Manitoulin Secondary School honours retiring long-time high school principal Laurie Zahnow

Laurie Zahnow receives a congratulatory notice from the MP and MPP courtesy of Burpee-Mills Reeve Ken Noland.

M’CHIGEENG—While there were some humourous stories, anecdotes and memories shared at the retirement dinner for Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) principal Laurie Zahnow last Wednesday evening at Abby’s Restaurant in M’Chigeeng, the main theme of the evening was provided in a video of each class in the school voicing the message, “From everyone at Manitoulin Secondary School, have an amazing retirement, you deserve it.”

“I can say being a high school administrator can be a challenge at times dealing with students, staff, parents and the school board and making sure everything is running smoothly,” said Stan Drystek, former vice-principal at MSS. “As a high school principal Laurie has been a great principal, and is a local girl, having grown up on the Island and been a student and graduate of MSS—and a West End resident no less.”

“When Laurie first started at MSS she recognized some changes were necessary and she made those changes carefully,” said Mr. Drystek. “And she definitely helped the school move forward. No longer were people able to say we are 20 years behind and that is the way we like it.”

“The school went through an evolution instead of a revolution,” said Mr. Drystek. “Now new captain (MSS principal) Jamie (Mohamed) has a large pair of shoes to fill. Meeting all the demands and the provincial systems and regulations requires certain skills. Laurie always made sure new staff were the best and we have top quality island teachers and high school graduates.”

“You have provided the best work conditions and learning opportunities, and staff and students have benefitted form this,” said Mr. Drystek. “Of the nine principals I’ve worked for you are one of them,” he added. “It has been an absolute pleasure to work with and know you. Congratulations on a job well done.”

Teacher Tom Scott was master of ceremonies for the evening said, “we are here tonight to tell you we are going to miss you a lot, and the contributions you have made; and to go down memory lane over the past 13 years.”

“In my 29 years at MSS, I have worked with four principals and you have been so supportive of staff in pursuing their interests and passions,” said Mr. Scott. “You have been very supportive of the arts music-drama and expanding these programs.”

Mr. Scott then introduced a special guest who had come a very long way for Ms. Zahnow’s retirement, Queen Elizabeth (aka Peter Tallman), who made a speech and presentations that had everyone laughing.

Mary Webb, of Chartwells food supplier (which provides food supplies to MSS), told the gathering of well over 100 people, “we are all here to help celebrate Laurie’s retirement.” She and Ms. Zahnow worked together as teenagers at Northernaire Lodge, and with other young people they hung around at the time. “We had so much fun. Then our paths crossed again when Laurie became the principal at MSS. I was so excited to see my friend again.”

Ken Noland made a presentation of a scroll to Ms. Zahnow on behalf of Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, congratulating her on retirement. “I was in the same graduating class as Laurie in 1979 (at MSS),” said Mr. Noland. “I can tell you the dedication she had for this school and its students has been phenomenal.”

Local singer Jeff Gilmore and Peter Nelson on guitar performed a local version of ‘Take This Job and Shove It,’ and later Mr. Scott and Mr. Nelson performed the song ‘At Last.’

Many more presentations and best wishes were made during the evening including those from the Manitoulin OPP, and from teachers in each department at MSS, including the guidance department’s Leslie Marshall and teachers Chris Theijsmeijer and Shan Keatley, providing a list of “Laurie’s transition plan into retirement, ‘from principal to an average Joe’.”

Literacy-English teacher Yana Bauer thanked Ms. Zahnow, “for all your support, we have been blessed to have you at the helm and we wish you all the best in retirement and life.”

Karen McGraw of the special education department said, “it’s been a great pleasure working with Laurie.”

Irving Noble, a tech department teacher, presented Ms. Zahnow with a 1979 repair manual for her car, tools, coveralls safety equipment glasses. “It has been real great working with you and your support of the technical department and me. We’re going to miss you.”

Science teacher Mike Wesno thanked Laurie for her “commitment, hard work and for taking care of the students and teachers.”

MSS school secretary Karlene Scott said, “it has been an honour and a privilege to work with Laurie, who always made sure we had top notch equipment to work with in the office. She listened to our moans and groans, shared joys, sorrows, and treated everyone with respect.”

MSS vice-principal Dave Wiwchar said, “it has been a privilege to work with Laurie. You have done a great job in setting up the school for our students and teachers to move forward in the future.”

“To say I’m overwhelmed tonight would be an understatement,” Ms. Zahnow told the gathering. “This is amazing. I can’t thank all of you enough for your wonderful words.”

“Dave (Wiwchar) has been a joy to work with,” said Ms. Zahnow, who added, “when I first heard about this retirement dinner I said ‘we don’t need to do this’; Karlene told me to just ‘suck it up and have a great time’.”

“As I look around I see all staff members here, the school board, the OPP, and a lot of friends; I think all of Evansville is here,” stated Ms. Zahnow. “Fourteen years ago Peter and I had the opportunity to come to the Island as Tracey Chapman was pregnant with her first baby and I was hired to fill in as principal at CMPS. Jean Hanson gave me the opportunity to take this position. Then the next year Norm (Blaseg) provided me the opportunity to move to MSS, and it has been the best—wonderful.”

“Thirteen years has gone by quickly,” said Ms. Zahnow. “But I’m ready to leave. But there will be many people and things I will miss including the creative energy of the staff every day, all staff, not just teachers; it takes everyone to run a school.”

“Most days I would just stay out of the way of the staff members, they are awesome, know their jobs and I trust them,” continued Ms. Zahnow.

“I will miss the graduation and awards nights. I love those nights,” stated Ms. Zahnow. “This is when the students are at their best.”

“I will miss my office, which I made my own, and I’ll miss Pippin our therapy dog, he runs in every day, and is by far the happiest staff member,” she quipped. “I’ll moss the close relationships I’ve had working with staff.”

As well Ms. Zahnow said she will miss her cameo appearances in the school musical and her 7:30 am chats with Karlene at MSS. 

“And of course I will miss all the students, which is why we are all here,” said Ms. Zahnow. “We have wonderful students on Manitoulin Island who are polite and respectful.”

She thanked the organizers of the evening, and her husband Peter who has always been supportive of her efforts and work at MSS.

“My journey at MSS has been awesome, but it is time for me to step aside,” she added.