EDMORE — Montabella Community Schools is bidding farewell to longtime Superintendent Ron Farrell as two new faces fill administrative vacancies.
Shelly Millis is leaving her position as Montabella Elementary School principal to assume the superintendent vacancy, while Brad Reyburn is taking over as elementary principal.
Millis, a Michigan State University and Central Michigan University graduate, served as Montabella’s athletic director for five years before taking over as elementary principal in 2007.
Millis values the Montabella community and school personnel.
“We have wonderful people in our school district and regardless of budget issues we need to come up with ways to utilize our biggest assets – the people in the community, teachers and staff,” said Millis.
Reyburn taught fourth grade at Montabella for one year 10 years ago. He most recently taught elementary and middle school math and science at Newaygo Public Schools.
“I am excited to be coming back to the Montabella community and look forward to working with the parents, students and staff to ensure a fun, successful year for everyone,” Reyburn said. “I would also like to thank Mr. Farrell for his many years of selfless service to the community and wish him all the best in retirement.”
Adjusting to retirement
Farrell, 69, expressed his sincere appreciation for the honor of serving Montabella Community Schools for 41 years. After spending more than four decades there — 34 years as the elementary and junior high principal (which became Montabella Middle School on Leap Year Day 1980) and seven years as superintendent — he retired on June 30.
Getting used to a very different pace will soon replace Farrell’s daily devotion to Montabella school district – the same district where he was born and raised.
“I’m not sure I’m up to it,” said Farrell of retirement. “It’s been my life for 47 years. I’m looking forward to having time to think about the things I like to think about, rather than the things I have to think about.”
Among the preferred “things to think about” are plans to work in his garden and take a trip to Ireland in the next couple years with his wife Sharron “Sig” to explore his Irish-Catholic heritage.
“My family on both sides — my mother’s side and father’s side — is Irish-Catholic,” he said. “My kids’ names are Patrick and Keegan O’Rilley, obviously both Irish names.”
A collection of unique conversation pieces have found their home on Farrell’s desk over the years — a giant dill pickle from an Edmore canning company sealed in a mason jar since 1964, statuettes of St. Patrick and a wooden plaque carved with: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”
As a longtime Montabella Community School administrator, he’s experienced many obstacles and changes — student enrollment growth and decline, consolidation of Blanchard and Edmore districts, budget cuts and building closings.
Farrell remembers many memorable occasions — some good, some not so good. But the good take precedence.
He was especially proud in 1987 when Montabella Middle School was named one of the top 10 secondary schools in Michigan by the state board of education and Michigan Department of Education.
“That was big for us,” Farrell said.
On the flip side, he recalled a not-so-good memory from 1974 when a discipline issue ended in retaliation.
“I certainly remember when I was building a new house and some individuals were not happy and decided to burn my house,” he said of the incident. “That’s not something you forget.”
As Farrell closes this chapter in his life, he humbly credits his administrative team for weathering the challenges involved with running a school district. He’s watched three generations of K-12 educational careers unfold as children and grandchildren of his former students now attend Montabella.
Leaving a legacy
Farrell wishes to leave a legacy of inspiring peace and unity among the Montabella community.
“I hope the feelings in the community and support for the school are a little better than they were at one time,” he said. “At the time I took the job, I had three goals: I hoped I could keep us out of the newspaper, at least in negative ways, keep us out of bankruptcy and keep my own sanity. And probably that last one might be questionable. The community will judge a superintendent after he’s gone, much like the nation judges a president. My time to be judged is yet to come.”
In appreciation for his years at Montabella, he and his wife have provided monies to begin the Montabella Community Education Foundation. Their intent is that the fund — housed at Mt. Pleasant Area Community Foundation — will grow to provide betterment in educational opportunities for Montabella Community Schools.
The Montabella Community School Board of Education will host a retirement open house for Farrell at Montabella Junior/Senior High School Cafeteria from 2 to 5 p.m. July 14 with light refreshments. The entire Montabella community is invited.