Kari De Ruiter, at age 55, has spent almost her entire life at Westminster Christian School.
Wearing many hats at the school — including health and physical education teacher, middle school athletic director, assistant to the athletic director and middle school girl’s basketball coach — De Ruiter of Cutler Bay says she is blessed to be a part of Westminster Christian School’s 50th anniversary celebration because she has been able to watch the school evolve from the beginning.
“I’m told I was a first grader when the school opened its doors on Sept. 6, 1961,” De Ruiter said. “I attended the very first day of class, stayed through my senior year, and after I went to college I came back in 1982 to coach and teach. I’ve been here ever since.”
De Ruiter’s grandfather, Jules Vroon, founded Westminster Christian School after it relocated from Shenandoah Presbyterian Church. It was initially only an elementary school and annual tuition back then was just $10 per student. Today, 50 years later, annual tuition for the high school is $16,000.
“It’s pretty incredible and a true honor to be a part of school that has such a rich history and has been able to maintain its roots for the last 50 years,” said sophomore Michael Martinez, 15, of Palmetto Bay, who has attended Westminster Christian since Pre-K.
During his time there, Martinez has been provided many opportunities, including earning college credit through advanced placement courses, joining band and winning several thespian competitions through the drama club. In the next three years leading up to graduation, he wants to be a mentor for incoming freshman and help lead a little brother/big brother group still in development. After graduation, he plans to attend Boston College or Stanford University and hopes to become a pastor.
He has two older siblings who also attended Westminster Christian School — a brother who went on to study biomedical engineering at the University of Miami and John Hopkins University, and a sister now majoring in anthropology at Princeton.
“We have many students whose parents, brothers and sisters and other relatives are Westminster Christian alumni,” said superintendent A.J. West. “We’re very much a family- centered school, one where the bonds made here traditionally continue into adulthood.
West said that many youngsters who have gone through Westminster Christian School now are successful attorneys, doctors, politicians and professional baseball players, including New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Add to that well-known Realtors such as Drew Kern and Mike Pappas, who still have close ties with the school today, several years after graduation.
Pappas, the president and CEO of the Keyes Company — a real estate, mortgage, title and insurance company — said his father was one of the school’s founding board members. He attended Westminster Christian from K to 12, married his high school girlfriend, also a Westminster graduate, and fathered five children, also all graduates from the school. Daughter Rachel is the current cheerleading coach for both the football and basketball teams.
“There is a strong sense of family with great parental involvement here,” said Pappas, a two-term member of the board of directors and three-term chair.
“Westminster is special due to its Christian foundation, which educates the whole person. It gives the child a renaissance experience, excelling in music, drama and arts, while being competitive in all sports and building a sense of service to our community.”
Pappas said orchestra instruction from elementary to high school, mission trips, multiple sports participation and strong college preparatory education allowed his children to go to excellent universities, including Boston College, Cornell, Wake Forest and Texas Christian.
“My life has its strong roots in the Westminster culture,” Pappas said.
To commemorate its golden anniversary, Westminster Christian School has conducted several celebratory anniversary events, including:
• A historical showcase on the anniversary of the “Historic First Day of School” on Sept. 6. Club 1961 coordinated the event that included more than 1,000 alumni and featured memorabilia, historic photographs, yearbooks, school publications and a timeline of highlights of the past 50 years.
• Homecoming Weekend, Nov. 3-5.
• The Westminster Christian School Athletic Hall of Fame Induction and Dinner on Nov. 3, which recognized the 1973 state championship men’s track team, the 1992 and 1996 national championship baseball teams, and more than 60 members of the Athletic Hall of Fame and all varsity level coaches.
• The Westminster Christian School Ladies Luncheon on Nov. 4 featured faculty member and alumni mother Dr. Claudia Springer, who spoke on the role of women throughout Westminster’s history.
• Campus tours and a kickoff of the Homecoming game against Ransom Everglades School on Nov. 5. Alumni from each decade worked with current students to create decade-themed floats for halftime to honor the anniversary.
• Still to come is the 50th anniversary gala “A Time to Believe” on Mar. 24, 2012 at the Four Seasons Hotel. About 500 guests, including parents, alumni and alumni parents, are expected to attend. Proceeds from the event will help fund plans to replace the current elementary school campus.
West said the anniversary events have served as both a “walk down memory lane” and a path leading to future memories yet created.
“These celebrations are proof positive that we intend to be around for another 50 years,” he said.