By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — Sandy Feeney has worked in the business office at Regina Catholic Education Center for 39 years, and she’s seen a few principals come and go during that time.
But Ray Pechous, she said, “has been one of the most dedicated, considerate administrators I’ve had the privilege to work with.” He’s very involved with all the staffers and has always had an open door, she said. “He’d help anybody in any kind of way he could —academically or personally.”
Feeney was one of more than 400 people who attended a retirement celebration May 28 for Pechous at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Iowa City. After 21 years at Regina and 42 years in Catholic education, the Regina graduate is leaving his role as the high school division’s principal.
Celeste Vincent, principal of Regina Elementary, said Pechous’ approach to his role made the time she has spent in her position enjoyable. When he was principal of the elementary from 1988-2000, he interviewed her for a position teaching reading to first-, second- and third-graders. “My first thought was that he was a really friendly, outgoing person. I thought, ‘If he’s going to be my principal, I’m really going to like working here.’ Ever since then, we’ve enjoyed working together because he’s so student-centered.”
Vincent recalled how if Pechous saw an upset kindergartener, he might kneel down to the student’s level and say, “What’s happenin,’ fellow?” If he knew older students were going through a rough time, he would be there for them, too, she said.
She later became his assistant principal. “I just learned so much from him” in that role, she said. He’d let her make her own mistakes, but offered advice — telling her each day was a new beginning, that problems wouldn’t seem as bad tomorrow, and to have some fun, too.
“We had a lot of fun” under Pechous, said Sister Mary Frances Michalec, ND, who taught Regina fifth- and sixth-graders for about eight years beginning in 1987. She recalled how he initiated a Christmas walk in which students, teachers and parents dressed up as living window decorations inside Regina for community members to see as they walked by outside.
Teachers and staffers had some fun birthday celebrations while he was principal, too, Sr. Michalec said.
Of course, academics weren’t neglected. In the 1991-92 school year, the U.S. Department of Education recognized Regina Elementary as a National Blue Ribbon School. Over the past few years, Regina High has earned various honors for participation in the Advanced Placement Program.
Having strong public schools in Iowa City challenged Pechous to try to keep Regina competitive, he said.
Pechous has his own academic achievements; he earned two master’s degrees in educational fields and a bachelor’s degree in elementary education that he earned in 1967.
“I enjoyed young kids,” he said. “I was the youngest of five children and never had younger siblings,” so while at St. Ambrose College in Davenport, he thought he’d like to work with students for a living.
He did so for the first time in 1967, teaching at Edward White Elementary in Eldridge. He later became the first lay administrator in the Dubuque Archdiocese, serving as elementary principal in Marshalltown beginning in 1972. He’s also served in Davenport as principal at St. Paul the Apostle, St. Alphonsus and Sacred Heart schools.
Joe Flaherty, who graduated from Sacred Heart School in 1982, said Pechous was a “role model” while principal there. “He got a lot out of kids and the budget with limited resources.” Flaherty recalled that one year, when the school couldn’t afford to buy the rights to put on a play, Pechous got students together and wrote a script — about two fictional, rival junior-high basketball teams. “He could’ve taken the easy way out and said, ‘We’re not going to have a play this year.’”
Flaherty is now a principal himself, at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in East Moline, Ill.
For Regina High, David Krummel, a Regina graduate who’s currently curriculum facililtator with the Clear Creek-Amana Community School District, will become principal July 1.
Pechous told The Catholic Messenger he hopes to find another job. He’ll miss “seeing the kids make the most of themselves” at Regina and grow from preschoolers into young adults, he said.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said May 28 to well-wishers, who gave him a standing ovation. “It’s been challenging, but mostly rewarding.”