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Collaboration paramount in Gehlen-Spalding unification

By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
(Email Katie)


LE MARS – A class of 52 students walked across the stage to receive diplomas in the first graduation of the newly-unified Spalding and Gehlen Catholic High School.

Commencement exercises were on May 18 in the Steve Shea Memorial Gym at Gehlen Catholic School in Le Mars.

Gehlen, Spalding

The 2014 graduates selected to wear the cap, gown and tassel from either Spalding or Gehlen Catholic High School. The students from Spalding wore either white for girls or black for boys and Gehlen students wore green. Thirteen students chose to wear Spalding colors.

Giving the students a choice was something “the steering committee did during the unification process,” said Jeff Alesch, 7-12 principal.

Since the seniors had a choice, Emily Pohlen, who spent her first three years at Spalding, wore Spalding colors and Mitchell Flack wore Gehlen colors.

There were two valedictorians and two salutatorians, one from each school.

“For two years, there will be a valedictorian and salutatorian from each school as well as the choice of what gown they want to wear,” said Alesch.

Graduates received their diploma from Gehlen Catholic High School. Alesch explained the diplomas could not be from Spalding Catholic “because it is no longer a high school. State regulations require that we make it Gehlen Catholic.”

This year’s Commencement Speaker was Paul Rust, a 2000 Gehlen Catholic graduate, the uncle of 2014 graduate, Alexis Madsen, and son of Robert and Jeanne Rust of Le Mars. Rust is an actor, comedian and writer. He was chosen to speak by the 2014 graduates because of his work ethic, dedication and success in achieving his dreams.

“We want our alumni to be able to say, ‘It doesn’t matter how lofty our dreams and goals are,’” said Lisa Niebuhr, development director at Gehlen. “You can have a good, strong faith, good morals and a great family support and you can go to places like L.A. and New York City and be successful and make a positive impact on people’s lives. You don’t have to follow others in making choices you wouldn’t ordinarily make at home.”

Flack, who plans to major in chiropractic at Briar Cliff University next year, said Gehlen has prepared him with a faith background.

“We have grown up with it all of our lives,” he said. “It will always be with us.”

Pohlen will attend South Dakota State University to study nursing next year. She will take with her the values she learned.

First year

Alesch thinks the first year of the unification of Gehlen and Spalding went very well.

“There were lots of changes – new staff, new students and trying to incorporate different things each school has done,” he explained. “We did some new things here that Spalding used to do and Spalding kids experienced some new things here that Gehlen did.”

Niebuhr explained this was “truly a unification of bringing together the best of both schools.”

“You look at what the TSA students did at Spalding. That’s been a great program to bring to Gehlen. It’s a great way for us to take TSA to the next level as we have applied for multiple STEM grants,” she said. “Now there is a large contingency of juniors from Spalding are saying they want to participate in Mission Honduras. We have done some great things.”

The school experienced athletic and fine arts successes as well, noted Alesch.

“It’s been a good year, a busy year,” he said. “It was fun seeing the kids intermix.”

“Thanks to everyone who has given of their time, talents and made sacrifices to make unification possible and to continue to share their input so we can make this school the best it can be,” said Niebuhr. “If bishop hadn’t sent us these three priests (Father Paul Eisele, Father Kevin Richter and Father Terry Roder) at the time he did, it wasn’t going to happen.”

Flack and Pohlen both thought the first year went well.

“Everyone was kind of skeptical about how it was going to go. We all got along for the most part,” said Flack. “Having all the kids in the hallways was a little different. Instead of having two minutes to mess around in the locker room or hallway, you actually had to get going to class because there are so many people.”

Pohlen said besides getting used to new teachers, “everything was pretty smoothly transitioned.”

For the most part, the students from the two schools knew each other before the unification. They already had a combined football team and had met each other on different occasions.

“I like the fact that our class was bigger,” said Pohlen. “There are more people to talk to.”
Flack liked seeing “new people, new faces. It was like it was preparing us for next year when we might not know anyone (at college).”

Other than looking at transportation options, Alesch doesn’t foresee a lot of changes going into the next year of unification.

Niebuhr pointed out they continue to bring the middle school students from Gehlen and Spalding together to continue the unification process.

“Collaboration is key,” she said. “The more we can all work together in ministering to each other and sharing our faith is essential.”


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