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Popular veteran principal drives off into retirement

It's a sunny late June afternoon at Duclos School, but the hallways are empty. There are no children playing and screaming in the halls, no teachers barking out instructions and no keyboards being tapped in the office.
Retiring Duclos School principal Walter Ogrodiuk waves farewell to staff and students at Duclos School before “officially” departing in his motorhome with his
Retiring Duclos School principal Walter Ogrodiuk waves farewell to staff and students at Duclos School before “officially” departing in his motorhome with his wife Linda on June 24.

It's a sunny late June afternoon at Duclos School, but the hallways are empty.

There are no children playing and screaming in the halls, no teachers barking out instructions and no keyboards being tapped in the office.

No, everyone is outside to say goodbye.

At a time when children and staff might be thinking about summer vacation plans, everyone at Duclos is doing just the opposite.

They're thinking of all the times they shared with a friend, a colleague and a role model — their principal.

For over four decades, Walter Ogrodiuk has served the Lakeland as a teacher, a principal, a mayor and a pillar in the public education system.

On this beautiful day, Ogrodiuk will pull away in his large recreational vehicle and wave goodbye to the throngs of children and staff for one last time.

The crowd balloons as kids anticipate his arrival and staff members recollect fond memories of their principal.

The sands of time are running out on the career of Walter Ogrodiuk but the memories he has made and the lives that he has impacted in this area will last forever.

Ogrodiuk was born in December of 1944 at the Bonnyville hospital and he remembers a town entirely different from what we see today.

“It was really different,” he says. “There were no paved roads, when it would rain it would be really sloppy. I remember Thursday afternoons, the whole town would shut down. All the stores would close at 12 sharp and everyone would use that time to spend with family.”

Raised on a farm just northeast of Bonnyville, Ogrodiuk went to school at Fort Kent all the way to Grade 12.

Coming from a family comprised of two other brothers and four sisters, Ogrodiuk was the oldest boy but had to deal with three elder sisters.

“And that wasn't easy, let me tell you,” jokes Ogrodiuk.

Ogrodiuk was taught from an early age the value of a quality education.

“My parents had a very high regard for education,” he says. “I think all of us kids knew that eventually we would have to seek higher education. My three older sisters all became teachers and it became a natural step for me.”

Following high school, Ogrodiuk attended the University of Alberta and after three years at the school and then a combination of night and summer classes, finished his formal education.

Ogrodiuk returned to the school he attended as a child, Fort Kent, in 1969. He started off as a physical education and English teacher and then became principal two years later. Ogrodiuk remained principal there for 11 years after that.

He met his future wife, Linda, in Edmonton through friends and they eventually married in 1974 in Regina.

A few years later, the kids arrived. Natalie, born in 1976, followed in her father's footsteps and is now a teacher in Cold Lake. Curtis, born in 1979, did the same, teaching at the Vimy Ridge Academy in Edmonton. His youngest, Cary, bucked the trend and is a disc jockey in Saskatoon.

Balancing work and family became a recurring theme in Ogrodiuk's life.

“It was always a juggling act,” he says. “We tried to fit it all in and it definitely was a challenge but fun and very rewarding.”

After 13 years at Fort Kent, Ogrodiuk moved on to H.E. Bourgoin School in September of 1983.

“It was a nice brand new school,” he says. “And it was a nice transition for me. The man who the school was named after was such a special person and we had a great opportunity to include him in so many things kids did.”

Ogrodiuk stayed on as principal there for 11 years and then moved on to his final place of employment — Duclos School. After one year of presiding over kindergarten to Grade 9 students, Duclos became a K-to-4 school, a fact that Ogrodiuk relished.

“It was like dying and going to heaven,” he says. “Being the principal of an elementary school is such a nice job. It's been wonderful at Duclos and such a pleasure to work with all these kids and parents.”

It was also during this time period that Ogrodiuk was the mayor of Bonnyville. He served one term as mayor from 1986 to 1989 and explains his motivation for the position.

“I was on council for a number of years and a few people convinced me I should be running and that's kind of how it happened,” he explains.

“During those five years my life just flew by. Overall it was a great experience and it gave me an opportunity to meet so many different groups of people.”

But don't expect to see Ogrodiuk running again.

“I had my run. I'll leave all that to the younger people,” he laughs.

In 2005, Ogrodiuk was given another honour, as he received a centennial medal from the province of Alberta. The medals paid tribute to Albertans whose achievements have benefited their fellow citizens, their community and their province.

“I considered winning the medal a huge honour,” he says.

“If you look at the list of names who received one, it's a very impressive list.”

But it was the experience of being a principal and helping kids on their path to life that really motivated Ogrodiuk.

“I enjoyed working with students that found school a real challenge,” he says. “You knew that they were going to do well in life but school just wasn't meeting their needs. It's neat to see some of these kids come back and talk to me and tell me about how well they've done.”

Ogrodiuk pointed out one such student who visited seven or eight years ago and now owns a touring company in Manitoba.

“You can never give up on kids,” he says. “You may have to go through some tough times but they will eventually pull through.”

“It's been such a wonderful opportunity,” he says. “What a rewarding career, to work with kids and people all your life and no day is ever the same. The job is never boring and it's not always easy but I don't regret one day of it.”

“I really hope the positive memories stay with people,” he says. “I've really enjoyed working with everyone.

I hope I've met the needs of the children. I'd really like to thank the people I've worked with, the wonderful teachers, kids and

support staff.

I've been very fortunate to have been able to work with a great staff.”

In retirement, Ogrodiuk plans to do some traveling, work on home renovations and spend time with his grandsons. He also hopes to get involved in some volunteer work.

Walter Ogrodiuk walks out of the front door of the school, hand in hand with his wife Linda and greets the crowd.

Children hug him and staff fight back tears as he makes his way down the groups of people waiting on the sidewalk.

His large RV is parked on the street and he opens the door, letting his wife step in first.

Ogrodiuk looks around one final time, waves, smiles and slowly steps back.

He closes the door, turns the key on the ignition and drifts away, honking as the kids scream goodbye.

The RV signals for a left hand turn and disappears. The children crane their necks to get one last look, then sigh and make their way back into class.

The RV is gone but the legacy that Walter Ogrodiuk has left never will be.

So, the next time you see an RV in Bonnyville, smile and think of Walter.

He may be gone from the principal's office, but his contribution to this community will never be forgotten.