CLINTON — Richard Grugin has spent most of his life working with kids. Even when he was a kid himself he provided leadership for kids in 4-H in his hometown of Callao, Mo.

He has come a long way from when he drove a tractor to school and was known as a teenage pool shark.

Grugin has spent 33 years as an educator and on June 30 he will leave the education business for good — but he won’t be leaving the kids. He and his wife Cathy will be spending lots of time with their five grandchildren.

Grugin joined the staff at Lyons Junior High in 1977 teaching ninth-grade business and eighth-grade consumer education and coaching boys basketball. In 1984 he served as half-time principal and half-time teacher at Lyons — by then reclassified as a middle school — until 1988 when he left teaching altogether to serve as half-time principal at LMS as well as principal at Lincoln Alternative High School.

Grugin says one of the happiest days of his life was when he got the job as LMS principal. That was in 1997.

He recalls his first day on the job at Lyons in 1977.

“A young man put his hand out and said ‘My name is Jeff. Welcome to Lyons,’” Grugin recalled. “That’s what set the tone for my whole relationship here. From there on I felt like I was in the right spot.”

Grugin has enjoyed working with all students but especially those with special needs.

“It’s very hard thing to see that last bus pull away and they leave smiling. They grow real special in your heart.”

He has worked very hard to develop a culture in his building that is right for all kids — no matter their abilities.

Grugin will be remembered for his love of telling stories and his “Gruginisms.” He loves to tell his students he was raised so far out in the sticks they had to pipe in the sunlight and where he came from all the men had nicknames and the women had two first names.

His latest story is about an event that happened this spring. Grugin had a new student who told him her grandfather was Grugin’s basketball coach when he was in high school.

“I told her I wasn’t from around here but she said ‘No, down in Missouri.’ When she said his name I about fell over.”

Later on, Grugin’s former coach showed up unannounced for a student/staff basketball game. Grugin hadn’t planned on playing but donned his gym clothes and got into the game.

“They passed me the ball and I shot and swish, I made the basket,” he laughed. “How many people, in front of their old high school coach, the year they retire, do that at student/staff game? I was looking up at him grinning in the stands. I got out again — I shot it — it goes in. I’m two-for-two in front of my old coach.”

Grugin also recalled many memories of his time at Lincoln, remembering the big, rough kid who came into his office and laid down on the floor. “I had pictures of my family on my desk and he said to me ‘Mr. Grugin, I wish I knew what a real family was.’”

According to Grugin, the “feel good” took a year or two with his Lincoln students “before you saw those kids turn around. When you see some succeed, you see a glimmer of hope for all.”

Over the years, Grugin has not only been the teacher and the leader, but the lifelong learner.

“The greatest lessons I’ve learned is don’t sweat the small stuff — look at the whole picture — use wisdom in decision-making and I’ve learned it’s not worth the energy to be angry.”

Grugin has been known’ for his “hoopla” and creating special events for his students, He’s taken a few pies in the face over the years and most recently has been affectionately nicknamed “The Gruginator” by his students.

He and his wife will be moving to the Iowa City area to be closer to their grandchildren.

“I’ve done a lot of things I’m really proud of. I’ve worked hard. But it’s getting harder to give all that energy and time,” he explained. “I feel like I have stolen enough time from my family.”

He is looking forward to trying new things, probably working part-time, riding his bike when he wants and walking what’s left of the streets of Callao.

His last day is June 30 and on July 1 he and his entire family will be at Disney World.

He said he will be appropriately sad when he leaves.

“My Christian life I have based on Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything under Heaven.”

He says it’s time. He also will be glad to have a first name again.

So for one final time: “‘Mr.’ Grugin has left the building.”

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