Alan Werner, a self-proclaimed weekend warrior, and his wife Anita, have owned a home in Strawberry since 1997. While they have felt like a welcome part of the mountain community, the couple have endeared themselves to the Pine-Strawberry Elementary School District (PSESD) and it’s all because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You open up your hospitality to us 48 hours every weekend,” said Werner of P-S. He’s found a way to give back.
In early May, Werner was looking for something to do with his son. He met Gene Pendergraft, owner of the Rusty Pine Cone, and rented their electric bicycles. Pendergraft, who also works as a bus driver with the PSESD, offered Werner and his son a lesson.
“Gene is taking us out, we get to talking, and in the course of talking what came out was his passion for education,” said Werner. “I’ve been a homeowner since 1997, but never been involved in the education side (in Pine). I never gave it much thought other than the school was behind the Gingerbread House and the Community Center.”
Werner and his wife, a pediatric speech pathologist, are partners with Dr. Raun Melmed, a developmental pediatrician. Together they own Lexis Preparatory School in Scottsdale. For 10 years Lexis served a population that learns differently, explained Werner.
“We’ve done incredible work to provide education services for that population, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and other types of learning disabilities,” he said. “It’s a private school and incredibly expensive to operate.”
About 45 day ago, Werner said he and his partners realized that because of the COVID-19 restrictions and concerns, the drop in enrollment would not allow them to continue their operation.
Fortunately for their students and staff, they found a school to partner with.
“While that provided a pathway for our students and our teachers (the new school) was not able to take over the campus and we have been dealing with the painful liquidation of the school,” he said.
Lexis Prep operated on a 35,000-square-foot campus.
Back to Pendergraft, the passionate community member, local business owner and part-time bus driver.
“You just never know when forces come together,” said Werner.
“Gene said, ‘Alan, if you’re going to be selling stuff I need to you to call our superintendent.’ I spoke to Kathleen (Thomson) that evening, met them that week and took them through the school,” said Werner.
Lexis said they would donate anything PSESD could use.
Thompson, business manager Aimee Manjarres and a staff member with a large stock trailer visited the Lexis campus and quickly realized they needed more help.
“I felt like the Hashknife showed up,” Werner chuckled.
“Kathleen called me and said, ‘We need a U-Haul, the biggest one they have,’” said PSESD Maintenance and Transportation Director Keith Howell. He and 11 staff members drove to the Valley with two 26-foot U-Hauls.
“They were completely full,” said Howell.
Teachers met them at the Pine campus to unload the trucks.
Within a week Thompson and Howell had enough furniture to refit everything from the preschool through fifth-grade classrooms.
The P-S campus was built in 1989 and furnished in 1989. Since then, the policy has been to replace items when they break. A majority of the furniture, student desks, teacher desks have seen three decades of use.
Manjarres estimates the furniture, curriculum and library books is worth more than $50,000. More is coming, as there is at least one more trip to Lexis planned. The gift total could be more than $70,000 when the dust settles.
“Furniture is not in the budget, it’s done in bits and pieces,” she said. “This is heaven sent.”
PSESD will also pay it forward. Once they go through the furniture and books, any items not needed will be offered free to the home-school community.
“In sadness comes hope and redemption,” said Werner. “For my wife and my partner, Lexis will continue to live in Pine-Strawberry.”
Isabelle Hunt Library in Pine
“We need to re-imagine our summer reading program for this year,” said Pine Library Youth Services Coordinator Peggy Eagan.
Based on limited access to the library even through June, Eagan is putting together activities parents can access virtually. Visit www.pinelibrary.azsummerreading.org to sign up. On June 2, summer packets will be ready for pick-up for preschool through eighth grade students.
“I will have family packs available upon request, so you can read, craft and play together,” said Eagan.
The little library on Randall Place has a free cart out front for readers looking for a new tale. Curbside service is also available. Go to www.gcldaz.org to view the catalog, reserve materials (be sure to select IHP as your library) and those books will be delivered to the Pine Library for curbside pick-up. They are also taking phone calls to reserve books, 928-476-3678.