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Medina honors new class of distinguished alumni

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 14 November 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Barbara Waters addresses Medina High School students on Friday when she was inducted into the school’s “Wall of Distinguished Alumni.” Waters has been active in the community, owning several businesses and serving on the board for Medina Memorial Hospital. She shared about hard work, and meeting her goal of getting a college degree – at age 60.

MEDINA – High schoolers looking for inspiration for the future don’t have to look far for examples of Medina students who have been successes, pouring their lives into the local community or leaving their mark elsewhere in the country and the world.

The school has a “Wall of Distinguished Alumni” and five more graduates were inducted into that select group on Friday.

Michael Cavanagh, high school principal, said the school wants to honor alumni, promote school spirit and pride, and provide an incentive for current students.

“The people we honor today are proof that we are all capable of greatness and making a difference in society,” he told about 600 students in grades 8 through 12 during an afternoon program in the auditorium.

The school inducted Barbara Waters, Class of 1948; Lee Eick, Class of 1969; Dr. Hugh McElwee, Class of 1960; Wilford Gratrick, Class of 1930; and Edwin Caleb, Class of 1965.

Barbara Waters was first to be inducted. She graduated during an era with fewer opportunities for women. However, she would own five family businesses and became an influential leader in healthcare for the community. She built and opened the 120-bed Orchard Manor in 1972, the 24-bed Willows, the Lakewood Village Mobile Home Park, and bought and remodeled many homes.

 She credited her father, Frank Balcerzak, for instilling a work ethic in his children. Barbara shared with students about how she and her twin sister, Marcia Tuohey, would work on a muck farm as teen-agers.

“It wasn’t glamorous work for two young girls but it was enough to buy clothes,” Waters said. “The lesson that hard work never hurt anybody we learned at an early age.”

She was active on the board of directors for Medina Memorial Hospital for 22 years, and was able to recruit many long-time physicians to the community.

Waters and her late husband Robert were long-time community dynamos, pushing projects in the Medina area. Mr. Waters wrote the nomination for his wife to be considered for the Wall of Distinguished Alumni before his death on July 29. Mr. Waters was inducted into the group in 2003.

His wife shared with students about her dream of going to college and earning a degree. When she graduated from high school in 1948, not many women were in college, and there wasn’t much financial aid for students.

After achieving business success, Mrs. Waters went to college at Niagara University. When she was 60, she graduated after being in classes with students ages 19 and 20.

“Everyone has a dream,” she said. “I wanted to receive a degree.”

Waters told students there are job opportunities locally. She told the girls “the glass ceiling has been cracked” and they should aim high. She told the students to cope with changes throughout life.

Bill Eick, an Orleans County legislator, accepts the award on his brother’s behalf.

“There are so many opportunities now,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to really work hard.”

Waters was the only one of the five inductees to attend the program on Friday. Two inductees are deceased and two others live across the country.

Lee Eick enjoyed a career as a successful structural engineer after earning a degree from Purdue University in 1974. He worked on projects around the world, building bridges, dams, water turbines and renovating historic properties for Ch2m Hill Companies, Ltd. He lives in Oregon and has been an influential mentor for engineers and an active church member in his community.

Lee’s brother, Bill Eick of Shelby, accepted the award on his behalf. Bill read a statement from his brother, who credited family values and a work ethic from the family’s dairy farm for helping him attain success and strive to serve others.

Dr. Hugh McElwee is a gastroenterologist in Fort Collins, Colo. He has been in practice for 43 years and has several breakthroughs in his field.

Cavanagh read a statement from McElwee who said he wasn’t the smartest student at Medina.

“I wasn’t the best at anything in high school,” McElwee said. “Patience and persistence are more important than intelligence or money.”

Edwin Caleb’s sister, Karen Larson, accepted the award on his behalf on Friday.

Edwin Caleb was born in 1947 and grew up in West Shelby. He earned a law degree in 1979 in Oregon and would serve 27 years as district attorney for Klamath County, Oregon, establishing Citizens for Safe Schools program, the Elder Abuse Task Force and the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit. He supervised the Klamath County Major Crime Team in the investigation and conviction of murderers and sex offenders.

He also was active in mentoring programs with local youth. Caleb was picked as “Citizen of the Year” in 2012 by his local newspaper for his professional and humanitarian work. He died on Jan. 29, 2015.

Wilford Gratrick earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Michigan State University and was in the ROTC program. He served as a company commander in the Army during World War II before returning to Medina in 1946.

He worked for the Medina Power and Light Company before joining the Army again in 1948. He would travel the world with the Army using his skills in nuclear technology. After he retired from the Army, he worked as a professor for four years at the University of California in Berkeley. He died in 1985 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.