Wall of Famers urge open minds and gratitude

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From left, Dr. Norman Wirzba, Dr. Will Groten and Tamara (Hallgrimson) Beatty

Read Dr. Will Groten's acceptance speech here,

Read Dr. Norman Wirzba's thoughts on gratitude here.

The Palliser Regional Schools Wall of Fame gained three inductees Thursday who rose from rural roots to stellar heights in music, industry and scholarship.

Their stories and tributes to those who supported their success served as inspiration and encouragement as nearly 800 Palliser staff look forward to welcoming back students next week.

Tamara Beatty, who attended Hazel Cameron School (the predecessor of Vulcan Prairieview Elementary), Champion School and County Central High in Vulcan was inducted for Outstanding Achievement in Music; Dr. Will Groten, who attended Noble Central School from Grade 1 through his graduation in 1978, was inducted for Outstanding Achievement in Chemical Engineering; and Dr. Norman Wirzba, who attended Coalhurst Elementary and graduated with Coalhurst High’s Class of 1982, was inducted for Outstanding Achievement in Philosophy and Theology.

Consultant on "The Voice"

Beatty, who graduated from County Central in 1994, is an accomplished vocalist and songwriter, who serves as a consultant/coach on NBC’s “The Voice.” In addition to recording her own original indie-pop music and performing for international audiences, she has more than two decades of experience as a private vocal coach, helping other vocalists discover their unique sound. She co-wrote the first Contemporary Voice Syllabus for Conservatory Canada as well as a teacher manual for one of the largest teacher training companies that is used to train teachers worldwide.

Beatty, whose father was long-time Champion School music teacher Glenn Hallgrimson, shared words she heard from singer-songwriter and “The Voice” judge Pharrell William about his approach to working with other singers.

“He’s not there to push his ambition on them,” she said. “He’s there to take what they’ve got and amplify it.”

She said her former teachers took that approach as they helped “amplify” her. Her voice shaking with emotion, she talked about a former teacher, the late Dick Crosby. Mr. Crosby had called Beatty’s mom to suggest something new “to add to her plate.” As they talked, Beatty listened on another phone and realized her teacher “sees something in me, more than I see in myself.”

She credited her parents for encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

“I never knew the music industry was not a normal job to do,” she says. “I just knew they kept saying ‘Do it.’”

She encouraged Palliser staff to be “humane, lovely and wonderful” to students who won’t always remember what their teachers taught them but will always remember how their teachers treated them.

“None of these things can amount to more than looking a person in the eyes and seeing them for who they are,” she said.

Pilot and inventor

Groten reflected on his incredible journey from Nobleford, as the son of recent immigrants from the Netherlands. Mom, Minnie, made the children’s clothes, and life revolved around church, family meals and school.

After high school, Groten attended Royal Road’s Military College, then Royal Military College. He earned his degree in Fuels and Materials Engineering. Following graduation, he was posted to Bagotville, Que., where he served as a search and rescue pilot, until retiring from military service as a captain in 1987. He returned to school, earning his PhD from Queen’s University in Catalysis and Chemical Reaction Engineering. Since 1992, Groten and his family have lived in Houston, Tex., where he has been granted numerous patents and developed technologies used globally in the refining and petrochemical industry. He is the Vice-President of Research and Development for CB&I, the world’s most complete energy infrastructure-focused company. One of the technologies he developed removes sulphur from gasoline without adversely impacting its octane rating. This technology is used in two dozen countries and the resulting cleaner air is credited with saving lives and improving the health of millions of people.

As a student at Noble Central, Groten devoured resources at the public library, signed up for correspondence courses, including a computer programming course that pre-dated the invention of the personal computer, and was a standout on the Blades basketball and volleyball teams. He also won athletic awards at Royal Military College in basketball and earned an invitation to try out for the national men’s team in 1982.

He said his success as an inventor was owed to intuition, analysis and “an attitude of openness to see the world in a different way.”

Groten said students today need a solid foundation, particularly in math and science, and he encouraged Palliser staff to foster in students self-directed learning skills and a strong work ethic. Students also need to be able to fail.

“Failure calibrates our intuition,” he said. “Half of my patents have not made it out of research and development and many will not.”

He thanked his mother, Minnie, for keeping family life front and centre and for emphasizing the importance of education.

Studies life of the mind

Wirzba made his mark through his teaching, writing and research in fields of philosophy and theology. After graduating from Coalhurst High, he attended the University of Lethbridge where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history. A master’s in religion from Yale University Divinity School followed in 1988; then a master’s in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago in 1991. He was granted his PhD in Philosophy from Loyola. Wirzba travels widely to speak on matters of faith, ecology, agrarian and environmental studies. He has written, co-authored or edited a dozen books on creation, sustainable agriculture, and faith. Wirzba is a professor of theology and ecology at the Divinity School at Duke University in Durham, N.C. on leave this year as he writes three books.

Wirzba said Coalhurst schools “were simply fabulous for me.”

“Teachers deeply respected us,” he said. “You have no idea who much good you can do for people.”

The author of “Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating,” Wirzba thanked his parents, Alex and Ingrid Wirzba, who farmed in the Coalhurst area, and expressed gratitude to farmers in general, not only for the food they produce.

“Farmers are not part of university life and that’s a real tragedy for the university,” he said. “Without farmers. . . we lose so much of what is important to us. . . to work hard. . . to nurture life into fullness. . . to wait patiently for life to unfold. . . to be humble.”

He encouraged Palliser to teach students gratitude because “thinking is thanking.”

“Simply having someone who sees you and notices you for the gift that you are,” he said. “Do we see them as gifts or do we see them as entitlements?”

Palliser honours 1,590 years of service

In addition to the Wall of Fame induction, Palliser’s board recognized its long-service employees. This year’s recipients represented 1,590 years of commitment to the students of Palliser.

This year, Cecil Morrison, a Vulcan-area bus driver, was acknowledged for 45 years of service. The second longest service award went to Tyra Urton, an education assistant at Kate Andrews, who has worked in Palliser for 35 years.

Superintendent Kevin Gietz announced Palliser’s theme for 2014-15 is “Leadership in Literacy,” a name taken from a literacy symposium organized by Palliser for the division’s principals and vice-principals last October. The theme reflects commitment to continue to important work started last year.

Gietz said literacy work across the division is already producing results. While one-in-four Grade 2-6 students were assessed at being in need of serious intervention with their reading and comprehension skills last fall, by spring, that number had fallen to one-in-five. Students at or above grade level expectation also increased during the year.