Serious and hilarious moments were intermingled earlier this month as two longtime Abilene Board of Education members said farewell to the positions they have held for years.
Mark Wilson and Gregg Noel were recognized for their service during their final school board meeting on Monday, Dec. 9. Neither Wilson nor Noel decided to seek re-election in November 2019.
Newly-elected members Robert Keener and Veronica Murray will take their seats on the board in January.
Wilson was a member of the board for 20 years, after first being appointed in July 1999 to fill the District 2, Position 2 seat that was vacant at the time.
Noel held the District 3, Position 3 seat on the school board for 14 years. He was first elected in 2005 to finish the last two years of a term held by another board member.
Superintendent Greg Brown presented gifts to Wilson and Noel, commenting that he had a “tremendous amount of respect” for both men.
“I want to thank you both for the service you’ve given this community, this school board,” Brown said. “It’s really going to be difficult to have somebody fill your shoes.”
Doing the best for kids
Wilson thanked other board members, administrators and everyone in the audience, noting that the people in the seats had changed over the years he’s served.
“I’ve taken advice and learned a lot of things from all the people before me. I sure appreciate that,” Wilson said.
He knows some board decisions over the years “haven’t always been perfect,” but said all decisions were made with the goal of helping the students.
“I think in the end it was always the kids we were making the decisions for,” Wilson explained.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Cooper said he had been with the school district 21 of the 22 years Wilson has been on the board.
“What you said is true,” Cooper said. “You could always depend on Mark Wilson to bring the conversation back to kids. As an administrator, that is very appreciated and respected. There was never any doubt why you were on the board. It was about doing what was best for kids.
“The same thing is true for you too, Gregg,” Cooper added, addressing Noel.
Board President Kyle Becker thanked both Wilson and Noel for their leadership.
“It’s been fantastic to get to know you guys in a little better way and also learn from you as well,” Becker said.
Noel said he asked Becker and Supt. Brown to “indulge” him time near the end of the meeting to say goodbye.
“I can’t say anymore than what Mark said from his heart,” Noel explained. “It’s very important. I appreciate everyone that has made this just excellent. There’s sometimes you just have to laugh. Otherwise you might cry.”
To that end, Noel said he wanted to hand out some “gag gifts and shoutouts” to administrators and some others in attendance, including “100 Grand” and “Payday” candy bars because everyone deserves a “big payday,” he said.
Before becoming a board member, Noel said he had been a substitute teacher in the district. While subbing he got to know Derek Berns, Abilene Middle School assistant principal/athletic director, back when Berns was a senior.
“I look at Derek and Ethan (Gruen, principal of Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary) and they became educators,” Noel said.
He’s also seen misters (Mr.) and missuses (Mrs.) get their doctorates and become doctors (EdDs).
“Some of you have been here longer than I have. I’ve watched some of you go up the ladder,” Noel said.
“I want to echo what Mark (Wilson) said. We need your information. We need good information for us to make good decisions. For us to make good decisions, we need everyone on board, from the teachers to the principals to Mr. Cooper and to Mr. Brown and finally to the board.
“We’ve been run over the coals every once in awhile, but the number one priority has always been students — what’s best for the whole district. That’s what we’re here for,” he added.
Noel said Abilene USD 435 is well-respected in Kansas and that Abilene teachers and administrators often are called on to present in-service education to other schools in Kansas and other states.
“We really appreciate what you are doing,” Noel said. “Mark and I may think we’re out of this (school business), but now our grandchildren will be attending Abilene schools, so we still have something involved in this.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.