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Published: Friday, 7/16/2004

Schools chief rose through the ranks

SOUTH ROCKWOOD, Mich. - Joseph C. Sterling of South Rockwood, a teacher who rose through the ranks to become superintendent of Airport Community Schools in Carleton, Mich., died Wednesday in a Trenton, Mich.-area nursing home of complications from diabetes. He was 85.

A teacher at the former South Rockwood High School before and after World War II, Mr. Sterling was named elementary school principal of all of Airport Community Schools' one-room schoolhouses when the district consolidated in the late 1940s.

He was later principal of Airport High School for eight years before becoming superintendent in 1961, his daughter, Jennifer Litwinski, said.

"He loved it. He liked helping make the district a better place," Mrs. Litwinski said, joking that "it wasn't fun going to school when your dad's the superintendent."

In 1974, Airport Community Schools named its new elementary school in Carleton in honor of Mr. Sterling, who didn't retire from the district's top job for another two years.

"He was pretty proud of that," Mr. Sterling's daughter said.

Mr. Sterling's wife, Henrietta, said the school that still bears her husband's name was a constant point of pride for him, even if he didn't always share those feelings with others.

"He was a very private person, and he didn't show much reaction to anything. But I know inside that he was really proud," Mrs. Sterling said.

A Toledo native and graduate of Woodward High School, Mr. Sterling received a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Toledo in 1941 and was teaching at the former South Rockwood High School when he was drafted into the Army at the start of World War II, Mrs. Sterling said.

During his service, he taught radio operations in the United States and, after victory was declared, Lieutenant Sterling went to the Philippines "to help do the cleanup," his wife said.

After retiring from the district, Mr. Sterling worked as the clerk of the village of South Rockwood, an appointed position he took to help keep busy, Mrs. Sterling said. He left the position in 1993 after 17 years on the job.

Mr. Sterling was a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Brownstown, Mich., Rotary International, the Tower Alumni Club at the University of Toledo, and a life member of the National Education Association.

Surviving are his wife, Henrietta; daughter, Jennifer Litwinski; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be after 1 p.m. tomorrow in the Ford Chapel of the Allore Funeral Home, Rockwood, Mich., where services begin at 11 a.m. Monday.

The family suggests tributes to Joseph C. Sterling Elementary School or Faith Lutheran Church.

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