is one of the reasons I’m here,” he says. “God had something else for me to do and this is it.”

After three months of recovery, he knew he wanted to do something besides stay home, visit the library and exist on Social Security.

So when he was sent to Sparta Schools for the four-day-a-week a job, he found his new calling. Those first couple of years, he mostly worked one-on-one with students that were falling behind. Now, as a volunteer, “I do whatever that needs to be done. It doesn’t matter to me what I do, even if it is just sharpening pencils.

With two classes of 25 or more students each year, “Grandpa Dale” certainly has a lot of new people added to his family. He counts Powell and Taylor among that number.

“These two are like my daughters,” he says. “It has been 10 years and we get along really, really well.”

Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. Recently retired from a fulltime staff position with MLive, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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