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Reflecting on six decades of serving schools

Jack Kirk bids farewell to the Brewster board

— Secure in his title as the longest-serving school board director in the state, Jack Kirk is more fully enjoying his retirement after resigning from the Brewster School Board.

“I’ve got some trees planted on land, and it’s taking quite a bit of my time as long as I’m doing it myself,” he said. “I’ve been raising apples for quite a few years. I’ve got about 10 acres I’m raising a little bit of heck on.”

In addition to his 62 years on the board, Kirk, 88, is a lifelong orchardist.

He was first appointed to the board in December 1951 and took his oath of office in February 1952, according to Superintendent Eric Driessen. Kirk decided to retire in February.

Noting that he had originally planned to resign in the 1970s after helping the district fund a new building, Kirk said the district may soon ask voters to approve a new bond issue and “I thought I’d turn it over to the younger people.”

“I have really enjoyed it, and what I enjoyed more than anything was seeing the positive things in the school district,” he said.

Another high point for him was meeting new people, including various representatives as he advocated for Brewster and public school interests.

“It’s always good to be doing something that you know is right and should be done,” he said.

But another reason Kirk decided it was time to resign is he has become disillusioned with some aspects of how the state is handling public education.

“It’s being run by the Legislature more than anything, and I’ve got a problem with that,” he said. “I think they’re taking more away from the local boards, and I don’t think that’s good.”

For instance, he said the state Board of Education is now appointed by the Legislature, and he thinks the state underfunds education to a point that districts are forced to ask communities for levies to make up the difference.

“I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

One positive change Kirk noted is the two relatively new Brewster board members, Hector Aparicio and Mario Camacho, who bring in fresh perspectives from the growing Hispanic community.

There are more sports teams now, too. Kirk said when he was in school, there were only about two boys sports teams and girls’ teams weren’t added until later. Now, he said, there are “four teams for every season.”

“It’s good, there’s no question about it, but I think the emphasis has changed a little bit,” he said.

“Over those 62 years Jack has witnessed the tides change in education, but has always had students’ best interest as the beacon to guide his decisions and efforts,” Driessen said. “He has devoted most of his life to improving others’ lives, he is an inspiration, he is a positive encouragement to all and his love for kids is genuine. His passion for creating the best educational opportunities is without equal and his support for them is above question.”

“From a regional perspective, Jack Kirk’s amazing record of commitment and stewardship to the students, staff and community of Brewster is an achievement that goes way beyond dedication and can rightfully be described as truly ‘leaving a legacy,’” said Rich McBride, superintendent of the North Central Educational Service District.

The service district serves school districts in several counties.

Kirk has received a number of accolades over the years for his service to the community, which included the Brewster Co-op Growers board of directors and the Grange Supply board, and he was a member of the Washington Pear Growers Association and Washington State Horticulture Association.

He has also been involved in several civic groups and is active in the school’s agriculture program.

Last year, Kirk earned a spot on the Brewster School District’s Wall of Fame, along with fellow longtime resident Dan Gebbers.

“The amount of time and sacrifice Jack has exhibited for the community and students of Brewster is second to none,” Driessen said. “His presence at board meetings will be missed, but his legacy will remain with those who know him and will remain forever for all future generations.

“Jack has retired, but he is still on the district’s speed dial whenever an issue comes up that needs some historical information or just some well-grounded advice. There is no way to properly thank a person who has given so much to help others have a better future.”

Over the last six decades, Kirk recalled facing a challenger only once for his seat on the board – one of his neighbors.

“His reason for losing was he didn’t marry a local girl,” Kirk joked.

Kirk, on the other hand, married his high school sweetheart, Marie Starzman Kirk. The two graduated from Brewster High School in 1943.

Jack Kirk was his class valedictorian, but because it was wartime when he graduated, he went back to work on the family farm rather than attend college.

Together they had five children: John, Joel and Jay Kirk, and Jane McGuire and Judith Evans. Jack Kirk said he encouraged his children to go to college, and they all did.

“They’re all happy with the education they got” at Brewster, he said.

Now he has grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, one of whom attends Brewster School District.

Marie Kirk died in 2011, about one month before the couple’s 65th wedding anniversary.

As the Brewster School District moves forward, a new board member, Peggy Rice, was appointed to Position No. 1.

“She is retired, a gramma and a very active volunteer in the district,” Driessen wrote in an email. “She will do a great job.”

Rice was the sole applicant for the position and was appointed April 28. Other board members include Dana Divis and Don Becker, who has served since 1989.

According to the Washington State School Directors Association, the second-longest serving board member in the state was Bob Juris of Roosevelt, who was first elected in 1965. He died last year at the age of 82.

Jeannie Moon of Nespelem was No. 3, having been elected in 1968. She died in 2013.

Karlene Katich of Keller rounds out the local contingent of the state’s Top 10 longest-serving school board members. She was elected in November 1980.

The list has not been updated.

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