When Brecken Scott walks into the third grade classroom and sees Gabe Wirgau, she says she can’t help but smile. Brecken and Gabe are more than good friends; they are first cousins and part of an extended family that can claim a student in every classroom at St. Patrick School this year.
Extended and multi-generational families at St. Patrick School are nothing new, but the Richmond family is unique in both the depth and breadth of their involvement here. Not only are 10 cousins currently enrolled in the school, but four generations of the family have either taught or attended classes in the Parnell countryside.
Four Generations of Family History at St. Patrick School
The Richmond family story begins in the 1930s. It was then that Irma (Eickhoff) and Harry Richmond settled in the area. Irma was a German Catholic while Harry was a protestant who would convert to Catholicism later in life.
At the time, the local Catholic communities were St. Mary Church in Lowell and St. Patrick Church in Parnell. The couple considered them both but landed at St. Patrick where Irma was given a job teaching. The two sent their four children to St. Patrick School, and they all graduated in the 1950s.
One of the four was Jerry Richmond. He and his wife Diane would go on to have five children – Ben, Mark, Alicia (Parker), Andrea (Wirgau) and Elena (Scott) – and they also attended St. Patrick School. Of these, three have children currently enrolled.
“History repeats itself in a good way,” Andrea says. She points out there is something special about walking the halls where her mother walked long ago as a parent volunteer. After living for a period in Illinois, Andrea specifically moved back to Michigan because of the family connections nearby. Now, her three oldest children are treading the same ground as their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and, soon, her youngest two will do so as well.
Front Row Seat to School’s Evolution
Thanks to their long association with St. Patrick Parish, the Richmond family has had a front row seat watching how the school has changed over time.
“It’s amazingly different than when we went here,” Elena says. Back then, there was no gymnasium, no band and combined grade classrooms. Since then, a parish center has been built which now houses the cafeteria and gym, a new library is where the old cafeteria was located and single grades now extend from preschool through 8th grade. Just this year, a new middle school wing was added as well.
Despite the school’s growth in recent years, St. Patrick School remains relatively small and committed to one-on-one, personalized education. That played a decision in Elena’s decision to send her four children to school in Parnell rather than a much-larger public school system. “I wanted something small where they are learning to be a good student and a good Catholic,” she explains.
Faith-Based Education Helps Keep Family in Parnell
Indeed, choosing a faith-filled school was foremost on the Richmond siblings’ minds when selecting where their children would get an education.
“Our lives are not compartmentalized,” Andrea says. Rather than having school being separate from the family’s faith life, the two are integrated with Mass, the rosary and religion classes all being a part of the education offered at St. Patrick School.
Ben and Karen Richmond also appreciate the school’s smaller, rural nature which seems to insulate kids to some degree from the latest trends. “There’s not the pressure here to have cell phones and keep up with the Jones’s,” Karen says. The couple have four students currently enrolled at St. Patrick School and three older children who are graduates. Karen is also an academic support staff member at the school.
“I looked at public schools,” Andrea says, “[but] St. Patrick School stood out foremost because our faith background.” Now that her children have been enrolled for several years, she notes the school has “surpassed our expectations.”
In addition to going to school with their cousins, the Richmonds are learning alongside the sons and daughters of at least seven of their parents’ former classmates. “That’s made it fun too,” Elena says.
It’s too early to tell if there will be a fifth generation of Richmonds at St. Patrick School. However, if history is any indication, don’t count out the possibility.