Gibault: 50 years of innovative education

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The Gibault Catholic High School groundbreaking took place in April 1966 at the current school grounds. Pictured, from left, after Most Rev. Albert R. Zuroweste, bishop of the Belleville Diocese, blessed the ground, he and Sister Angelita Myerscough break ground while Monsignor Elmer Holtgrave watches and Father Ed Hustedde looks on. (Republican archive photo)
The Gibault Catholic High School groundbreaking took place in April 1966 at the current school grounds. Pictured, from left, are Most Rev. Albert R. Zuroweste, bishop of the Belleville Diocese, Sister Angelita Myerscough, Monsignor Elmer Holtgrave and Father Ed Hustedde looks on. (Republican archive photo)

Gibault Catholic High School’s name comes from Father Pierre Gibault because of his influence on the southern Illinois region in the late 1700s.

However, Gibault’s 50-year legacy comes from students, teachers and administrators alive during the school’s foundation and the years to come.

One of the greatest of these was Father Edwin Hustedde, who served as the school’s first principal. Hustedde passed away in 2004.

The visionary
Not only was Fr. Hustedde present at the time of Gibault’s 1966 groundbreaking, he also pioneered flexible modular scheduling for the school.

Flexible modular scheduling allows the school day to be broken down into 10-to-20-minute modules. In doing this, a school can increase the length of some classes and get away from the typical system where each class ends when the bell dings.

Former Gibault science teacher Ann Limestall said she used this system to hold some two-hour long outdoor classes. Limestall knew Fr. Hustedde quite well, beginning with her student experience at Ss. Peter & Paul High School where he taught one of her classes.

The fire of 1995 destroyed Gibault’s library and damaged much of Building A. (submitted photo)
The fire of 1995 destroyed Gibault’s library and damaged much of Building A. (submitted photo)

“Father Hustedde was a man of faith and a visionary,” Limestall said. “He always talked about things we could do that was like the wave of the future.”

Limestall elaborated that Fr. Hustedde constantly encouraged teachers to find innovative ways to reach students. According to Limestall, this is a skill he exercised quite well, which is not an easy task.

“Teenagers are kind of hard to reach,” she said.

At the same time, Limestall said that Hustedde knew how to lead in a way that inspired the teachers. He didn’t rule with an iron fist.

“He was a gentle leader,” Limestall said. “He didn’t cram (his ideas) down your throat by any means,” she said.

Hustedde received his ordination in 1956, beginning his ministry at Ss. Peter & Paul Parish in Waterloo in 1959. He made his way into academics that same year as Ss. Peter & Paul High School superintendent. In 1967, Gibault brought him on as the school’s first principal.

He became the priest of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Beckemeyer in 1983.

Returning to Gibault in 1993, he entered the roles of director of development of the school and priest of St. Mary Catholic Church in Valmeyer simultaneously.

That’s when the flood hit Valmeyer. Fortunately, Gibault chose to open its facility to St. Mary’s Parish, and Fr. Hustedde preached on Sundays in the school building. He also lived with former Gibault secretary Beth Holtschlag and her husband John, who served as a coach at Gibault for 18 years, after the flood hit.

“He was a special man,” Beth said. “He was so well-rounded.”

In fact, the versatile priest also pitched for the Waterloo Buds of the Mon-Clair League, which also celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.

People referred to him as “The Pitching Priest.”

In short, the man brought about a multitude of creative ideas to education, showed that even a priest could play baseball and left those still alive wishing he lived for another 75 years.

“Just thinking about what he did for that school…” Limestall’s thoughts trailed off as she began to tear up remembering her friendship with Hustedde.

The legacy
Though the man no longer lives, his spirit of innovation continues to impact the school in many ways. One way is through the use of technology to enhance classroom learning.

According to current Gibault principal Russ Hart, the Waterloo parochial school became one of the first to implement e-learning as a new method of educating students.

Part of e-learning involves learning without the use of textbooks. Instead, Hart said teachers must find electronic resources that meet state and national standards, including online readings, videos, e-books, novels, articles and more.

“We were disappointed in the quality of textbooks and where they could take students,” Hart said.

That being said, e-learning also allows the school to count snow days as a school day since kids can access lessons and homework assignments from home.

Hart said students initially fought the idea.

“There’s this romantic view of snow days,” he said.

Eventually, the students came around, realizing they could get that work out of the way and still find time to enjoy the day outside of the classroom.

Hart became Gibault principal in 2004. According to Hart, he modeled some of his behavior as principal after Fr. Hustedde, spending the first couple of years sleeping overnight at the school.

“The rumor is that Fr. Hustedde used that same bed to sleep overnight when he was here,” he said.

Hart spent a lot of late nights at Gibault and figured he would be better off spending the night in his office. However, nearly every faculty member and administrator shares a similar dedication to their work as Hart.

“We kind of live and breathe Gibault all the time,” said Sev Kovarik, the school’s director of development.

Kovarik, who joined the school around the same time as Hart, enjoys what she does, saying that heading up the Gibault Superfans is her favorite. Superfans and others have watched the school’s soccer team win four state titles over the years, seen as one of Gibault’s greatest accomplishments.

Kovarik also coordinates the school’s annual Oktoberfest event. Oktoberfest is the high school’s annual fundraiser, which consists of a dinner auction every October. Kovarik said the event has brought in $800,000 over the last 10 years.

“It not only brings in families, it brings in the community,” she said. “It’s for education, and that’s what people want to see because if it was for athletics, not everyone plays sports. Academics is something everyone is participating in.”

Facing a setback
Rewind a couple decades. After nearly 30 years of progress in faith-inspired education, Gibault would hit a major bump in the road. That happened when the library set ablaze during the heart of winter in 1995.

Among the damage, the fire destroyed thousands of books, video tapes and related equipment and took out the entire library. The auditorium and administrative and counseling offices in Building A didn’t fare so well, either.

“The night of the fire was just, oh, horrific,” Beth recalled.

Firefighters spent a few hours dousing the flames, but they couldn’t prevent the damage that occurred.

“The firemen — I thought they were going to lose their lives,” Beth said. “They were going to save Gibault.”

Eventually, the school would pick up the pieces and continue providing a solid education to students.

Anniversary celebration
To celebrate the 50-year anniversary, the school will hold an all-school reunion on March 4, 2017, which will include an open house, along with music, food and drinks. The event will also serve to get every class together from the past 50 years to catch up with friends and see building upgrades.

According to Kovarik, the school will divide the facility into gathering places by decade.

Kovarik said the school will also recognize previous Gibault athletes and some from Ss. Peter & Paul High School during home basketball games.

The schedule is as follows:
• Dec. 2 includes athletes from the 1950s and 60s.
• Dec. 22 is for athletes from the 1970s.
• Jan. 7 is for athletes from the 1980s.
• Jan. 13 will include athletes from the 1990s.
• Jan. 28 will recognize athletes who played between 2000 and 2010.
• On Feb. 11, the school will recognize all cheerleaders through the years.

Regardless of whether Gibault continues operating for another 50 or 100 years, the school will continue to provide an innovative source of education.

“I think (the school) continues in Father Ed’s dream,” Limestall said.

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