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Homyak leaves a legacy of a lifetime

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By Leo Wolfson

Former Fort Lupton High School Principal Kenneth Homyak, 95, saw some students necking in the hall the other day but stopped himself from saying anything.

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“I wanted to do something, but I told myself, ‘You’re not the principal anymore,’” Homyak told a reporter later.

Homyak has seen a lot change in Fort Lupton during his lifetime, including when he worked in the Weld Re-8 school district for 41 years.

He said he relished the opportunity he had to be principal during a more simple time of school administration.

"I'm sure glad I'm not principal today. There are so many problems, especially with the text advancements, cell phones, all that sort of thing," Homyak said.

Growing up on a farm in Greeley during the Great Depression, Homyak saw his fair share of water shortages, dried crops, and hardships. His father encouraged him to enter a different profession because of the agricultural uncertainty. Once he arrived at the Colorado State College of Education, Homyak decided his calling was teaching, thanks to the advice of adviser and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Michener.

"Jim Michener said, 'Ken, I think you'd make a good teacher,'" Homyak said.

His junior year in college, Homyak and a few friends petitioned the draft board to grant them a release from the draft, so they could enter the Air Corps. He never saw combat, but clocked 4,000 hours of flight time.

After serving, Homyak got his first teaching job at Fort Lupton High School in 1946 with a salary of $1,900 a year.

"It made you scramble, it was tight," Homyak said.

For the next five years, Homyak taught the youth of Fort Lupton how to read, write, and compete. While teaching business and writing classes, he also coached basketball, track, baseball, and was an assistant football coach. He laments that the boy’s basketball team had to play on a very narrow court during this time.

"Going away, we'd go to a bigger gym, and they'd run away from us," Homyak said, laughing.

In 1951, Re-8 Superintendent William Butler offered Homyak the high school principal position. He was hesitant to accept because it meant he had to give up his coaching duties, but with some coaxing from his family and friends, he took the job.

Homyak fondly remembers his former basketball team, made up by many players he had coached, winning the school's first-ever state championship in 1953. He says it was one of his proudest coaching moments, despite the fact he had already hung up the reins.

"I said, 'that was my team,'"Homyak said with a broad smile.

Homyak said he led a strict reign as principal, focusing on control, instituting a strict dress code policy and banning chewing gum. He says his guidance was inspired by Butler’s direction, who made him sign an oath to uphold the constitution upon teaching, a practice that didn't become law until this June.

"He really was a strict operator, and I believe with him, you've got to have control," Homyak said. "I was proud everything was under control. Not that we were Nazis or anything, but we ran a tight ship."

The 1960s and ‘70s were a time of unrest and frustration between the white and Chicano communities in Fort Lupton, Homyak said. He said he is proud of the efforts he made bridging the gap between the school district and the local Hispanic community, allowing Chicano activists like Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales to speak at the high school and hold rallies. He also took part in discussions between the school district members and local Hispanic residents.

"That was a situation ... but they (relations) got a lot better," Homyak.

In addition to being principal and teaching, Homyak also hosted the Fort Lupton Little Miss Pageant for 37 years, which offered college scholarship money to senior girls. The girls had to show personality, intelligence, and skill in a talent routine.

"They really enjoyed it and I enjoyed it too. My wife said, 'Being with those younger girls, you better be careful.' And I said, 'Ok, I'm careful,'" Homyak said, laughing.

After serving as principal, Homyak took on the role of administrative assistant to the superintendent in 1973. While in his administrative role, Ken helped integrate computers into the business office. For his efforts, he received the Colorado Association of School Executives Department of Business Officials Award in 1987.

“It re-affirms that when individuals want to serve, that’s probably when they’re leading the best,” said B.J. Buchmann, Weld Re-8 assistant superintendent of operations and human resources.

Homyak never considered retiring until he had a conversation with superintendent Dr. Harlan Else in 1986.

"He goes, 'Ken, are you going to work the rest of your life?' I said well, I might have to. He said, 'I'm not trying to get rid of you, but there's lots of other things you could be doing.'" Homyak said.

Homyak retired in 1987 at the age of 65, but stayed far from idle, travelling the country in a motor home with his wife of 69 years, Maria Elsie.

He also helped start the Kidsight program at Re-8 schools in 2006, which screens preschool and kindergarten students for vision problems. These days, Homyak still stays active, running the game clock at Fort Lupton football games with the other four Fort Lupton Lions club members.

In June, the Weld Re-8 school board decided to name a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school after Homyak. The $17.5 million Kenneth Homyak PK-8 school in Dacono, will replace the current Quest Academy K-8.

"I'm real proud," said Homyak. "When I read the paper, I about flipped... . I guess when you stick around long enough, they take care of you."

Longtime resident and fellow educator Don Cummins also was considered for name recognition. The two worked together while Homyak was in the Re-8 administration office and know each other well. When Cummins called to congratulate Homyak on the phone, the two friends had a humorous conversation.

"He says, 'I know you deserve it.' And I said, 'thanks Don, you deserve it too," Homyak said.

Homyak explained with a cackle that Cummins then responded saying, "'Yeah, but they didn't vote for me,' and then he hung up."

Homyak is an example for employees in the Weld Re-8 school district to follow, said Buchmann.