Colin Letendre looks back on 23 years guiding Alleman ‘family’

By: By Tom Dermody

ROCK ISLAND — Asked to describe Alleman High School in just a few words, Colin Letendre needed only one.

Family.

“It’s such a simple word, yet it is a strong and powerful word. The family commitment to Alleman goes way back,” said Letendre, 66, who has headed the Alleman family as principal for 23 years. He is set to retire effective July 1.

The Alleman family will gather to thank him and wish him well during an open house scheduled at the school from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, June 1.

During an interview with The Catholic Post last week as classes winded down on his final school year, Letendre reflected on a 40-year career that began in his native New England and the decisions that brought him to the Quad Cities not once, but twice.

“I have to believe the Holy Spirit had something to do with my being at Alleman all these years,” said Letendre, who was raised in New Hampshire and earned an English degree from Northeastern University in Boston. “There is a reason I was here, though I don’t pretend to understand everything about it. God’s plan, I guess.”

CONNECTIONS LEAD TO ALLEMAN
It may have been the Holy Spirit who inspired a friend at Northeastern to recommend that Letendre attend Northern Illinois University in DeKalb to obtain his master’s degree. That move would introduce him to a love of teaching (freshman English through an assistantship) and to the love of his life, Mary Jane Elder, a 1968 graduate of Alleman High School whom he married after graduation.

After a year of teaching at a high school in Maine, the Letendres moved to the Quad Cities when Colin learned of an opening at Moline High School. He taught English at the school for 15 years, eight as department chair.

He would eventually obtain administrative endorsements, and for two years served as principal of Routt, a Catholic high school in Jacksonville. In 1992, a connection on Alleman’s education commission informed him of an opening here. Letendre applied, interviewed, and got the job.

It seems the Holy Spirit had Letendre right where he wanted him.

“It just worked,” said Letendre. “I liked the kids, I liked the environment.” Noting he was a product of Catholic education in New Hampshire, Letendre added that Alleman “was like home.”

GIVES CREDIT TO OTHERS
Looking back on his years at Alleman, Letendre was quick to credit fellow administrators, teachers, parents and students for successes. “Working together has allowed us to achieve what we’ve been able to achieve,” he said.

That includes new athletic fields and many sports championships, the dedication of the Dr. Tracy Spaeth Performing Arts Center, the establishment of a board of trustees, and constant renovation and updating of the facility and technology. But when asked his greatest memories, Letendre turned to simpler things, like talking students through problems one on one and witnessing a moral or spiritual “aha” moment.

“Sometimes you know you’ve made an important connection in terms of a life lesson,” said Letendre. “That’s been a powerful memory for me.”

He also cited the politeness, friendliness, generosity and faith-in-action he sees daily in Alleman students. Add to that list cleverness, even when “pushing the envelope,” as teenagers sometimes do.

He recalled a homecoming week prank when students found a way around Letendre’s opposition to the practice of tossing toilet paper rolls in trees. He returned home at 1 a.m. on a homecoming night to find 200 white plastic forks stuck in his front lawn. “It wasn’t a problem if it rained,” he said, recalling a smile as he picked them up one-by-one in the early morning hours.

Letendre witnessed the generosity of the students in a deeply personal way this March when, after a second annual Dance Marathon to support families coping with cancer, he was presented with a portion of the proceeds. The students knew that his wife was being treated for multiple myeloma, and wanted to help defray expenses of the next day’s trip to Mayo Clinic for treatment.

“That was really powerful,” said Letendre, also noting the many prayers and expressions of concern.

“The family came through.”

Mary Jane’s illness was among the factors leading to Letendre’s decision to retire. Others include freeing up more time for family — the Letendres have four children and two grandchildren — reading books, woodworking, and events he has missed such as high school reunions. His 50th is approaching at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, New Hampshire, and it will be the first he’s able to attend.

“I will be 68 years old so I doubt I will attempt to play in the alumni football game,” he joked.

Letendre received a papal honor, the Benemerenti Medal, in 2012 for his outstanding service not only at Alleman but in his parish (St. Pius X in Rock Island), community, and to the Diocese of Peoria.

He will be succeeded at Alleman by David Hobin, the school’s assistant principal.

SIX OTHER PRINCIPALS RETIRING
Meanwhile, six elementary school principals in the Diocese of Peoria are also planning to retire after this school year. All will be recognized during a June 3 gathering in Peoria with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

They include Kathryn Bennett, Immaculate Conception, Monmouth; Jerry Carls, Peru Catholic; Jim Flaherty, St. Malachy, Rantoul; Pat Kellogg, Holy Family, Peoria; Winnie Pratt, St. Jude, Peoria; and Mary Paula Schmitt, St. Louis, Princeton.

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