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Former district custodian and former surgeon to be honored by EGR Foundation

District to honor two at September 30 event

A postponed award ceremony will honor the commitment and dedication of two community members, one for service and leadership and the other as a distinguished graduate of the district.

There have been 11 past recipients of the Community Service and Leadership Award from the East Grand Rapids Schools Foundation.

On September 30, 2021, Bruce Towne, the 12th such honoree, will be celebrated at an awards dinner in downtown Grand Rapids. He is just the second award recipient to have worked for the school district.

Towne is actually the 2020 Community Service and Leadership Award honoree (it is given out every other year). COVID derailed the celebration last year, so he had to wait a year, along with the recipient of the biennial 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award, Bill Krissoff.

The wait doesn’t bother either man though.

“I always knew that East Grand Rapids was a good school system, but what I didn’t know was how much this community of teachers, coaches and staff wants to see every student succeed.”

— Bruce Towne

For Towne, a former custodian for the East Grand Rapids district, his life has been one of patience and making adjustments when plans go awry. Krissoff would say the same.

Towne grew up in the Greenville school system and had designs on a career in illustration, hoping for a degree from Kendall.

“As fate would have it,” he said, “I started school and ended up dropping out on account of my dad’s poor health. Then I decided to pick up a couple of jobs to help support the family.”

That was the end of his post high school education although, as he said, “Little did I know that the job of my dreams was right around the corner.”

A Community That Wants Every Student to Succeed

In 1997 he began what would become almost a quarter of a century of work at East Grand Rapids schools, an experience he said that impacted him in countless ways. He left in early 2020 to work for a friend who he holds in high regard and describes as “another great role model for me in life.”

Of his time in the district, he said simply: “I always knew that East Grand Rapids was a good school system, but what I didn’t know was how much this community of teachers, coaches and staff wants to see every student succeed.”

He described falling in love with the community – the teachers working late, coaches putting in long hours and parents always being there for the kids and young adults.

“This gave me a sense of pride and drive that I would do anything for EGR,” he added.

Honoring a Son by Saving Others

For Krissoff, a 1964 graduate of East Grand Rapids High School, a seminal event in his life also involved a close family member.

Krissoff’s son Nathan was killed in action in 2006 in Iraq during a roadside bombing. He was just 25 years of age. To honor him, Bill, a successful surgeon, decided to leave his practice to join the United States Navy Medical Corps. He was 60 and needed an age waiver to carry out his plan as he was almost 20 years too old to enlist.
He recalled the sequence in a 2017 interview for Stripes.com when he contacted a Navy medical recruiter and expressed his interest in becoming a battalion surgeon taking care of wounded and injured Marines.

“He politely thanked me for my interest but doubted I could get an age waiver since I was 60 at the time,” Krissoff said.

But he persevered.

In August 2007, President George W. Bush gave a speech in Nevada and then met with families of fallen soldiers. Krissoff told the president of his desire to serve in honor of his son, and the president said he’d see what he could do.

Just a few days later, Krissoff got a call from the recruiter and the age waiver. He went on to serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan, caring for injured soldiers in some of the toughest of conditions as the primary or assistant surgeon.

Major General Larry Nicholson noted that: “Bill made a difference for good every day. There can be no greater act of love by a father for his fallen son than to take his place in the ranks in the midst of war.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio


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