ESCANABA - When the little first-graders entered the front doors of the Soo Hill Elementary School 12 years ago, they were greeted by their new principal, Doug Leisenring.
Little did any of them know at the time- either the children or the principal - that their relationship would continue, almost unbroken, for the next dozen years. During the next six years at Soo Hill, Leisenring was a familiar figure for the children as he watched them grow - both physically and academically.
The six-year cycle was broken when the students left Soo Hill to attend the Escanaba Middle School. But a scant two years later, after Leisenring was hired as principal of the Escanaba High School, the administrator and students were back together again as the students entered the high school and their relationship continued over the next four years.
"It was a real treat reconnecting with them again in ninth-grade," said Leisenring. "I still refer to them as my Soo-Hillians. That may seem like I am implying they were trouble-makers but nothing could be further from the truth. They were a great group of kids who are now a great group of young adults."
But the special partnership of "The Decade Club" was finally terminated when the EHS Class of 2012 walked across the stage during commencement ceremonies held on May 25 and shook hands and hugged their long-time principal for perhaps the final time.
"I am really going to miss them next year," he said. "I was 32 years year old when I became their elementary principal at Soo Hill. I feel like I grew up with them."
Leisenring enjoyed reminiscing about his students over the years, particularly when they were in elementary school.
"Many of my favorite memories of this group are from back at Soo Hill when they made me dress up like an elf, an astronaut and a turkey during various reading month challenges," he said. "Another thing I remember was the boys all giggling through the reproductive health unit I had to teach to them in fifth-grade because they had two female fifth-grade teachers. Bubba Heath couldn't look at me for two days. And I used to love yelling down the hall at Soo Hill to Rachel Bugay - "Another day, another A for Rachel Bugay!"