By Travis Smola
“This is, to be honest with you, an extreme surprise,” Schoolcraft school board trustee Michael Rochholz told the crowd. “I didn’t expect quite frankly all of you to be here.”
A crowd of 30-50 people packed the cafeteria at the high school prior to the board’s December meeting, Rochholz’s last as a trustee. The group included community members, Rochholz’s family, past board members and superintendents on hand to honor Rochholz’s 18 years of service to the community as a school board member. In that period he spent five years as board president and an additional two as vice-president and often devoted his vacation time to his work in the community.
The board recognized him as the lone recipient of its monthly “Soaring Eagle” award and State Senator Margaret O’Brien kicked off the ceremony with a proclamation from the state of Michigan thanking Rochholz.
O’Brien credited Rochholz for his participation in the Michigan political leadership program and for his professionalism in attending and participating in educational conferences at both the state and national level. “In all of your roles you have worked diligently and humbly to better serve our community,” O’Brien said.
Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) Executive Director Don Wotruba was also on hand to honor Rochholz’s work at the state level. Rochholz served twice as the MASB Region Six director and twice as the president, the only person to serve twice in that role. Wotruba said that was a testament to Rochholz’s leadership not only at the local level, but the state level as well.
“Our organization would not be as successful as it is today in serving boards of education of this state if it weren’t for Michael’s leadership the two different times he was president,” Wortuba said. He added that the MASB is hoping Rochholz will continue to work as a teacher or workshop leader for the organization.
Current board members all thanked Rochholz for being friendly and welcoming when they first started on the board. “As a new board member, you definitely provided that leadership role that I needed to understand the workings of the board,” Board Vice President Ryan Ledlow said.
Trustee Jason Walther recalled that a lunch conversation he had with Rochholz was a big reason he ultimately decided to run for school board. He credited Rochholz for having a “servant’s heart.” “Mike is an absolutely outstanding leader for our community,” Walther said.
Board President Darby Fetzer said Rochholz’s knowledge and set of skills is irreplaceable on the board. “Mike has been my brother on the board,” Fetzer said. “He has been a coach, a mentor, a friend. He has supported my accomplishments and he has provided constructive feedback when needed. Mike has always been the first person I turn to with questions.”
The most emotional speech of the night came from current Superintendent Rusty Stitt, who had to fight back tears the whole time he was speaking. “This man I love,” Stitt said. “I remember coming into the district. He took time during the day to drive me and my wife around to learn what Schoolcraft was all about.” Stitt said Rochholz was responsible and genuine at all times, never putting on a façade or poker face. “He says what he means and means what he says,” Stitt said. “I so appreciate that in him.”
“Michael is a true leader and has been an ambassador for children, public education and Schoolcraft community,” Stitt added.
While Rochholz’s time as a school board member is ending in January, he will remain involved in the community as a member of the village council and the zoning board of appeals.