End of an Era: Retiring Ferndale High School Principal Herb Ivory Shares Memories
In an interview with the longtime educator, he talks about his dedication to 'never give up' on any student and his plans to continue working with youth.
It's the end of an era for the community as Ferndale High School principal Herb Ivory gets ready to retire at the end of this month.
The longtime Ferndale educator and administrator was given an honorary diploma at the recent senior graduation and saluted in numerous speeches and standing ovations. A community event in his honor will be at the FHS gymnasium at 6 p.m. June 20 and is free and open to all.
Ivory graduated from Ferndale High School in 1965 and came back to his hometown high school for his first teaching job, staying with the district ever since. He has made a mark on the community with his passion for reaching out, listening to and never giving up on his students.
Ivory, 65, is also a living road map to equality in the schools. He was recruited to Ferndale to teach black history amid protests over the subject even being taught and today he oversees a diverse student body free of the racial tension he remembers.
Although Ivory has seen his share of awards and accolades, the plaques and titles that hang on his wall don't mean much, he says. What matters to him are the students – the young minds he has watched grow, the futures he's helped influence.
Here's what Ivory had to say in a recent interview as he prepared for his retirement:
What prompted your decision to retire?
"You reach a certain age in your life – you have grandchildren, I've been blessed in the sense that I've never been sick. I've always worked. I said you know what, it's time now to go and do some other things that you want to do," he said. He praised FHS Assistant Principal Lisa Williams, who will take over the principal role. "This is an opportunity for me and for the district. [Williams] is going to do a fantastic job. She's a hard worker. She's going to step in and do a fine job."
How do you feel about where FHS is today?
"My biggest concern I have for the entire student body is I think that students need to take advantage of what the school has to offer. We have a lot of students that do - but there are some students that really could take advantage of more honors and AP classes. It's a full-service high school. We offer everything. We would hope that they would do that ... Sometimes what we need to do is insist - You can do this if you really want to do this," he said. "But I find the district to be a very good and solid district that offers a great opportunity for our kids. I think that we have a school board and superintendent that is really supportive. I've always received support - from the entire Ferndale community. It's just been amazing to me because I've never had a major conflict, and not a lot of principals can say that. ... That's all I've ever seen from this community is cooperation and support."
What are your plans for retirement?
"I don't have any intention of sitting down," he said. Though he looks forward to more time with his grandchildren - including an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World - Ivory says he'll continue to work with youth. "I plan on volunteering in the community working with young people. I want to work with younger people - by the time kids reach high school sometimes it's almost too late for you to make a change in that kid."
What are some of the biggest changes you have seen while you have been an educator?
"I think [students today] are influenced by so many things. A long time ago there was nothing like the things we have now. There were no cell phones. You didn't have the distractions. That's not to say there wasn't kids doing things, but when I was in school everybody went to school. I didn't miss one day of school."
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
"Being able to see the success of students that were at risk, that people felt would not, could never make it. I dealt with many, many students that folks had ... just given up. My whole thing is that I never would give up on a kid. I'm gonna fight and fight and struggle till the end. Sometimes it's very difficult." As for the awards, including the South Oakland County NAACP Freedom Fighter Award, a state Administrator of the Year award and more, he's most proud of the scholarship fund that graduates of the class of 1993 started in his name. "I'm able to give two scholarships in my name. That means a lot to me. It's helping some kids every year to go to school."
Do you have any stories or memories that stand out most?
"I had a young man come over to Roosevelt School where I was for the last two weeks," Ivory said of a recent visit from a student who graduated in 1980. "He said, 'I wanted to thank you for saving my life,'" Ivory recalled. "He's a psychiatrist now. He said 'I ran track for you, I came to you one day and said I'm going to quit the track team and you told me no, you're not quitting the track team. It's a team sport and it's also an individual sport. The team can lose but the individual can win and vice versa, the individual can lose and the team can win. If you quit this track team everybody loses.' He said, 'Throughout my whole life I never forgot that, and I never quit anything in my life ... I just wanted to say that to you because you don't even know what that meant to me because you took time to talk with me,'" Ivory recalled.
The former student also thanked him for buying him new shoes, when Ivory noticed he had blisters on his feet. "I remember the kid, I remember the conversation. The very next day his sister called and said. 'Mr. Ivory, that story he told you was absolutely true. He's told that to our family for years.'" Ivory smiles. "That kind of stuff, it kind of gets to you. It's all good. I guess you can have an influence on kids' lives and you don't even know. That's the reason why it's important that you treat everyone fair and with dignity. The influence that you have on a kid's life, it can be awesome or it can be devastating. The richest guy or poorest guy in the world, I try to give the same treatment to all of them."
Do you have any parting words for the FHS community?
"I think that people need to be helpful to one another when you see there is a need. Understand that everyone has problems. They're all not the same problems and we have got to be mindful of the fact that people have been raised differently. As a friend of mine used to say, 'You're not always dealing with you.' Sometimes it's about other people. If you have been what my mother would call 'blessed' enough then you have to reach down to help someone else. You have to help other people. That's the type of thing that I believe in. My whole family is that way," he said. "You have to understand that if you tell a person to pull their self up by their own bootstraps you better make sure they have boots on. If they don't have boots then you have to help them. They need to have something to grab onto."
Also, "life isn't fair," Ivory says. "It's not always fair. We didn't all start at the same starting line." As for taking the time to talk to students, he says his door has always been open - for problems big or small. "What I learned is this: If they feel it's important it's important. Most times they don't get that. Whatever they say is important, it's important."
Share your stories
What will you miss most about having Mr. Ivory as principal? Do you have any memorable moments or stories to share? Tell us in the comments section below.