MENDON, Mich. — Shasta Kunz's daughters loved going to Mendon schools she said. They made several friends there throughout the years. And when they returned to the area after having moved away to Florida for a while they wanted to go back Mendon. Superintendent Roger Rathburn had something to do with it.
“He would give out things for birthdays,” said Kunz during an interview at Three Rivers Public Library. “He would walk around and give the kids candy bars on their birthdays.”
Rathburn was passionate about his job, she said. He made an impact on a number of families, including her own. She was excited to send her kids back to Mendon but was sad when she found out the news that Rathburn died on Tuesday.
“I was like floored,” said Kunz who hung up the phone on her niece when she told her what happened. “It really broke my heart because my kids really liked him.”
Police said he was tree trimming at Sauganash Golf Course when he died. They believe he might’ve fallen from a ladder moments before his death. Mendon High School, where he was the interim principal since 2014, opened their doors for a few hours Thursday for students who needed to grieve.
“It being Christmas break we’re concerned about our kids,” said assistant superintendent Leasa Griffith. “So our plans are set for the day we come back to school, we’ll have more grief counseling available.”
Griffith was a longtime colleague and friend of Rathburn. She said they met in graduate school at Western Michigan University where folks called him Rocky. He later went to become the principal and assistant principal at Three Rivers in the 1990s.
“He was a very special person,” said Madeline Miller. “Nobody, nobody will ever be able to take that place.”
Miller ‘clicked’ with Rathburn during her senior year at Three Rivers High School. She said she was going through a difficult time that year and opened up to him about it one day.
“He felt so bad for me he gave me a guardian angel pin to carry around with me,” Miller remembered. “He said 'you need this more than I do.'"
Miller never forgot that gesture. She and Kunz are friends and both said Rathburn will be greatly missed. There was no like him.
“It concerns me as to who’s going to fill his shoes,” said Kunz. “I don’t think it’s possible. You can’t. He truly loved his job.”