LOWELL | For 24 years, Master Sgt. Michael Yedinak has provided military instruction to students in the Junior Air Force ROTC program.
For most of those years, the 63-year old — affectionately known as "Sarge" in the hallways of Lowell High School — led the program, and he had planned to continue for three more years.
The Tri-Creek School Board, however, recently was forced to accept Yedinak's resignation after changes in federal law that require an associate degree for the job.
"If there had been any way for the school district to keep him here, we would have done it," Board President Doug Ward said.
Ward called Yedinak a very valuable asset to the Tri-Creek community.
"I don't like the job; I love it," Yedinak said recently.
He had requested a waiver, or to be "grandfathered in," but his request was denied in Washington, D.C., Yedinak said.
Lowell residents Duncan Wright and Ken Witrykowski mounted efforts on Yedinak's behalf but were unsuccessful.
Earlier in life, Yedinak enrolled briefly at Colorado Technical University but "couldn't keep up with the rigorous course schedule," he said, noting he had not studied some of those subjects since 1967.
Yedinak served 20 years in the Air Force before coming to Lowell High School.
With his resignation accepted, Yedinak looked back on the program.
"The biggest reward is in so many being successful," he said.
Yedinak said his students this year have contributed 1,479 volunteer hours, or about 148 days, to the community.
Kyle White, a 17-year-old Lowell junior who holds the rank of senior master sergeant in Lowell's program, said, "They can replace Sarge, but no one can replace Sarge as the father figure."