FerndaleJune 27, 2012
FHS principal Herb Ivory retires after 43 years in school district
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
Herb Ivory has been an educator for the last 43 years, but for one night, he got to be a rock star.
The longtime Ferndale High School principal welcomed his retirement with a huge community celebration at FHS on June 20. On this sweltering summer evening, the atmosphere was like a big, raucous family reunion.
Although he has spent his entire career putting others first, Ivory was now clearly the center of attention. Hundreds of current and former students, co-workers and colleagues crowded around him, clamoring to get their picture taken with the man who has taught them, guided them and inspired them.
Ivory and his admirers posed for photos in front of the eagle statue that was created in his honor and installed near the school’s front entrance in October 2009. The inscription at the bottom reads, “The Greatest Eagle Ever,” a concise summary of the immense level of respect that Ivory has garnered from the Ferndale community after more than four decades of loyal, dedicated service.
The congregation then made its way into the auditorium, where it was nearly a packed house for Ivory’s retirement program. Organized by FHS Assistant Principal Roger Smith, the program was part commemoration, part concert, part comedy show and part affectionate roast. Not even the stifling heat could overpower the warm feelings radiating from the stage.
FHS Assistant Principal Lisa Williams, who will become the school’s next principal this fall, told the audience that Ivory has always been a terrific mentor and role model for her.
“When I came here, he embraced me as a daughter,” she said. “He’s a wonderful principal, a great man and an awesome leader. I admire him for his wisdom, his honor and his integrity.”
Jordan Haines, president of the FHS Class of 2011, took a much lighter approach during his speech, repeatedly poking fun at Ivory’s “iconic shiny head” and his old-fashioned tastes. But it was all in good fun, as he had nothing but praise for his former principal.
“Mr. Ivory is a perfect fit for Ferndale High School, the Ferndale school district and the Ferndale community,” Haines said. “He has had an inspiring impact on myself and thousands of my peers. For us, Mr. Ivory stands as a hero.”
Then, turning to Ivory, he added, “It is in this light that people will always remember you. Thank you for all you have done.”
Ivory himself is an FHS graduate as a member of the Class of 1965. He later earned an associate degree from Oakland Community College and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Michigan University. In 1969, Ivory returned to his alma mater, where he was hired as a social studies teacher and also coached track and cross country. He became the principal of Grant Elementary School in 1983 before coming back to FHS five years later to work as an assistant principal. In 1998, he was promoted to the school’s top job, a position that he has held ever since.
Ivory’s impact on the school was felt from the beginning. In 1992, FHS established the first annual Herb E. Ivory Award following Herb Ivory Appreciation Day. Four years later, he was named Michigan Assistant Principal of the Year by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, while in 2006, he received the Freedom Fighter Award from the Southern Oakland County NAACP. In addition, Ivory developed the first Careers and Exploration course model for FHS, which was later used throughout Oakland County; created Ferndale’s first African and African-American history classes; and founded the Grant School Alumni Association, which raises money for college scholarships.
Given all his hard work on behalf of the district, it’s no wonder that so many members of the community took part in Ivory’s celebration. After the first round of speeches, Ivory and his wife of 41 years, Joyce, sat back and enjoyed some entertainment that unfolded in the form of an Ivory edition of “Jeopardy.”
Students also sang and played a number of popular songs with lyrics strategically changed to pay tribute to the man of the hour, including a pair of tunes by Ivory’s favorite singer, Sam Cooke. FHS alumni Marquise Ford and Brian Johnson even performed an original rap song, “Eagles Forever,” that they wrote in Ivory’s honor. The crowd erupted during this portion of the show, chanting along with the chorus of, “Hands up for Mr. Ivory! I’m an eagle forever!”
Smith then grabbed the microphone and told Ivory that he had a surprise for him. “Thanks to you, we have a future where we can fly high on eagles’ wings,” he said, as the FHS marching band emerged and played the school fight song once last time for Ivory.
Police Chief Tim Collins told the crowd that he has known Ivory since he was a freshman at FHS in 1973. He read a resolution that the City Council recently passed in tribute to Ivory and presented him with a plaque from the Police Department, as well as a wooden keepsake with a bald eagle engraved inside that was hand-crafted by a Ferndale officer.
“I don’t think anyone has as close of a relationship between its high school and its Police Department as Ferndale does,” Collins said. “Mr. Ivory is someone who truly believes that there are no bad kids, only bad behavior.”
Deputy Superintendent Henry Gold called Ivory “a legend and an icon” and praised him for his deep love of children, his unwavering loyalty and his strong work ethic. He also shared some funny anecdotes about his colleague, most of which involved Ivory’s hearty appetite and his habit of always being the first person in a buffet line. Still, there was a serious point behind all the silliness.
“Why am I telling you embarrassing stories like this?” Gold asked. “It’s because as incredibly accomplished as Herb is, his true genius is that he is still an ordinary man — and I mean that in the best possible way. He has such a great commitment to education because he wants to make a difference in his students’ lives. He not only helped raise his own kids, he helped raise all the kids of Ferndale Schools, too. It is us who are truly the lucky ones.”
When Ivory took the stage, though, he gave all the credit for his 43 years of success to his family, his co-workers, and the students and parents of the district. It served as a fitting ending to a career built on generosity: Before flying off into the sunset, “The Greatest Eagle Ever” expressed eternal gratitude for each and every member of his nest.
“You may be here to honor me, but I am here to thank you,” he said. “I have never had anything but support and cooperation from this community. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”
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