Tom House

“My wife Cathy and I moved to Harrison with our oldest son in 1979. Prior to working as an educator in the Clare-Gladwin RESD (Regional Education Service District) for Harrison Community Schools, I worked in Saginaw County and taught there for three and a half years. We raised our five children in Clare County. We consider this home.

When we first arrived, I was a young teacher, and Cathy was a stay-at-home mom. I taught at our high school for about four years, and then some financial difficulties hit the schools, resulting in relocation again. I went to the middle school, where I taught for seven years, and then eventually back to the high school, where I taught for less than a year. Eventually, I became the Harrison Middle School Principal. Cathy began her career after our youngest entered school. She initially worked as a teacher in our alternative high school program where she taught and supervised the daycare program. She attended grad school to add an elementary teaching endorsement and eventually worked as a second-grade teacher, a reading recovery teacher, a middle school life skills teacher, and a high school family and consumer science teacher before her retirement. I was the middle school principal for four years, and then I spent 13 years as the Harrison High School Principal. My last seven years at the school were spent as Superintendent.

I became familiar with the Clare County Community Foundation when I was serving as the Harrison High School Principal. I would attend the scholarship ceremony sometimes and encourage kids to apply for scholarships. When I was still a principal, our Superintendent was asked to serve on the Community Foundation Board, and he came to me and said, ‘I know you’re already involved in the community, and I think this would be something you would be good at.’ I spent nine years on the board before terming off in 2014.

Clare County is consistently listed as one of the poorest counties in the state, and young people have experienced difficulties pursuing postsecondary education for a number of reasons. Number one – many of them come from families who’ve never been to college. Number two – the poverty levels. Number three – accessibility. Although it has improved in the last couple of years, accessibility to postsecondary assistance is limited. The Foundation, along with other locally sponsored scholarships and grants, helps kids immensely. In my experience as a high school principal, those kids who were determined to sit down and write applications or do them online often could garner enough financial support to give them that kickstart they needed.

As a family, we started the House Family Endowed Scholarship Fund to provide a yearly scholarship to a Harrison High School graduate. This fund was started as a collaboration between our oldest son, daughter-in-law, Cathy, and I. After the passing of our middle son, the fund was one of three options we gave for donations in memory of him. That’s how the current iteration of the fund took shape. We worked with the former Clare County Community Foundation Director, Jim Allen, to set up the parameters.

Prior to opening a fund at the Community Foundation, we were funding a scholarship and giving it to the school business office to manage it. But with the endowment fund model, people need to understand that that’s a way to make your gift more impactful. When people donate to the Foundation, they can also donate to your fund to help it grow. It gives people an option to direct their gift, and it gives the endowment fundholder the opportunity to ensure that it continues to go forward.

I have so many hopes for Clare County. One of my hopes would be to increase college attendance. Michigan is ranked as one of the worst states in the country for postsecondary education. Students say, ‘I’m going to come out with massive amounts of debt,’ and in many cases, limited ability to obtain employment to pay it back. Many of them are choosing trades that pay well and don’t leave them with debt, which is great, but I would still love to see an increase in students pursuing postsecondary education. The level of education in your young people is an indicator of economic prosperity, and I would love to see the current trends reversed. I’d like to see more kids have that opportunity. University education has become prohibitive for many people, but hopefully, through the work of organizations like the Foundation, opportunities to obtain postsecondary education will continue to expand.”

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