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Childhood sweethearts gift artwork to Grand Ridge school

Kathie and Alan Walter celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a lasting gift.

The couple, who attended Grand Ridge Grade School together beginning in 1951, donated the money they would have spent on each other for a student mural project.

"Starry, Starry Grand Ridge," a blend of the village's landmarks and Vincent van Gogh's famed painting, was unveiled Thursday during the school's fine arts night.

"We wanted to do something that benefited kids," Alan said.

"We asked that it be something that would enrich their experience," Kathie added.

The Walters, who live in Kansas, hold their time in Grand Ridge dear to their hearts. They have several family members who grew up and still live in the area.

Kathie was raised at 230 W. Liberty St., near the Methodist church, while Alan was raised a mile south at what was Walter Seed Company. They both graduated in the Class of 1963 at Ottawa High School.

"We gained a lot from the community growing up," Alan said. "Now we have an opportunity to give back."

The couple said they knew they wanted to give back, but it was the school's administration that had the idea of the mural.

Grand Ridge Principal Terry Ahearn said during a recent pep assembly he noticed many students don't participate in sports. He wanted a project to get more students involved in other activities.

"We decided on a mural project," Ahearn said.

From there, students were invited to work on the project together after school.

Students met for the past two to three months, doing sketches, drawing the mural out on the wall with Sharpie markers, then painting it together, said fifth-grader Annika Michlik.

Annabelle Larabee said her favorite part of the project was working with seven other students ranging from fourth to seventh grade throughout the school.

"Everybody worked great with each other," Larabee said.

During Thursday's superhero-themed fine arts night, the mural was covered with a sheet until the conclusion of other activities.

Artwork was displayed throughout the school, and solo and ensemble performances took place in the music room. Young Author winners were honored onstage, as teachers read stories and students created a comic book mascot in the library, among other events.

Students were surprised by Superintendent Ted Sanders dressed as Mr. Incredible, who read aloud the Batman origin story and provided tips on how to be a good superhero.

Third-grader Lilli Negray said her favorite part of the evening was the make-and-take projects, especially the one where she got to make her own shield.

The highlight of fifth-grader Lynden Harvill's night was winning a book during the book walk, a game similar to musical chairs in which students can win books.

To cap off the night, attendees crowded in a narrow hallway where the mural was to be unveiled. Their teacher, Erin Shinnick, hopped on a ladder and dropped the sheet to applause.

"It's really cool," said one of the student artists, Reagan Bush, a seventh-grader. "It's going to be here for years to come."

"Starry, Starry Night" artists

Marie Hicks-Maskal, fourth grade

Annika Michlik, fifth grade

Annabelle Larabee, fifth grade

David Peffler, fifth grade

Owen Kearfott, fifth grade

Steven Hladovack, fifth grade

Ryan Siebert, seventh grade

Reagan Bush, seventh grade

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