ISLAND TALES: TONY KRUKOWSKI
“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.” — Terri Swearingen
This latest interview gives us an insight into the life of 56-year-old Grosse Ile resident, retired teacher, and environmentalist, Colleen Gimpel.
How long have you been a resident of Grosse Ile?
I have lived almost half of my life on Grosse Ile. My husband, Chris, and I moved to Grosse Ile in 1992.
What is your first memory of living on the Island?
My husband and I began coming to Grosse Ile for barbecues at my sister’s and brother-in-law’s house. We loved the woods, the water, and the rural setting and told ourselves that one day we would like to live on Grosse Ile as well.
What was the Island like when you first came here?
Not a lot has changed in the 25 years we have lived on Grosse Ile. The bike paths have been a welcome addition, and there are certainly more houses and subdivisions than when we first moved here. However, the Island has managed to retain its natural beauty.
Have you ever lived anywhere else?
I spent 29 years of my life in Dearborn, 25 years before being married and four years after being married. My husband and I then moved to Allen Park for two years before making the move to the Island.
What are some of your favorite memories of living on Grosse Ile?
Grosse Ile has been a great place to raise a family. I have especially fond memories of summers with my husband and the kids enjoying our swimming pool and biking and hiking around the Island.
My Mom and Dad, both of whom have now passed on, moved to an apartment on Macomb Street. My Mom especially loved seeing all of the deer and rabbits on Grosse Ile. My parents could easily pop over for a visit with us, or we could bike over to see them. Today, in a world where family members are generally scattered across the country, the close proximity of my parents to our family was a great blessing.
Finally, teaching on Grosse Ile was an awesome experience. I was a speech pathologist in the school district for five years, a first-grade teacher for three years, and a kindergarten teacher for six years. I was privileged to meet so many great kids and their parents. Even though I am now retired from teaching, I still keep in contact with many of these families.
What are the biggest changes that you have seen happen on the Island?
I thought the 2004 move of Sav-on Drugs from the building it shared with Kroger was a significant change. Both Sav-on Drugs and Kroger could expand and provide a greater variety of merchandise to Island residents.
I also thought that the 1997 move of the Township offices from Macomb Street to the airport was a significant change. The post office purchased the Township’s Macomb Street property and opened a much larger office one year later.
The most significant change for me, however, was the introduction of curbside recycling on the Island in 1995. Anyone who knows me knows that my two passions in life are working with kids and protecting the environment.
Tell us more about these passions of yours.
My interest in the environment started with my oldest daughter, Nora. She was taking some environmental classes in college and passed along some of what she was learning. The more I looked into the importance of issues such as recycling, energy conservation, and protecting the other creatures that inhabit our world, the more I wanted to work with my students to have a positive influence on our environment.
The result has been a wide variety of projects geared to giving students an appreciation for what they can do to preserve our natural resources and protect our planet. For example, the students planted a butterfly garden at Parke Lane Elementary that serves as a way station for monarch butterflies. Students fashioned solar ovens out of donated Hungry Howie’s pizza boxes, aluminum foil, Saran wrap, and black construction paper to make s’mores. Students became involved in a project to recycle used ink cartridges. Students made a presentation to our local School Board on the value of switching from Styrofoam food trays to more environmentally friendly options.
Students also petitioned the Township Board to see if anything could be done to encourage the use of cloth shopping bags in place of plastic shopping bags. When they learned that it was not possible to levy a tax on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use, the students redirected their efforts to selling cloth shopping bags to earn money to adopt endangered animals. Students are currently studying the process of composting by tending a composting bin in one of their classrooms and are requesting a water refill station at Parke Lane Elementary to discourage the use of throw away plastic bottles.
Because of these efforts and others that have already been pursued independently by the school district such as motion light sensors, LED lighting, improved climate controls, and insulating, Parke Lane Elementary has been able to earn a Green School Certification. Schools given this certification must demonstrate that they have taken measures to recycle, conserve energy, and protect the environment. Most importantly, however, I believe we have planted the seeds of environmental responsibility in the minds and hearts of these students, and that will reap environmental benefits for many years to come.
Are there any other projects that you have become involved in with your students?
During the school year, my students were very excited to participate in a program to provide mittens for Detroit students who needed them. During the summer months, I have been working with a small group of students on what we refer to as “random acts of kindness.” Once a month the students have been sending notes with Meals on Wheels’ deliveries to cheer up senior citizens in the area. We are also working on a project to place notes in books at the lending library located in front of the Police Station. The students are hoping to brighten someone’s day.
Any final comments about living on Grosse Ile?
Grosse Ile has been everything to me — a wonderful environment for my family to live, a place to make great friends, and an outstanding school district in which to teach. My husband and I are so very happy that this is the place where we chose to settle down.