By David Fleet
Goodrich— From chemistry to social-government to horticulture, for 27 years Dr. Rick Sweeney provided the students of Goodrich High School with a unique blend wit and personal attention as a teacher.
Sweeney stepped down as a Martian in August and will continue his long career in education at Our Lady of the Lakes, Waterford.
“I’d like to express my thanks to the Goodrich community for their support over the years,” said Sweeney. “I was in Goodrich to serve the community. It was about teaching the person not just a curriculum, I strived to look at the individual first.”
A Clio native and 1982 Clio High School graduate, Sweeney traveled throughout southeast Asia including Japan, South Korea, and North Korea during the Cold War after graduation.
“True story: I got over the border into North Korea by winning a lottery,” said Sweeney. “When President Reagan was in power and the relationship was very intense.”
Sweeney said that during the 1980s, often residents of South Korea had family in North Korea. Due to the hostilities between the two countries, families could not get over to see relatives that live there nor could not leave.
“We went to North Korea in the morning on a Greyhound bus,” he said. “All is normal until you get to the border, then life really changes. We went to the town of Panmunjom, Paradise Village where there were speakers blaring out propaganda in Korean. There were a lot of empty buildings, spools of barbed wire everywhere.”
Sweeney returned to the United States and attended college at the University of California Santa Cruz. He moved back to Michigan in the early 1990s and found his first teaching job at Buena Vista High School in Saginaw County where he taught chemistry and biology.
“It was a very rough environment to work in for my first job,” he said. “The school permanently closed in 2013.”
In 1995 he started at Goodrich High School, and earned a masters at Saginaw Valley State University, Specialist at Oakland University along with a PhD in education and leadership while still teaching.
“I love working with students,” said Sweeney. “That really motivated me to continue teaching. It is still so rewarding to interact, watch students develop analytic thought then go on to college. I stay in touch with many students today that are doing very well in life.”
Sweeney has taught a variety of subjects at Goodrich from special education to science, and social studies.
“Goodrich had many, many good students along with a supportive community,” he said. “Really great parents too, it makes such a difference.”
There are many kind hearted individuals, he said.
“Students often don’t fit in the high school mode,” he said. “But they’re not always into book work. Yet when they get out of high school they succeed and many are now making bank. People respond in different ways.”
One of the many accomplishments Sweeney recalls was the revitalization of the Goodrich Greenhouse at Oak Tree Elementary.
The 96-feet-by-20 greenhouse was in dire need of repair when in 2017, Sweeney along with students and a host of community members nudged the 20 years old dilapidated structure back to life. Today the translucent polyvinyl facility is home to hundreds of plants plus, is the base for sections of horticulture classes.
“It’s hands-on science, it’s my thing, it fits well that I started out as a chemistry-man,” he said. “The classes took off, kids love it. I started with 25 kids and today it’s 75 students working with the greenhouse. Could have been more sections too.”
Sweeney was assisted by Jan Pollard, a retired Birch Run teacher along with Barsman Judd, a consumer horticulture extension education at Michigan State University assisted Sweeney with the greenhouse.