A local school and an expert on local history will be honored at the Rogers City Area Chamber of Commerce annual dinner Nov. 5. The event, to be staged at the Rogers City Knights of Columbus Hall, will give its member of the year award to St. John Lutheran School and feature guest speaker author Charlie Bunton.
Although he and his family currently live downstate, Bunton, knows as much or more than nearly anybody on the subject of local history. Bunton’s history books, A History of the Nautical City, Vol. 1 and 2, with volume three on the way next year, look at the history of the United States, through the eyes of the Rogers City area.
HE WILL talk about the creation of the books, which included reading every page of every issue of the Presque Isle County Advance, a publication history going back to 1878. He also conducted more than 150 personal interviews to get the story behind the story, unearthing many interesting facts shared in the books.
Volume 2, which came out in August, picks up where Volume 1 left off. Bunton covers events from the early 1900s through the time of the sinking of the Carl D. Bradley. Chapter 20, the final one in Volume 2, on the Bradley also covers the efforts to visit the sunken freighter in the 1990s. But before getting to chapter 20, the reader will travel through time to learn about many interesting facts about the Rogers City area and its people.
Bunton was confirmed at St. John Lutheran Church and is a 1997 graduate of Rogers City High School who later graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in history. He is the son of proud parents John and Sharon Bunton. He and his wife Destiny are parents of three children. He lives in Oxford, nearby a major retail store he manages.
He says he always loved history and was inspired by his English teacher in high school, the late Jim Hopp.
“BACK IN 2002 when I started the project, I found that the only thing written on the area at the time were small projects, mainly on the sinkings of the Bradley and the Cedarville. In speaking with my friend and mentor Jim Hopp, he encouraged me to write a more thorough history of Rogers City,” Bunton said.
His approach to the project took on a world view.
“Early on, I decided to write the history of the United States, through the lens of Rogers City and format it much like a textbook. When I told (Hopp) what my plan was, to cover the Native Americans through the present day, he told me it may take the rest of my life to complete,” Bunton said.
Volume 3 of the series is planned for release next summer, Bunton said.
ST. JOHN LUTHERAN School in Rogers City has been serving the community more than a century. That’s a lot of years of touching hearts and changing lives. A special commemoration service and banquet at the church and school in May brought back many teachers who had served the congregation. Mayor Tom Sobeck presented the school a plaque declaring May 22, 2016 as St. John Lutheran School Day.
The Rev. Eric Voigt is pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, the school’s parent congregation. He visits the school weekly, engaging in the lives of the students and overseeing St. John’s religious education.
“The school has gone through its fair share of changes over the past 100 years,” said Voigt, “but the commitment to caring for God’s young ones remains the same.”
In 1873 one pastor, the Rev. Joseph Bohn, was committed to providing a Christian education for the children in the Rogers City area. His efforts led to classes being conducted in a local log house.
A proper school building was built in 1910; that building was later moved to a different part of town and is now St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. The school’s first full-time teacher, Louis Schilke, hired at a salary of $60 per month in 1916, taught in a one-room schoolhouse style; the school was operated with only one teacher for the next 14 years.
The south wing of the current building was begun in 1941, with an addition to bring the school to present size in 1954. At its peak in 1959 the school enrolled 226 students.
WHILE REDUCED in numbers today, reflecting the changing nature of the town, St. John continues to educate the minds, bodies and hearts of its children. The unflagging dedication of school families and the loving members of St. John Lutheran Church and other congregations support faculty and staff.
St. John is respected in town for not only caring about the hearts and souls of it children but also for its dedication to academic excellence. Graduates from St. John regularly score in the highest percentages of their high school classes and have appeared regularly as valedictorians and salutatorians at high school and college graduation ceremonies. Dedicated to remaining affordable to community members, St. John has worked to keep tuition at a rate that is 60 percent lower than the state average for parochial schools and offers need-based scholarship to its families.
The small class size at St. John allows for a very personal experience for the students. The multi-grade classroom setting is an asset, allowing students to shine as leaders and reinforcing lessons as students rotate through a three-year cycle in one classroom. St. John classrooms resemble family groups, offering children peer support and challenging them to work to their potential.
St. John is operated by St. John Lutheran Church, a member congregation of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), with the support of several other Lutheran congregations in the area. The LCMS operates the largest Protestant school system in America.
“TEACHERS AT St. John are different because they see their job as a mission,” said retired principal Linda Schalk, herself a graduate of the school. “St. John is known for its great Parent Teacher League breakfasts and fun Italian dinner and auction in the fall. But it is also known as a place where children are loved, no matter what.
“Many St. John students have come to this school because their parents knew they needed to be somewhere that they wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle and would know that they are one of God’s precious creations. St. John wants to be that place for those children, and for our community.”
Other awards will be announced at the banquet. For more information on the chamber banquet contact the Rogers City Area Chamber of Commerce office by calling 734-2535.
(Julie Riddle contributed to this report)