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Take a ‘walk in the woods’ at this elementary school


Creatures from the woods, carved from logs and serving as classroom door stops and greeters, got their start as a hobby for fifth grade teacher Ray Grennan over a decade ago. Today “they are the character of Appleview, welcoming everyone to the building,” said Superintendent Pete Bush.

“I am new to this school and they make me feel very welcome,” said fifth-grader Kitara Porrey.

Grennan got his start chainsaw carving logs into bears and a myriad of other animals with help from Michael Hart, a professional carver whose daughters were in Grennan’s class years ago.

At first they were just a novelty, he said. “I made one and set it outside my classroom. We had been given something — not wedges — to hold the door open, and they didn’t work.”

Ray Grennan works on one of his carvings (courtesy)

Grennan, who had tried hand carving but found it too time consuming, enjoyed his new hobby and it became “a case of the more you do, what are you going to do with them?” he said.

More and More Bears

Fellow teacher Nickie Swanson said that’s when other teachers spoke up. “ “There are bears, a Spongebob, and I have an eagle,” she said. “Ray’s giving heart is evident all over our building through his carvings.”

Nearly every Appleview room has a chainsaw carving, either from Grennan or Hart. Each is unique and teachers use them in a variety of ways.

People started to ask for specific works to sell at school benefit auctions. Grennan said he was startled when one sold for more than $200.

“It has always surprised me that people are willing to pay for something I enjoy making,” he said. “When that eagle sold I thought, ‘This is cool,’ and it seemed worthwhile.”

A special carving for a special classroom

He found himself worrying more about details, he said, analyzing every  mistake and trying to figure out desired design specifications. His need to become creative in ways he never expected can be seen on the Sparta mascot, “Sparty,” he carved for the administration building. The spiked helmet, if you look closely, is a broom.

Move to Specialize

It is not uncommon for Grennan’s carvings to double as a display rack for a lost mitten or hat, a sign holder to announce upcoming activities or for Mischell Murdock, an announcement of her classroom theme. Her bear cub sports a lei and announces the warm aloha atmosphere of her classroom.

“I just love her,” Murdock said. “She is getting a little beat up, but I know she was made with love.”

Lynelle Geers’ special education classroom got a carving holding a sign that says Geers and Co. “Mrs. Geers kids are a pretty special part of this school,” Grennan said.

Sparta mascot, ‘Sparty,’ was commissioned for the administration building

His carvings have made their way into classroom activities a few times. For the fourth-grade study unit on Native American culture, Grennan carved a totem pole.

“Ray’s bear even became a clue in one of our language arts mystery units,” Swanson said. “The bear went missing, and Mrs. Lehner and some others were suspects.”

While Grennan said that he thinks the novelty has worn off, the students still notice.

“I just love them,” said fifth-grader Jaiden Baldin, who said his father also carves. “They are meant to hold the door, but they are really good decorations… I really like the one by Mr. O’s room with the superhero cape on.”

Fifth-grader Gavin Punches said his favorite “is the one by Mr. Mckellar’s room, the one with the apron.”

Appleview Principal Mike Birely, who has a Grennan carving of a fish in his office, said visitors to the school always comment.

“Grandparents and parents often ask about them and when the second-graders that will be attending Appleview next year make their visit, it is the first thing they notice,” he said.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, 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 enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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