Those who appreciate the direction that Dexter Community Schools has taken over the past decade during now former DCS Board President President Larry Cobler’s tenure have something to look forward to in the future.
He plans to ramp his community involvement back up from his current period of semi-retirement, once his health is restored.
Cobler retired from the Dexter board of education earlier this month, due to kidney cancer from 1990 metastasizing and spreading to his spine and elsewhere in his body. The cancer made its presence known last February during a family vacation to Hawaii, when he began to suffer severe back pain and leg weakness.
“I knew that there was going to be a long period of time where I would have to deal with that and have to deal with chemo therapy and radiation therapy,” Cobler said. “It makes a person think about priorities.”
For now Cobler is focusing on his eight grand children, four of whom live in Dexter, but he speaks fondly of the work that was accomplished while serving on the school board and what’s left on his plate as Chairman of the Chelsea Area Wellness Foundation board and an active participant in Dexter Rotary.
Focus on cooperation
For a school official who began his involvement leading a small group of concerned parents in discussions with the district on how it planned to deliver reproductive health education to their children, Cobler learned by example early on the value of being diplomatic and fostering mutual respect between all sides of a discussion.
At the time, his daughter was entering the middle school and nearing the time where she would have to go through that program.
“The first person I interacted with on that was Evelynn Shirk (former superintendent of the district) when she was at the middle school, and I was just really impressed with the way that she interacted with the families and listened to what we had to say, “Cobler recalled. “Eventually we worked out a way to get what we wanted and the district got what they wanted.”
When Cobler won his school board seat in 2004, Shirk began her first year as DCS Superintendent. He recalls making his first order of business finding like-minded fellows on the school board and setting to work on building an environment of respect and cooperation.
“When I think back to what my original intent was, I felt like I had pretty good people skills and skills that I built up over my career in the military and subsequent career with the company that I work for,” he said. “I thought about running in those very narrow terms, of how can I work with a group of seven other people to just help accomplish things.”
Cobler said he was shocked by the political nature of being on the school board.
“I thought it would be very peaceful and everyone would get along and everyone in the community would be your supporters and they would help you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish for the district … so I had a very rude awakening when I got on the board for the first time.”
Cobler says that he figured he was tapped for the school board presidency during his first year as a trustee because of his lack of baggage when it came to dealing with other figures already working in the district prior to his first term.
“I kind of picked up on that when I was asked if I would run for president in my very first year on the board, which I vacillated back and forth on for a month before I was elected,” Cobler recalled. “It was fairly clear from folks who talked to me about it that the board was fairly dysfunctional. There was a sense that nobody else could garner enough support to be the president because of that reason.”
He considers being re-elected again in 2008 and 2012 by the voters and re-appointed president by his fellow board trustees nine more times indications that his handling of the post was successful and well received.
Cobler said that he feels like the district is “where (the board) had always envisioned it would be” at the present time, with the school system still benefiting from the $47.8 million bond in 2008, implementation of successful programs such as International Baccalaureate, and the hiring of a superintendent that many in Dexter believe has the vision, the energy and the desire to stay in the community to take Dexter schools to the next level.
“I think we have a superintendent who is committed to staying in the district for a long time … he’s young enough and he’s got the vision, and I think he’s willing to put the effort into it,” Cobler said.
Still in the game
Cobler says he’s looking forward to serving out the remaining year-and-a-half of his term on the CAWF as board president. He was enthusiastic while talking about the good work that the foundation has done in the community, with the creation of the Dexter Wellness Center and the dissemination of millions of dollars in grant money throughout the area to promote healthy living and wellness among the local population.
“Maybe at some point, when all of this gets under control and things get stable, I’ll start to get active in some other areas,” Cobler said. He was happy to report that his oral chemotherapy was working well, with few side effects and a positive outlook on a healthy long life once his treatment is through.
In the meantime, Cobler is focused on his grand children, which increased in number to eight just six weeks ago with the birth of Lincoln, who he is very much looking forward to one day seeing enter the school system that he and a lot of good, hard working people have helped develop into what it is today over many years of dedication.