This article was in The Post Register in June of 2000 - when my dad retired from being the Idaho Falls High School principal. My dad retired from district #91 the summer of 2000, and I got a teaching position in the same district in August of 2000. I am posting this mostly for our blog...as I am going to print it into a book.
Right after the bell rang Wednesday morning, Idaho Falls High School Principal Steve Holtom picked up his telephone to broadcast the day' s announcements. From his office, he reminded students to pay fees and fines before they left for the summer and to clean out their lockers. Then, after a brief pause, Holtom bid them farewell. Make the best of every day, he said, and most of all, good luck. It was another last for him. On Tuesday, he herded about 350 seniors through his last graduation practice. Later that night, he gave his final commencement speech to teary-eyed parents and students. Soon he' d be walking up Seventh Street, across Tiger Avenue by Ravsten Stadium - his morning route to work - for the last time. After 37 years in education, 22 of those as IFHS' s principal, Holtom is retiring. "It' s been a nostalgic week," he said. "When I look back on it, it' s all gone so fast." Holtom, 61, first considered a career in education during his junior year at Bonneville High School. Raised near Iona, Holtom had plowed enough fields, harvested enough wheat and strung enough fence to know that was not a life he wanted forever. In 1956, he went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to study education. Six years later - he spent two years in South Africa as a Mormon missionary - Holtom returned to eastern Idaho to teach driver' s education in the Idaho Falls School District. He then taught social studies at Clair E. Gale Junior High School for a year before taking time off to complete his master' s degree. He returned to the old Central School and was promoted to assistant principal and then principal. It was at Central that Holtom went through one of his most trying and memorable times. The school, where the Aquatic Center stands now, burned to the ground in the middle of a school day in 1973. When fire was spotted in the back of the school, teachers grabbed their roll books and everyone evacuated the building, he recalled. Holtom and a few others went back in to gather student records while teachers accounted for all 800 students. "I remember we were moving something out of the office and one of the teachers told me to be careful or we' d chip the paint on the door," he said. "All I could think is there wouldn' t be a door left pretty soon." From across the street, students and teachers watched their school burn to rubble and cinders. Holtom has two framed pictures of the fire in his office along with four of the school' s burned bricks. He' s used them over the years to remind teachers and students why the school must plan for disasters like fires. "No one thinks it can happen, but it can," he said. Holtom has also dealt with pranksters stringing dead cats from the school' s marquee as an Emotion Bowl prank (IFHS' s mascot is a tiger), and has watched angry people storm Clair E. Gale Junior High School looking for a student who beat up some O.E. Bell students. In that case, Holtom and another principal locked the student in the main office and called the police while an O.E. Bell mom kicked a hole in the door. "They were arrested for disorderly conduct and we ended up testifying in court against them," he said. Holtom is well-known in the Idaho Falls School District for his even-keeled, fair temperament and steady handling of bad situations. For that reason and others, several young principals have trained under Holtom, including Skyline Principal George Boland, Edgemont Principal Cody Claver and Randy Hurley, IFHS' s new principal. "He' s provided a lot of stability to the district during times of turmoil," said John Murdoch, assistant superintendent. Mary Noble, who' s taught journalism at IFHS for 20 years, attests to Holtom' s fairness. During her years as the Tiger Times' advisor, Holtom has backed her up on more than one occasion and has never told her students what they cannot print. Holtom is one of the longest serving principals in the district, and has also served the longest tenure at one school. Holtom is the third principal the nearly 50-year-old IFHS has had. Glenn Manion, Holtom' s predecessor, also served 22 years there. Holtom' s last day isn' t until the end of June - he still has to sort through 37 years of paperwork and files. But in many ways, this week was the end for Holtom. This was the last week he patrolled the halls making sure students attended class. It was the last time he played the national anthem over the intercom, which he' s done every Monday since he became principal. He' s played a different artist each week, ranging from Jimi Hendrix to the Army Band. On Wednesday, students and staff stopped by to wish him luck. He signed yearbooks and conducted interviews with the media. When the final bell rang, Holtom stepped into the hall to make sure nothing happened the last day of school. "I just need to make sure the building is clear and they leave the building intact," he said while confiscating a piece of metal a student had taken from a broken desk.