Glenwood Academy president returns to lead school once again

2013-01-13T00:00:00Z Glenwood Academy president returns to lead school once againPaul Czapkowicz Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
January 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

GLENWOOD | Having left in 2008 as president and CEO of the Glenwood Academy, a job he held since 1996, John Irwin was living a nice, retired life in Michigan.

His days were largely filled by doing charity work, woodworking and watching local high school tennis.

That all changed in May.

"I was sitting in a lawn chair and the phone rang," Irwin said.

The call was from Craig Stern, chairman of the Glenwood Academy board of trustees. The boarding school was looking for someone to serve on an interim basis until a full-time replacement could be found for former President and CEO Samuel Banks.

Irwin had missed the students at the school where he worked from 1990 until his retirement. He agreed right away to come help out while a search for a new leader was underway, and did so in June. But the 70-year-old Irwin had pretty much made up his mind not to return on a permanent basis.

With the support of his wife, Millie, that all changed.

"We were watching a Sunday morning church service and this guy was talking about some people from biblical times that had some of their most productive years as they were in senior years," Irwin said. "My wife was upstairs getting ready for church when she came down and she says, 'Yes, I heard that.'"

Irwin ultimately agreed to stay no more than five years until the board can find a suitable successor.

He and Millie moved back into the house on campus they had previously called home for 18 years.

The mark Irwin had left on the school his first time around is obvious by the fact the road leading into the campus was given the name of John Irwin Way.

The school, co-founded in 1887 by Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, was formerly known as the Glenwood School for Boys.

Girls were allowed to enroll about a dozen years ago, and the name was officially changed to the Glenwood Academy last year.

"I've always been really attracted and attached to the kids that come here," Irwin said. "They come from some really tough circumstances, but given a chance for some stability and a chance to kind of be away from things that can be pretty stressful for them, they really thrive."

Irwin said about 92 percent of the 145 children in second through 12th grade who call the campus home during the week come from single-parent homes.

The students go home on the weekends to maintain their family ties.

"Eighty-five percent of the families we serve meet the federal poverty guidelines," Irwin said.

Providing structure, discipline and a safe environment are ingredients that make the academy successful, according to Irwin.

"When I look at our academic program, the thing that's always been sort of a strong point ... is the ability to work with some kids that are not achieving at grade and age level but that can catch up with some concentrated assistance," he said.

Looking toward the future, Irwin thinks with proper funding there is enough physical space at the Glenwood campus to serve 300 children.

He would like to start a program for parents in which they could see how the academy staff is trained to work with students so they could use those tips to enhance their own parenting skills.

Stern, the board chairman, said the academy was fortunate Irwin was available when the phone call came.

"John had developed tremendous relationships with all of the constituencies," Stern said. "The students at the school were always very fond of John and John took the time to know each and every kid. He really knew their story and what was important to them and what helped make them tick and would help to improve them and give them a better chance to succeed in life."

A large aspect of Irwin's job involves fundraising, and Stern cited the relationships that had been formed with donors.

"John was and still is a great image for the school and he represents the school with dignity, compassion and passion," Stern said. "And the donor base has always responded very well to John."

Stern said Irwin had stayed in touch with the school after his retirement and the transition after Banks left was "pretty seamless."

"He's a terrific president and an even better human being," Stern said.

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