The Foundation of Saline Area Schools fourth Hall of Fame class features an expert on serial killers, coaches, teachers, a Hollywood actor and dancer and a school district official who ushered in the modern era of Saline schools.
Hall Morning Star, Ellen Ewing, Mary Gordon Converse, Carol Pirkola and Michael Smith entered the Hall of Fame as Distinguished Educators. Cristela Scanlon was initiated for Distinguished Service. Dr. Katherine Ramsland (Johnson) and Becca Sweitzer entered as Distinguished Alumni.
The class was honored at the Saline football game Friday evening where it was introduced at halftime. Saturday, the members of the class were officially inducted to the Hall of Fame at a banquet attended by friends and family and officials from the Foundation for Saline Area Schools and the school district.
Mary Gordon Converse was in attendance at the football game Friday but could not attend the banquet Saturday. Converse graduated from Saline High School in 1962. In school she was in the dance band, concert band, marching band and future teachers association. She continued along the teaching path at Eastern Michigan University, earning her bachelors of arts degree. Upon graduating she returned to her hometown and taught English and public speaking at Saline schools for 47 years.
In her career she directed plays, coached debate, served on the NHS board, coached students in DECA, FFA and Poetry Out Loud. Saline High School English teacher Shelly Venema spoke on her behalf Saturday.
“Another thing that Mary a remarkable woman, beside her value for education, is the way she inspired others. So many of you in this room are products of Mary’s teaching,” Venema said.
Cristela Scanlon was inducted for her service to the Saline education community. Scanlon, a native of Weslaco, Texas, spent her career in criminal justice, including more than 20 years with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office. In 2000 she became probation agent for the 14A District Court – located across the street from Saline Middle School. For the last eight years, Scanlon worked with Saline schools staff to develop a criminal justice education lesson, including the mock trials at the court house. Students not only learned about the justice system, but about public speaking and the importance of making good choices in life. Scanlon recently moved to Kentucky and could not attend the banquet.
Ellen Ewing was Superintendent of Saline Area Schools from 1993 to 2001. She led the district during a time of tremendous growth. During her tenure, the community built Heritage, Woodland Meadows and Harvest elementary Schools and Saline High School.
Ewing attended St. Mary High School in Jackson, graduating in 1962. She then went to Jackson Junior College before earning her first bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University. She began her education career teaching sixth grade at Litchfield Community Schools and was hired as principal in 1980. In 1985 she was hired as principal at Saline Area Schools and after three years she was promoted to assistant superintendent of curriculum and personnel.
One of Ewing’s first tasks was to serve as liaison to the Foundation for Saline Area Schools.
Hall Morningstar taught special education in Saline Area Schools for many years. The Ann Arbor native graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 1968. His first job in Saline was as teacher consultant at Jensen School. He also taught at Houghton and Heritage elementary schools.
Katherine Ramsland graduated from Saline High School in 1971. She graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1978 and went on to earn four graduate degrees. Dr. Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Center Valley, Penn, where she also directs the Master of Arts Program in Criminal Justice.
Ramsland is an expert on serial killers. She’s published 60 books and more than 1,000 articles, reviews, short stories and blogs about the genres of crime, forensic science and the supernatural. She’s made countless appearances in documentaries, television shows and radio programs.
Carol Pirkola, a native of San Carlos, Calif., began her teaching career in Huntsville, Ala., and relocated to Michigan, teaching grades give and six in Milan from 1967-69. She directed the Milan Children’s Co-Op Nursery School from 1973-78 before coming to Saline to set up the district’s Title 1 preschool program at Jensen Elementary School. Pirkola then moved to Saline High School to teach vocational child care and history. She moved back to the elementary school level in 1987 to teach first graders at Union School. She then taught second graders and third graders until her retirement in 2003. Pirkola still helps Saline students today as a mentor in the special education program at Pleasant Ridge.
Becca Sweitzer is the youngest Hall of Famer in this year’s class. She graduated from Saline in 1996 and then went on to learn at the Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood, Calif. In the show business world, Sweitzer has acted, danced and choreographed for stage, television, music videos and film. He has worked with Lenny Kravitz, Jennifer Lopez, Jay-Z, No Doubt, Christina Aguilera, LeAnn Rimes, and many more artists. She has also appeared in many films, including La La Land, Behind the Candelabra and Austin Powers Goldmember. She also played Darla in 2007 remake of Hairspray. She received a World Choreography Award Nomination in 2015 for an UGG commercial. She’s also choreographed for TV shows like Jessie and Bunk’d.
Mike Smith, from Napoleon, began his teaching coaching career at Grass Lake High School. But he’ll always be known for his work at Saline High School. He taught English for 28 years at Saline High School. He also taught AP History. Smith coached track and cross country for 39 years at Saline High School, building programs considered among the best in the state. He earned many honors for his coaching career. In 2016 he was named Girls’ Cross Country National High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year. He was also Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 1993 and 2011.