An Oral History of Portage Schools: Cleora Skinner to Pete McFarlane

An Oral History of Portage Schools: Cleora Skinner to Pete McFarlane



Document Type




This is a history of Portage Public Schools (Portage, Michigan) from Cleora Skinner to Pete McFarlane as told by 13 former superintendents and board presidents. Superintendents participating in this project include Varl Wilkinson, James Rikkers, and Pete McFarlane (an interview previously conducted with Cleora Skinner serves as the prologue). Board presidents interviewed include Robert VanderRoest, Bill Boyer, James Ellinger, Patricia Dolan, Phil Sheldon, Kevin Flynn, John Whyte, Kevin Hollenbeck, Tom Eddy, and Shirley Johnson. An introduction by Steve Rossio places the oral histories in context and he wrote about one room schools in Portage for the appendix. Steve, a graduate of Portage Schools and a life-long resident of Kalamazoo County, is the local historian at Portage Public Library. He received his Public History degree from Western Michigan University. The appendix also contains a listing of District leadership provided by Edna M. Kent, while she was the District's Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent. This oral history project was conducted in 2004 as professional field experience under Dr. Kristin M. Szylvian for the editor's MA in U.S. History with a concentration in biography from Western Michigan University. Three interviews were conducted years later, to provide time for reflection since the end of Dr. McFarlane's tenure. Tom Vance served as community relations manager at Portage Public Schools from 2000 to 2012. He is a former president of the Michigan School Public Relations Association and a past chair of the History Section, Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters. Tom's career in public affairs includes the Army (both active and reserve duty), The Upjohn Company and later Pharmacia & Upjohn, Biggs-Gilmore Communications, Portage Public Schools, and currently Kalamazoo Community Foundation. He is also the editor of Selected Speeches of Elliot Richardson, and author of Elliot Richardson: The Virtue of Politics and Napoleon in America: Essays in Biography & Popular Culture. This oral history project is a part of the Portage Schools Collection at Portage District Library, and any proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Portage Schools Collection. "Public education is a vital component of our culture and a basic part of our democratic system of government. On this premise, Tom Vance interviewed District leadership spanning eight decades. The vast array of issues throughout the development of Portage Schools include enrollment (reaching a peak of nearly 11,000 students in the 1970s); instruction; building, closing and renovating schools; state and local funding; collective bargaining; changes in social mores; and technology. How the District met these challenges is revealed here." -- Ted Vliek, Sr. Ted Vliek served as Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent (responsible for community relations), Board of Education Secretary, and was interim superintendent at the District between Varl Wilkinson and George Conti.



Publication Date



CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform


Portage, MI


Education | History

Citation for published book

Vance, T., & Rossio, S. (2017). An oral history of Portage schools : Cleora Skinner to Pete McFarlane / Tom Vance, editor ; introduction by Steve Rossio.

An Oral History of Portage Schools: Cleora Skinner to Pete McFarlane