If you know Power Middle School, then you know Jim Ragland.
The beloved teacher and cross-country coach, who continued working well into retirement, passed away peacefully on Sunday, March 14. Just days earlier, scores of colleagues and students celebrated his 55-year career and had the rare opportunity to say a final “thank you.”
Mr. Ragland was diagnosed just two months ago with inoperable liver cancer. Staff members got together when they learned he wouldn’t be returning to school, Principal Allyson Robinson said.
“Jim is basically a hero at Power,” she said. “When we heard he was ill, we just said, we need to do something bigger.”
In a week, they put together a car parade and 35-minute video with submissions from current and former students and colleagues. Robinson said that as word spread, tributes arrived from all over.
“We had former students in their 40s with kids, all the way up to kids at Power right now,” she said. “It was just an outpouring of love.”
‘All about relationships and kindness’
Teacher Janet Payne, whose parents owned the Family Buggy restaurant, went to school with the Raglands’ six children. They all attended North Farmington High and most of the Ragland children worked at the restaurant.
“I was fortunate to know him as a dad, and it was out of fate that I ended up working with him as a teacher,” she said.
Mr. Ragland’s teaching style, Payne said, focused on getting to know his students and showing them he cared.
“Everything Jim did was all about relationships and kindness,” she said. “The curriculum was secondary. He said they’re not going to learn if they don’t feel cared about or loved.”
“It didn’t matter who he was talking to, you were the most important person when you were talking to him,” Payne added. “That’s a gift.”
The connections made extended well beyond the classroom. Mr. Ragland showed up for recitals, games, weddings, and other celebrations, even years later. In the tribute video, former student Justin Munter recalled that he invited Facebook friends two years ago to an event promoting his business.
“Sure enough, I looked down the aisle and there you were,” he said. “When I asked you why you were there, you simply said, ‘Because you asked us to come.’… It just shows who you are as a person and how much you care for your kids, even 30-some-odd years later.”
Best story times, best hugs
Power 8th grader Sophia Barocio Hall knew Ragland as her cross-country coach and substitute teacher. She said he accepted everyone for who they were and remembered everyone’s names.
“He had the best story times, and he also gave the best hugs,” she said.
After seeing a social media video about a girl who made paper cranes for her mother, who had breast cancer, Hall decided to do the same for her beloved teacher. She recruited schoolmates, and they eventually presented Ragland with 400 cranes in a glass jar.
Adison Spitsbergen, also an 8th grader, wrote a heartfelt note to thank Ragland. She said she still remembers the life lessons she learned when he substitute taught her sixth grade class.
“I realized that you really inspired me with how much you knew and could teach me about life, which is very hard to do with a bunch of stubborn middle school kids,” she wrote. “Everyone would always see you in the hallways, and say hello, because we knew we could always have a good conversation with you.”
Brian Ragland said his father just loved being with kids and kept in touch even with those from Dearborn Heights District 7, where he started teaching in 1966.
“He knew how to reach out to each individual student, and he cared,” Brian said. “He taught life lessons, he talked about his family.”
By the March 8 celebration, cancer had taken a lot out of Mr. Ragland, and no one knew what to expect, Brian said. After watching a portion of the tribute video in the school’s cafeteria, everyone moved out into the warm, sunny day to watch more than 80 vehicles, many festooned with colorful signs, roll past. One former student came all the way from Washington, D.C.
And Mr. Ragland remembered them all.
“It was wonderful to watch,” Brian said. “He was there for the last car.”
Scholarships in the works
While his father was strict, Brian said, he and his siblings Stacy, Leslie, Craig, Jimmy, and David, had a great childhood with memorable summer vacations. Their mother, Beverly, who passed in 2016, owned a nursery school. Mr. Ragland is also survived by 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
“They were wonderful parents,” he said. “She was the love of his life.”
To honor their memory, the family has set up the James and Beverly Ragland Foundation, which will provide scholarships in Farmington Public Schools and Dearborn Heights School District. Plans are in the works for a golf outing fundraiser in September.
The qualifications have nothing to do with grade point averages or extracurricular activities. The three awards will go to students who are kind.