Godwin Heights — When Tyler Whittemore enters room 202 at Godwin High School, he cannot help at times to be transported back to 9/11, the day when the World Trade Center towers came down.
“It is one of those moments that you just remember where you were and what you were doing,” Whittemore said. “I remember sitting in that room and hearing the announcement over the PA of what had just happened.”
The halls and rooms of Godwin Heights hold a lot of memories for Whittemore, who teaches health at the school. He has spent 30 of his 34 years at Godwin, starting in preschool all the way through graduation in 2005. He returned in the Fall of 2005 to coach the boys basketball program while attending Grand Rapids Community College and then Grand Valley State University, and joined the teaching staff in 2013.
“I have experienced different parts of this district, first on the other side of (highway) 131 when I went to elementary school and then living on Hillcroft (Avenue),” Whittemore said. “I have always loved the community and the support. I did all my internships and my (college) schoolwork here, and now I am working with the students and some of the teachers who helped me.”
Whittemore is one of 22 alumni who currently work in the Godwin Heights district. They make up about eight percent of district staff, which is 270.
“The commitment of our staff to our learning community and community at large has been huge through my tenure with the district,” said Superintendent Bill Fetterhof. “You will always hear the term ‘Godwin Family’ as it refers to not only our community of personnel, but is inclusive of our residential families. The district is viewed by many as more than an educational unit. It is a place of support, a place of celebration and a place of pride.”
The graduation years represented by the current returning alumni range from the late 1970s to just a few years ago. The school with most alumni is Godwin Middle School, which has seven. The high school has five, and Godwin West and Godwin North each have four. There also is an alum in the district’s grounds department, food service and the administration building.
“Many simply call it home,” Fetterhof said. “Many include this phrase in correspondence; ‘It’s a Great Day To Be A Wolverine.’ To most, this is not simply a phrase, it’s a belief.”
Whittemore admits that walking through the halls brings back a lot of memories.
“They have done some improvements and the pool is gone, which is fine because we have this great track that really serves our community,” he said. “I think the lockers are about one of the few things that are the same: the same color, the same location.”
The pool, which was replaced with an auxiliary gym in 2016, was a popular place for many.
“Every Saturday they would open up the gym, pool and weight room and you could come spend your day with your friends and do whatever,” said 1979 graduate Cheri Hull, who is the middle school lead for the kitchen.
Activities and sports also played an important part for many alumni, who could remember crowning achievements.
“Homecoming weeks were always fun, all the activities happening that week,” said 2006 graduate Troy Maleport, who is the youth development coordinator at the high school. “The 2006 basketball season we made it to the Breslin Center, and the Final Four was a ton of fun.”
Godwin Heights has a history of a strong basketball program, with trophy cases to prove it.
“For me, it was winning the 2015 boys basketball state championship my senior year,” said Essa Kellah, an intervention specialist at the middle school.
The year 2015 was a big year for Godwin Heights, as middle-school teacher and 2016 graduate Alex Mosley pointed out. It was also the year the football team made the playoffs, the first time since 1989.
Of course there were other fun memories too, such as open campus to go to Spad’s Pizza for lunch, added 2003 graduate Denise Borrello, an EL paraprofessional at the middle school. “We were pretty lucky.”
Like a Big Family
For many of the alumni, they feel lucky to be able to return to the district that created so many good memories.
“I loved, loved, loved my teachers,” said Lynn Bradford, who graduated in 1979. “They were so fun and involved with us. It felt like a big family.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree at Central Michigan University, Bradford returned to Godwin in 1984. She now teaches at West Godwin Elementary.
“I loved my school years so much that I wanted to be back here so I could help someone enjoy it as much as I did,” Bradford said. “As I said before, it felt like family — so it was like coming home again. I know I’m right where I belong.”
Said Hull: “I came back to work here because I love the kids and love to cook. It was the perfect fit.”
Maleport started as a coach in 2007 “and I loved working with kids and building those relationships while teaching something that I love, which was sports,” he said. “A position opened up (in 2013), and I applied to help me keep closer to the kids I was coaching. From there my roles have changed a bit, but it has been a blast working here.”
Kellah wanted to come back “because I had an opportunity to positively affect the kids in my very own community, kids that grew up just like I did.”
Added Mosley: “The Godwin Heights community gave so much to me during my academic career, from preschool to twelfth grade. I wanted to continue the legacy of a great education.”