McHose reflects on time with Summit school board, eyes what’s next
The idea of an authentic experience like that from “The Jungle Book” while out on a safari is fun to imagine, what with the possibility of encounters with lions, elephants and perhaps even winding up not 10 yards away from a Bengal tiger. For J Kent McHose, these exploits are simply reality.
“We had all kinds of stuff,” explained the Silverthorne resident of a 100-mile African trek he took by foot with his wife Mary Nan. “Your guide says, ‘Walk faster.’ So we walk faster. Then he says, ‘Run.’ And then he says, ‘Run faster. Run Faster!’ And then he says, ‘OK, now stop and get down, make yourself as small as you can.’ It’s good stuff.”
For most of us, just the notion is petrifying. For the McHoses, it’s the right kind of exhilaration to keep them longing for more. Since becoming empty nesters with their five adult children (four of them adopted) some years back, retiring from corporate America in the Midwest and then resettling in Colorado in 2003, such feats have become an annual tradition.
“I mean, your heart starts accelerating,” 78-year-old J Kent recently said over lunch. “You go into some of this stuff and you think, ‘They wouldn’t be doing this if it’s going to kill us,’ so you’ve got to have a lot of confidence in your leaders. To have the opportunity to do these things … it’s just really, really cool.”
What started as the pursuit of canoeing, backpacking and camping in Canada, returning to a sleeping bag each night — “a five-star experience for us,” he said — soon evolved into exploring many diverse corners of the world in pursuit of familiarizing themselves with distinct cultures. Whether having his kayak seat bumped from underneath by a walrus, Mary Nan, 77, persisting through a new hip and shoulder, spinal fusion and two knee replacements or a failed attempt at Mount Kilimanjaro due to pulmonary edema, the McHoses just keep on truckin’ along. It’s taken the married couple of 56 years to Siberia in the winter, Cuba, North Korea, Libya not long before the Arab Spring, Patagonia, India, Bhutan and off the beaten path of China’s Great Wall, among several other destinations.
“I’m not interested in opera houses and dressing for lunch on a cruise or something like that,” said J Kent, who mostly grew up in Chicago. “That’s fine for some people, but we’re more interested in what the people are like. And I’ve been in schools in all these countries. So that’s how we do things.”
The school tie-in and helping underserved student populations are two passions the husband-and-wife duo also share after decades of volunteer and community work within the education systems in various places and J Kent’s time with Summit’s school board. Aside from the natural motivation of adventure, the advocacy work has been a driving force for their travels, like when they paid to have wooden desks fashioned for kids at an impoverished and ill-equipped school in Tanzania.
“Kids are kids everywhere, and families want the same thing,” J Kent recalled thinking after visiting a school to the northern region of Greenland on yet another trip. “We’ve always taken an interest in kids. Cities look like cities everywhere — big, tall buildings and all that. We want to walk … through the native communities and see what their life is like.”
But back at home base in Summit, following six and a half years with the Summit School District’s Board of Education and two years of unpaid service on the district budget and accountability advisory committees before that, J Kent stepped away from the position in mid June to tend to some family issues. The out-of-town matter has also forced him to vacate his post as a board member for the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) due to the time-intensive nature of the stateside travel. His colleagues know he and his unique perspective will be hard to replace.
“J Kent takes a great deal of pride in the work of the district and is very passionate about providing the highest level of education for all students,” school board president Margaret Carlson said by email. “He has been a true champion of our English-language learner population, the Pre-Collegiate program and everything that supports our students and staff. His input and presence will be sorely missed.”
The district made significant academic strides while he was involved as the board’s treasurer after more than 35 years in corporate retail and finance beginning in November 2009. In 2011, Summit ranked 89th among the state’s 178 districts, but has since moved up to No. 16 as of 2015 and received “Accredited with Distinction” honors. But with Superintendent Heidi Pace retiring at the end of this last academic year, former Upper Blue Elementary principal Kerry Buhler named her successor, some upcoming budget concerns and the new implementation of a couple notable initiatives, the district is in a bit of a transition.
“It’s a very challenging time,” said McHose, “and having a new superintendent, that’s a big change. It was a hard decision. It’s not about going to two meetings a month; it’s about all the meetings, all the evenings, all the days. It just got to be the family issues became the highest priority.”
Still In Gear
Even if he’s taking a backseat in local education and as a leader of the district’s language-learning programs, J Kent is still staying active in the saddle. This upcoming weekend, for example, he will participate in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) bicycle ride to benefit Dana-Farber Cancer research. It marks the 13th time he’ll take part in the two-day, 192-mile event across Massachusetts, and he hopes to continue until he at least turns 80.
Training at the high altitude of Summit has been a blessing for this yearly fundraiser and a test of physical and mental endurance. The additional travel of late to tend to his out-of-state commitments has made the training more difficult this summer, however, and a detour from his usual 200-mile riding weeks while in town June and July.
“I have unfortunately had all these interruptions,” he said. “And, if you’ve been to the fitness center in many hotels lately, some of them are not exactly state-of-the-art. At my age, I need to really build up. I can’t just jump in like the other guys can.”
The ride starts very early Saturday morning, though, and J Kent said he feels ready. It’s just the beginning of what the McHoses have in store for their future, even if he said he will miss his role with the school board.
“There’s an old expression: There’s a big difference between activity and results,” said J Kent. “I’m interested in results. So I got involved and was always a driver and a pusher for what more can we do and who’s failing and why, and what can we do differently to help these kids out? I’m not a hero on the board; I’m just a very outspoken advocate. I want to understand what’s going on and observe it and also find out what their problems are and what we could do differently.”
McHose next plans to head to Israel and Palestine solo to scout the current relationship between the two there. He and Mary Nan have otherwise had some early talks about a trip to Spain but will undoubtedly follow their calling to the next port that speaks their names and also maintains their zeal to help those with lesser means.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” J Kent said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate. It’s not like we have a bucket list, and we have six places we want to go. Somehow they come up, and they feel right for us. Elbow to elbow with a bunch of tourists, that’s not where you’ll find us. We’re generally off that path, so I don’t know, but we’ll see.”
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