Kelloggsville — When Kelloggsville Public Schools completed a renovation to its high school three years ago, it transformed a building that had been built in the 1920s.
Thanks to the vision of the school superintendent, Samuel Wright, and the hard work of a small crew of people, including an energetic baker on the food services staff and the former and current high school principals, pieces of past Rocket pride remain part of the present.
This fall, three panels of a history wall began to greet high school students and staff — as well as a trickle of visitors in a time of COVID-19 — with three more panels to come.
For one of those staff members, Nikki Postma, seeing the history come to life is a dream come true.
Postma has worked in the district’s food service since 2010 and is now the baker at the high school. She also has a passion for Kelloggsville schools and its long history, a history she and her family have seen first-hand.
Nikki’s mom graduated from Kelloggsville High in 1971, and since then the family – first Nikki’s aunts and uncles, then Nikki and more recently, Nikki’s children – has had graduates in every decade. Nikki’s daughter, class of 2023, is slated to complete a run of six straight decades.
Said Nikki with a smile: “It’s kind of fun. Kelloggsville has been a part of my whole life. It feels like home.”
Started as ‘A Small Idea’
Those living in the district – one of the smallest in the state at just over four square miles – feel the same way. A $33.9 million bond in February 2015 was passed by a two-to-one margin and led to the two-year transformation of the high school, including a new entrance, new classrooms, a renovation of the auditorium and more.
Postma was on the committee working to help pass the bond, and after visiting other high schools and seeing some of their history displayed, it struck her that Kelloggsville also had an opportunity with the renovations to show off some of its rich history.
“It started as a small idea,” she recalled, “maybe a few pictures and plaques.” But it grew to be much more after she connected with a local design company and saw what might be possible. A bigger and bolder concept was approved by the board of education, and a committee was formed.
“I had already started gathering materials,” Postma said. “The school has almost all the yearbooks, starting with the very first one in 1939, and I was able to get a lot of information from those.”
Finding Jewels via Facebook, Wyoming and GRPL
As the committee did its work and began to uncover jewels from the past, it created a Facebook page called “Project Kelloggsville Public Schools History” to showcase some of its finds. That page quickly grew to encompass more than 1,500 people, and also provided an avenue to more stories.
Alumni going back to the late 1940s were interviewed, members of the Wyoming History Room shared stories and photos, the Grand Rapids Public Library added materials and as word spread via Facebook, people started donating memorabilia and more.
“One of the best things we received was a folder that must have been for the school newspaper,” Postma said, “and it was a history of the school. The writings started in the 1930s. It was passed to a teacher in the ’60s, and they started rewriting it and adding information from the following years.”
The first panel of the history wall, Postma added, now includes an excerpt from those writings such as some of the history of the old Plank Road, now known as Division Avenue.
And while the project has been a lot of work, and there have been unanticipated challenges, seeing the panels come to life has made it all worthwhile for Postma and the many others who were part of the effort.
Former Teacher Happy to Help
Bill Andersen entered kindergarten at East Kelloggsville when it first opened in 1951. He spent five years in the district before his family moved, and then returned in 1968 as a teacher, a post he held for 33 years until retirement in 2001. He’s also the son of Soren Andersen, a son of Danish immigrants who taught wood shop and an assortment of other subjects at Kelloggsville from 1946-1976.
“All of the above means that I’ve been a part of Kelloggsville’s history for 70 years or so, which is one reason Nikki has turned to me for information,” Andersen said with a wry smile.
Not that he wasn’t happy to be a resource.
“Kelloggsville is a small district,” he said. “We’re called a fractional district because half is in the City of Wyoming and half is in the City of Kentwood. So, we don’t have the same kind of identity as Wyoming Public Schools or Kentwood.
“But our history goes back further than either of those districts. And the community pride at Kelloggsville has always been amazing. I had many students whose parents and even grandparents went to Kelloggsville. I’m sure the history wall will galvanize the school pride, and it will share a lot of history that many residents and students are unaware of.”
‘From Sock Hops to Disco’
Ron Baker agreed. He moved into the Kelloggsville district in 1968 and can still recall spending hours riding his bike all over the areas around the high school.
He went on to have a 30-year career at Steelcase and now runs another Kelloggsville Facebook page for alumni between 1950 and 1990, with a focus on neighborhood history. Its title is “Kelloggsville: From Sock Hops To Disco.”
Baker learned about the Kelloggsville history project through Facebook, and offered to help. “With my interest in local history,” he said, “it was a good fit.”
He contributed some images from his own collections, and with a background in writing crafted some of the descriptive copy on the panels.
He said seeing the fruits of his labor when the first panels were installed was a thrill.
“I thought they looked great, and was proud to have contributed to their creation,” he said. “I hope that in the years to come, people will pause there and imagine what it must have been back then. I also hope the display will remind people that individuals can make a difference, and that it might inspire them in some way to contribute in a positive, personal way.”
“Kelloggsville is more than a school,” she said, “it is a community. I hope the history wall will deliver the message and the heart of our school. It’s important to know and understand how and where something started. If we don’t record it, it will be forgotten.”