ERIE — Retired Army Colonel Tom Whipple, 64, has had successful careers in the military, the auto industry, and education.
The Holly, Mich., resident said the inspiration for his achievements began nearly 50 years ago as a student at the then newly opened Mason High School.
“It was an excellent school. We had great teachers and coaches. It was a very unique experience,” said Mr. Whipple, who will be inducted next week with 14 others as the first members of the Mason Consolidated School District's Hall of Fame.
Frank Connolly, president of the steering committee, said the hall of fame is designed to inspire and offer encouragement to students so that they will accomplish great things like Mr. Whipple and the other inductees.
“The hall of fame is well overdue,” Mr. Connolly said.
The inductees will be announced at halftime of the boys' basketball game against Ida High School on Jan. 22.
Mr. Whipple, who served 32 years in the U.S. Army, was in the school's first graduation class in 1963. He started high school at St. Mary's in Monroe and transferred as a junior to the newly opened Mason.
“It was a good move. It was cool to be in a brand new school,” he said.
Among the teachers who influenced Mr. Whipple was Chet Cukerski, who was his baseball coach.
“He really gave me the love of baseball. It remained with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
After high school, Mr. Whipple attended Eastern Michigan University, where he was in ROTC. After college, he began active duty in the Army, where he spent 13 years. He joined General Motors and continued his military career in the Army Reserves.
He earned master's and doctorate degrees in education from Bowling Green State University. He began teaching 25 years ago in the graduate education program at Central Michigan University, where he is still a member of the faculty.
Making up the inaugural induction class into the hall of fame with Mr. Whipple are:
Wayne Hartwick, a track and field standout who won the 180-yard low hurdles to capture the school's first state championship in sports in 1967.
Daniel Smith, a 1974 graduate who was all-state in football. He played football at Valley City State University in North Dakota, where he was inducted into the school's hall of fame.
Renee Lajiness-O'Neill, a clinical psychologist who graduated from Mason in 1978. She is director of education and research at the Autism Collaborative at Eastern Michigan University, where she is an assistant professor.
Maj. John Detro is being inducted in recognition of his military service to the country. The 1981 graduate earned the Purple Heart and two Bronze stars as a member of the Army's First Special Forces Unit in Afghanistan.
Derek Bowman, a 1989 graduate, was a member of the 1987 state championship Class C football team. He was the Michigan offensive player of the year. The “3” jersey that he wore is the only number to be permanently retired by the school.
Dr. Richard Drake, a 1989 graduate, is a staff member of the Obstetrics and Gynecology department at Cleveland Clinic's main campus. The director of clinical research for the last three years, Dr. Drake's specialty areas include gynecologic oncology, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, cervical cancer, and laparoscopy.
Former professional baseball player Toby Kominek helped the Eagles to the Class C state finals in baseball as a sophomore in 1989 and to a state championship in 1991. A shortstop and pitcher, he graduated in 1991 and went on to play baseball at Central Michigan University, earning Division 1 All-America honors and MAC player of the year in 1991. He played in the Milwaukee Brewers organization for six years.
Brian Trease, who is the youngest inductee into the hall of fame, became a mechanical engineer after graduating from Mason in 1995. He was named outstanding engineering student at the University of Toledo in 1999. He received a National Science Foundation Research Graduate Fellowship in 2002. He obtained a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2007.
Former school board trustee Grace Connolly. She was on the board of education for 18 years.
Richard Kackmeister, a teacher, coach, administrator, and superintendent for the school district. The high school's first football coach, he taught physical education from 1961 to 1966. He was middle school principal from 1966 to 1978 and served as superintendent from 1976 to 1992.
John Michael, a Maumee native who went on to a successful coaching career in swimming, football, softball, track, and cross country. He taught physical education from 1962 to 2001, and continued coaching until last year when he retired.
Tom Michael, the son of John Michael, was an outstanding swimmer and diver at Mason. After graduating in 1982 he competed in diving at Eastern Michigan University. He was the world high dive champion in 1994.
Marvin “Gus” Smith, who served on the board of education from 1955 to 1967, and Clifford Sterns, a bus driver who took money out of his own pocket to honor the school's outstanding athletes, are being honored posthumously.
In addition to the ceremony at the game, the inductees will be honored at a special banquet at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 at the high school gymnasium.
Tickets for the banquet are $20 each and can be obtained before Jan. 14 at the superintendent's office at the high school or at the Jewelling Shop, 9791 South Dixie Hwy., in Erie.
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