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Oak Harbor still is home for Schulte

Departing Oak Harbor School District superintendent Rick Schulte, center, visits with guests during a farewell party in his honor on June 14 at the school district administrative building. Schulte becomes superintendent in Richland on July 1. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Departing Oak Harbor School District superintendent Rick Schulte, center, visits with guests during a farewell party in his honor on June 14 at the school district administrative building. Schulte becomes superintendent in Richland on July 1.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Outside of Rick Schulte’s new apartment in Richland, he has a view of a barren hillside known as Badger Mountain.

At 1,000 feet elevation, the mountain won’t be mistaken for Mount Baker by Schulte any time soon.

“It’s more of a hill than a mountain,” he said.

Schulte is leaving Oak Harbor for the browner pastures of the Tri-Cities at the end of June, taking on the role as the Richland School District superintendent after serving in that same capacity in the Oak Harbor School District for 20 years.

He’s already been traveling back and forth in recent weeks to the Tri-Cities to survey his new terrain. Yet, one thing Schulte is no longer in search of is a place to call home.

Schulte attended a farewell party in his honor at the Oak Harbor School District administrative building last Friday. One of the points he wanted to emphasize to the friends, family and longtime associates who came to honor him was that he no longer has to search for answers when asked where he calls home.

“A lot of time, people ask me, ‘Where is your home?’” Schulte said. “I always say, ‘I grew up in the Midwest.’ That’s not saying where my home is. I never felt like I had a home because I lived in about 12 different cities from the time I was born until the time I stopped in Oak Harbor.”

That was in 1987, the first of six years as assistant superintendent.

“When I came to Oak Harbor, I thought I’d be here five years,” he said. “I’m very surprised I stayed for 26 years and in some ways now even more surprised that I’m leaving. But I do have an answer now. When anybody asks me where your home is, Oak Harbor is my home.

“They say home is where your heart is. This is where my heart is.”

The claps were long and loud for Schulte. He could scan the room and see many familiar faces from the community from more than two decades leading the Oak Harbor schools.

More than a dozen guests step up to a microphone to share stories about Schulte, including Island County commissioner Jill Johnson and school board members past and present.

They talked about the transformation of the Oak Harbor schools under his leadership, his unflappable character, calm and steady demeanor, uncanny organizational skills, and profound impact on the community. They also poked fun.

Jan Ellis, longtime chair of Holland Happening, said she hoped he would continue to show up at community celebrations riding a unicycle.

School board member Peter Hunt praised Schulte for his even-keel approach and attention he gave to all.

“I’ve seen him talk to senators in Washington, D.C., representatives in the House and state representatives as well,” Hunt said. “I’ve seen him talk to the community. I’ve seen him talk to friends. I’ve never seen his demeanor change once.”

Schulte is credited with leading the overhaul of new school facilities, including the high school and Wildcat Memorial Stadium. He’s also credited with forging improved relationships with the community, leading to successful levies, including the most recent in February.

“People have a tendency, especially when you’re leaving, to give you all the credit,” Schulte said. “Nothing good happens from one person. It has to be a community effort. All the good things that have happened here really were a community effort.”

Schulte will hand over the reins to Lance Gibbon, who will take over as Oak Harbor superintendent July 1.

Gibbon, a former professional musician, sent off Schulte with a musical tribute. Gibbon, communications director Joe Hunt and human resources director Kurt Schonberg performed a comedic song in Schulte’s honor, playing off the Roger Miller country hit from the 1960s, “King of the Road.”

They sang about how Richland would be changing to “Rick’s Land.” Hunt and Gibbon played guitar as well.

A smile rarely left Schulte’s face.

 

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