Ralph Ayres, the
CHS political science teacher who went into politics and made it an art, has
Ayres passed away
at approximately 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at Northwestern University Hospital in
Chicago, Duneland Schools Superintendent Dave Pruis told the Chesterton
Tribune this morning.
Ayres had been in
the ICU since early last week, after suffering a medical issue, Pruis said.
He was 67.
“This is just a
huge, huge loss,” Pruis said. “And it’s come way too early. Ralph had so
much energy left to give, so much commitment to public education and
community service, and meant so much to so many. He was tremendously well
respected, very well liked, a consummate politician, a true friend.”
“Ralph had a great
gift for taking diverse opinions and positions and building a bridge to
consensus,” Pruis added. “This is my 14th year as a superintendent in three
school corporations and Ralph Ayres is one of the finest community servants
and school board members I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”
Ayres was hired to
teach poli sci, economics, and social studies at Chesterton High School in
the 1970-71 academic year, after an outstanding career at Indiana
University, including being honored in his senior year with the Elvis J.
Stahr President’s Award, in recognition of his scholarship, leadership, and
politics in 1978, when he was elected by a Republican caucus to the 1st
District seat on the Porter County Council, to fill a vacancy created by
previous office holder John Morgan’s resignation. In 1980 he was elected to
the Indiana House of Representatives, where he represented Duneland for 26
years--13 terms--until deciding, in 2006, not to seek a 14th. By then Ayres
had already retired from the Duneland Schools, leaving his teaching post,
after 34 years in the classroom, at the end of the 2003-04 academic year.
For Ayres, though,
retirement was simply another word for work, which was just another word for
service. Four months after announcing his decision to leave elected office,
he was named executive director of the 23,000-member Indiana Retired
Teachers Association. He left that post in August 2008, then was elected to
the Westchester-Pine seat on the Duneland School Board in 2010. He ran
unopposed for re-election in 2014.
summary of Ayres’ career, however, can do justice to his dedication to the
schools and to the community at large. Among other things--among just a few
other things--he was a charter member of the Duneland Jaycees and in 1979
was named on the 10 Outstanding Young Men by the Indiana Jaycees; was
honored by the Duneland Chamber of Commerce as its Citizen of the Year; and
in 2006 was made a Sagamore of the Wabash.
counted as one of his most significant achievements in the General Assembly
his work on the landmark 1989 “home rule” legislation. That statute--hailed
at the time as one of the top-five most important pieces of education law
ever enacted in Indiana--gave school systems the same sweeping
decision-making powers enjoyed by other local government units. Prior to the
passage of home rule, state officials exercised authority over every area of
school policy but those few ones specifically delegated to local school
boards by Indiana Code.
Then, in the wake
of Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s bankruptcy filing in 2001, Ayres was
instrumental in negotiating $28 million in bailout loans for local
government units, like the Duneland Schools, suddenly crippled by the loss
of the steelmaker’s property-tax payments.
U.S. Rep. Pete
Visclosky, for his part, expressed his sadness today over the passing of
Duneland’s senior statesman. “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing
of Ralph Ayres,” he said. “I offer my sincere condolences to all of his
family and friends. Ralph’s steadfast dedication to inspiring students and
his selfless service to his community, state, and country, is an example for
all of us to emulate going forward.”